Everything about Filter Theatre’s Twelfth Night, playing at University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, is unconventional. It’s part-musical, part-performance art, part-audience participation, and the set is not really a set. Stage right sits a keyboard on a table, stage left are drums, in the middle sits the Stage Manager, Christie DuBois, and sitting center stage is the liveliest, most audience-grabbing gaggle of actors this side of the Atlantic.
The comedy is one of Shakespeare’s most popular, and follows the misadventures of the shipwrecked Viola on the shores of Illyria. Viola disguises herself as a man and serves in Count Orsino’s court. Mistaken identity, secret love letters, and pandemonium ensue.
The show’s interactivity starts off when Count Orsino (Harry Jardine) asks,”If music be the food of…” and waits for the audience to fill in “love.” It continues with interactive dancing, fuzzy balls being thrown into the audience and—pizza.
It gets weirder and wilder – in a good way: Viola’s (Amy Merchant) shipwreck is announced via radio. Olivia (Ronke Adekoluejo) anachronistically speaks via cell phone. Sir Toby Belch (Dan Poole) is dressed in Shakespearean-era garb, yet everyone else is dressed in contemporary garb. We see audience members dance on stage in a conga-line. We even see Count Orsino run up and down the stairs, through the audience.
Viola’s scene with Olivia, wherein Olivia professes her love for who she thinks is a man, was not only powerful, but was one of the few places where the show ascended a dramatic plateau, up and away from its usual irreverent zaniness. Adekoluejo is a star in the making. In other scenes, Sandy Foster infused Feste the court jester with a subtle humor.
With his mixed-matched socks, and inebriated demeanor, Poole’s Sir Toby Belch stood out in a comical way. I loved the artistic choice, by the adapters at Filter Theatre and Director Sean Holmes, to handle the Viola/Sebastian reveal in an unexpected, and clever way near the play’s end.
Your circuits will definitely be blown by Fergus O’Donnell as Malvolio. This Malvolio is 180 degrees from Malvolios in most productions of Twelfth Night, wherein he’s usually dour and stuffy; in this production, he’s quite simply a Rock God.
For approximately five minutes, this Twelfth Night turns into a rock concert. Drummer Alan Pagan and musician Fred Thomas made the musical numbers, including “Tequila, rock hard. Thomas even sports a banjo during the aforementioned audience’s congo-line dance/pizza party during the musical number “What is Love?”
Filter Theatre, which is funded by The Royal Shakespeare Company, has been creating innovative theater since 2003, including adaptations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and what actors call “The Scottish Play.” This production, born of a series of workshops by Filter Theatre and the Director Sean Holmes, is the perfect interaction between music and sound.
You’ll definitely leave the theater feeling enthused after watching Filter Theatre’s Twelfth Night. What other show serves you pizza, and throws fuzzy balls at you?
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Twelfth Night, has one more performance tonight, February 27, 2016 at 8 PM, at The Clarice – at the intersection of Stadium Drive and Route 193 (University Boulevard), in College Park, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.