Theatre Review: TWELFTH NIGHT – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Faith Omole (Viola) in RET Twelfth Night. Photo Credit: Jonathan Keenan

TWELFTH NIGHT is one of the best Shakespeare adaptations seen at the Royal Exchange in a long time

Funny, beautifully staged and well performed, Jo Davies’ adaption of Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT is a must-see piece at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre this spring.

Written by William Shakespeare in 1601/02 as a twelfth night’s entertainment for the close of the Christmas season, this 400 year old play is a comedy disguised as an initial tragedy.

Separated in a shipwreck and believing each other to be dead, twins Viola and Sebastian find love – and eventually each other – but not before confusing the whole island with their mistaken identity.

Washed up on the shores of Illyria after a ship-wreck, Viola initially hides her true identity by disguising herself as a man. Finding a job (and love) at the court of Duke Orsino, Viola becomes muddled in mistaken identities when her disguise begins to cause more problems than it solves.

Cleverly staged for in-the-round with sand providing both an effective soundscape as well a feeling of being stranded on an island, Leslie Travers’s innovative staging design moves round to create paths, helping to move you through the story and the stage with little effort and maximum effect.

Faith Omole delivers an outstanding performance as Viola, her beautiful Tracy Chapman style voice is simply magical capturing both the mood and atmosphere of the piece. Elsewhere, Mina Anwar as Maria and Simon Armstrong as Sir Toby Belch play off each other brilliantly to create hilarious moments of comedy, while Kate Kennedy delivers great moments of laughter in her dramatic performance as Olivia who is madly in love with Cesario.

Issues of gender are at the heart of the play and Jo Davies’ adaptation certainly highlights this theme. In this particular production, Feste The Fool, a role traditionally played by a man, has been cast as a trans woman (Kate O’Donnell) bringing a whole new perspective on the character and the play’s themes of identity, gender, love and loneliness.

A nod to the costume design is also worthy with lots of subtle changes and ideas expressed through them, especially Olivia’s coat which demonstrates both the struggle of grieving for her brother and her new found feelings of love.

TWELFTH NIGHT is one of the best Shakespeare adaptations seen at the Royal Exchange in a long time and a funny, must-see piece of theatre for lovers of Shakespeare, both old and new.

4.5 out of 5 stars

TWELFTH NIGHT runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester until 20 May.