Twelfth Night (heads or tails) | New Theatre

Image by Clare Hawley

After the year we had in 2020, we could all use a bit of a laugh. Cue one of the oldest comedy writers out there with the classic tale of love, deception, mistaken identities, and twins! But, this time, with a twist.

Of course, William Shakespeare and his work get a lot of time on stage with at least one of his plays in production around the world at any given time. The texts are also the centre of a lot of study from scholars to writers to historians to drama students and all of that close attention can get stifling, making the plays feel stagnant, overdone. Victor Kalka’s rendition of Twelfth Night with the subtitle (heads or tails) injects a game into the production that loosens things up a bit.

The cast has been divvied up into six pairings and each night begins with a coin toss to determine which actor is going to play which part in their pairing. It’s a simple, random, and inventive twist that makes the production feel like a rehearsal game in the best way. The text is refreshed with each performance with shifting dynamics between actors and new surprises for the audience at each watch (there’s a discount if you go more than once). When Shakespeare can so easily feel heavy, dull, or old-hat, this trick makes it playful again.

At the same time, the production design embraces the roots of theatre performance with a bare stage, few props, and consistent costuming, by Bronte Barnicoat, for most characters throughout the action. Set design by Kalka includes a white wall of three doors, recreating the feeling of chance from the coin toss. The sound design by Ryan Devlin and composition by Lachlan Massey incorporated live music with piano and voice that further gave the production an impromptu quality.

The cast, understandably, performed with an easy, casual attitude towards the story of Viola and Sebastian’s mismatched identities but there was a respectful coherence between them, as well. Stand out performances came from Zac Bush as Viola who played between charm and confusion very well and Eleni Cassimatis as Sir Toby, a swaggering, drunken meddler who seemed comfortable in all unflattering circumstances. In terms of the comic relief, the lanky weed of Sir Andrew (Patrick Sunderland) slipped particularly well off the flat affect of Lucy Ross’s Malvolio, a crowd favourite character. And even after leaving the theatre, the niggling question remains: what would they have been like as their opposite?

Twelfth Night is a play all about tricks and misdirection but with good humour at the heart. Kalka’s rendition pleasantly captured the playful possibilities of live theatre.

Twelfth Night (head or tails) is running at New Theatre from January 6th – 23rd

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