Twelfth Night | University Observer

First Published September 2014

With Purple Coat Production’s award winning production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night going on tour, Laura Marriott reviews its recent Dublin performance. For one night only, Liverpool’s award winning Purple Coat Production brought their tour of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre. They are supported by a wide range of celebrated actors including Stephen Fry, Sir Ian McKellen and by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and with good reason.

This powerful performance of one of Shakespeare’s most entertaining love stories brought out the humour, wit and tragedy that marks the uneven path of love. Twins Viola and Sebastian are separated in a violent shipwreck leaving them washed ashore in a strange country.

Believing her brother to be dead, Viola assumes his image and identity in order to make her way in a man’s world. This leads to a tangled web of mistaken identity and confusion as Viola crosses paths with a host of characters including unsuccessful lovers Olivia and Orsino. Falling in love with Orsino, Viola finds herself cornered, unable to proclaim her love and yet at the same time is pursued by the love struck Olivia.

By choosing actors without physical similarities to play twins this version played with the idea of love at first sight and, suggested that by disguising their appearances they were able to find a love based on more than just outward appearances.

As Olivia finds herself smitten with who she believes Viola to be, the cast play with the idea of identity and homosexuality. This culminates with Olivia finding herself nearly marrying a woman before accidentally becoming involved with the real Sebastian. Performed in the Boys School of Smock Alley theatre, Purple Coat bought a sense of summer holiday romances and holidays to the tail end of the Irish summer. The theatre works excellently acoustically and its limited space pushes the actors to a greater performance.

This worked particularly well as we saw court steward Malvolio being forced to question his sanity when interrogated by the witty and surprisingly lyrical fool. Here the audience were brought on a journey through identity, sanity and madness that raised many questions for both the characters as well as the audience.

The talented and vibrant cast capitalised on the danger and excitement found in love. Like many of Shakespeare plays, Twelfth Night came dangerously close to crashing into tragedy, before being salvaged as a romance. Each actor brought something special to the play, making this an incredibly watchable and enjoyable performance by a rising star company.