A Winter’s Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night - QSE. Photography: Silvana Macarone.
Twelfth Night – QSE. Photography: Silvana Macarone.

Twelfth Night is a glorious piece of revelry. When twins Viola and Sebastian are separated in a shipwreck, each thinks the other is dead. The story that unfolds has all of Shakespearean comedy classics: mistaken identity, a shipwreck, twins, cross-dressing, a wedding and lots of laughs.

Viola loves Duke Orsino, who loves Countess Olivia, who loves Viola (who is disguised as a man). What could possibly go wrong?

Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble are very good at capturing what I imagine is the original feel of Shakespeare. It’s outdoors, it’s relaxed, and it’s down to earth. They make Shakespeare accessible- financially, emotionally, and intellectually. They don’t shy away from the crass innuendo either, carefully highlighting the hilarity of Shakespeare that can be overlooked and forgotten in stuffier productions.

Linda Forester, Colin Smith, Rob Pensalfini, Liliana Macarone and Silvan Rus. Photography: Silvana Macarone.
Linda Forester, Colin Smith, Rob Pensalfini, Liliana Macarone and Silvan Rus. Photography: Silvana Macarone.

The most famous line of this play is probably “If music be the food of love, play on”-so it is fitting that this production is complimented by vibrant, live music. Written by Rob Pensilfini and performed by the cast, it sets the mood for a party (with a bit of scheming thrown in) and smooths transitions between scenes.

This production is not overly elaborate- but it doesn’t need to be. It has striking and functional costumes and lighting and a few props that effectively set various scenes. This leaves the focus on the characters and on Shakespeare’s quips and insights.

Paige Poulier and Chris Vaag. Photography: Silvana Macarone.
Paige Poulier and Chris Vaag. Photography: Silvana Macarone.

Another thing to love about the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble is, true to their name, they have a sense of ensemble in all of their performances. For those familiar with Twelfth Night, it is easy to think of it as a play about Viola and Duke Orsino, but this production gives equal weight to all of the lovers’ storylines.

Linda Taimire stands out as the hapless Countess Olivia who is pursued by the man she spurns, and spurned by the man she pursues. She brings real feeling to a character that can be easy to caricature and dismiss.

Chris Vaag is a wonderful straight man counterpoint to Paige Poulier’s festively buffoonish Sir Toby Belch. Anthea Patrick plays an earnest and passionate Viola, but alas, there is little chemistry between her and Liliana Macarone’s Duke Orsino. I’m not certain, but perhaps the gender swap of the role of Duke Orsino was unnecessary.

Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s productions at the Roma Street Parklands are something to look forward to each winter. Not only are the productions wholly engaging, but the overall experience is delightful. They are a chance to rug up, get a hot chocolate and be warmed by the bard’s words.

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