The curious thing about this country is that we bemoan the fact that younger generations are switched off to Shakespeare, but we insist on teaching it in such lacklustre ways. It might be some time since I sat in a classroom studying Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Othello, but not so long ago that I can’t remember being very interested in the plotlines, but bogged down by the monotonous delivery of the text.
Shakespeare performed live on stage is an entirely different matter. For those concerned with the style of English used at the time, there exists no language barriers when the meaning of the words is conveyed onstage within a live scene. The humour breathes through the production, the poetry comes alive, the plots become less unbelievable than when you sit analysing them within four nondescript walls, trying to think about themes and the like.
This particular semi-professional production of Twelfth Night was brought to us by the Combat Veteran Players – a group of armed forces veterans combatting PTSD, who have worked extensively with the RSC to train as actors and put on shows, raising money for armed forces mental health charities in the process.
Aside from perhaps one or two fluffed lines early on, the performances were spot on – each actor captivating in their roles. Notable mentions have to go to Shaun Johnson who gave a fantastic performance as Malvolio; alongside some highly comic turns by Andy McCabe (Sir Toby Belch) and Androcles Scicluna (Feste) – the latter showcasing a marvellous singing voice with some beautiful Maltese melodies.
Presented in a fairly minimalist style at the Leicester Square Theatre, only props deemed crucial to the storytelling were used and the costuming kept neutral – the beauty of this production was that in no way was it explicitly told as either a traditional or modernised version, but all the anachronistic references (such as wedding music and certain folk songs) that were brought in to enhance the show did so without interrupting the flow or jarring with the original script.
It was a fantastic night and did a great job of raising both funds and awareness for such important work being done by armed forces health care. The troupe regularly hold workshops with the RSC and stage productions, so keep an eye on their website for more details: