Review: Twelfth Night, Filter at Tricycle Theatre

“Hey, who governs here?”

This is another resuscitation of Filter’s Twelfth Night and its third residency at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. Filter recently appeared in London and toured the UK with their version of Three Sisters, not one I was a fan of and the RSC’s most recent Twelfth Night which I really enjoyed, only left the Duke of York’s in February, but I had heard all sorts of good things about this, so I booked myself a ticket.

Things started brilliantly with a random jamming session and then the eventual arrival of the shipwrecked Viola, clutching handfuls of election leaflet, uttering the words at the top of the review, “who governs here”, it was a genuinely very funny moment and set the mood perfectly. The focus is clearly on the inventiveness with which Filter approach this well-known play. Filter are known for their sonic creativity and the stage is littered with instruments and amps, the cast in modern dress, it’s clear this is no traditional Shakespearean production. So many anarchic tricks are employed that it is hard not to love the heart of this show. There’s a deal of audience participation, yours truly was pulled onstage and had balls thrown at him and his Velcro helmet, others were invited to do tequila shots, we’re also invited to sing along and complete lines, a speech is delivered from a mobile phone held up to a microphone, information is provided by radio, there’s a four way battle of sound effects…it’s a whole load of carefully organised chaos and often great fun.

However, there’s no two ways about it, you need a very solid understanding of the story before you see this. In terms of storytelling, this Twelfth Night is rather obtuse. The play has been distilled down to 90 minutes which in itself isn’t a problem. The essence of the story remains, Viola is shipwrecked in a strange land, assuming her twin brother has died, and to survive, she disguises herself as a man but finds herself torn between love for Orsino and the attentions of Olivia: the characters of Olivia’s court also remain. Where the issues lie is in the cast of six actors (supplemented by three musicians) doubling up to often bewildering effect, as so little explanation is offered and delineation between characters presented.

Gemma Saunders has great fun as both Maria and Feste but there is so little between them, likewise with Jonathan Broadbent’s Orsino and Aguecheek. Whereas on the one hand, it cleverly shows up the similarities in certain characters, the desire to humiliate Malvolio in the former pair and the repressed passion for Olivia in the latter, on the other, the deconstructed nature of the production means that traditional narrative has been eschewed in favour of inventiveness and as a result, it requires a deal of concentration to work out which characters are onstage: far too often it just isn’t clear.

Poppy Miller as Viola (and indeed a much reduced Sebastian) is the only one who really touched me with her performance. The others, including Ferdy Roberts as a rockstar wannabe Malvolio were amusing rather than deeply entertaining, as it’s generally about the jamming rather than the nuances of Shakespeare, sometimes to its detriment.

In the final analysis, I was a little disappointed that style seemed to take precedence over substance: having watched Told By An Idiot’s Comedy of Errors recently which succeeded in combining inventiveness and music with strong storytelling, I couldn’t help but draw the comparisons and find much more clarity there. But it is lots of fun and you get pizza and tequila shots… So I can recommend this but with reservations: make sure you are very familiar with the story beforehand.

Running time: 90 minutes
Programme cost: £2
Note: if you’re the shy retiring type, avoid sitting near the front!

10 thoughts on “Review: Twelfth Night, Filter at Tricycle Theatre

  1. Good review, I completely agree with your caveat about needing to know the show beforehand though. I've read some reviews that talk about this being a good introduction to Shakespeare for young people which I find hard to credit, whilst it is engaging and entertaining for sure, even someone who knows the play as well as I struggled with working out exactly who was who at times.

  2. I took my eight year old to see the RSC production of Twelfth Night at The Duke of York and i'm afraid it almost put him off theatre for life!! As well as me! Thank heaven for the Filter collective who seem to have removed the academic hold on Shakespeare, Tim (8) was bowled over at the energy and the invention of the whole piece and I was bowled over by the intelligence and the fine balance of light and darkness that ran through the production. For those of you who prefer to sit through Shakespeare without the need to think or indeed concentrate don't worry I hear Simon Callow is to take the part of Belch in a Peter Hall production.

  3. Really? I get that people might not have liked the RSC's Twelfth Night but I can't believe it would have people off for life, Alexandra Gilbreath's Olivia was one of my favourite performances of the year, but each to their own.

    I fully understand the excitement about the freshness and the invention on display here, but I do wonder if Tim or indeed his parent would have been able to tell you just what was going on at any one point, the storytelling element just isn't there, at least not as far as I could see.

  4. I saw this last time it was at the Tricycle. It was a matinee and two large school parties were in – making up over half the audience. With the exception of some of the youngest kids who remained resistant and obviously bored, they were all really into it – very vocal and excitable but enjoying the experience, responding. I do agree it helps to have some idea of the text before hand or risk getting lost along the way.

  5. Ian,
    Would you like Tim (8) to fill in he gaps for you? He certainly understood the play a whole lot more than he did after seeing the last production. In terms of Storytelling I believe it's the most inventive and fresh use of 'real' storytelling I've seen in years. The piece has an electricity running through it that rarely do we see in this country, the way the company draws the audience in and steers us through the madness of Shakespeare's topsy turvy world is a delight to behold. If you like your theatre handed to you on a plate and thus leaving you out in the cold maybe this isn't for you! Sorry Ian but you obviously prefer the latter style of theatre. As I said previously, don't worry another one of those juggernaut dull productions will be available to you very soon.

  6. Why so angry? People are allowed different opinions you know, and you're behaving like a child now. I don't think anyone is denying that this is fresh and energetic, but I have to agree that it does require knowledge of the plot beforehand to fully understand it. For example Sebastian's role in the play being cut out means that his arrival at the very end comes without any warning, without preknowledge you wouldn't know what was going on.
    But this is just my opinion you know, it's ok for people to not have the same ones…jeez!

  7. Come now Mr/Mrs Anonymous, healthy debate is one thing but you're getting dangerously close to being offensive, and for no reason. I don't dispute the energy on display here, but as the other commenter points out, I simply found that elements of the story were unclear due to the cuts made and the doubling of actors. If you did not, that is fine, the beauty of opinions is that we can all have our own.
    And as for your comments on the type of theatre I like, did you read the final paragraph of the review? Have seen Touched by an Idiot's Comedy of Errors? Presume not to tell me what kind of theatre I like, if this blog tells you anything, it is that my theatregoing is somewhat diverse.

  8. My son, who you is 12, went to see this production with his school this week, and enjoyed it, but didn't grasp all of it – your balanced and cogent review makes clear why (I am, obviously, a different Anon. from above!) Alas, one of the drawbacks of living where we do is that we don't get an array of live productions to choose from, so I'm glad that he got to go tp a decent professional production at all – our next big Shakespearean excitement isn't till next April, when we get Derek Jacobi in King Lear!

  9. I went to see Twelfth Night and got a pantomime. If you want to see a farce which demands audience participation, or if you're interested in directors making things up, by all means go. But Shakespeare it ain't!

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