Twelfth Night by Scena Mundi
The French Protestant Church, Soho Square
22nd March – 9th April 2016
Review by Richard Lambert 23/3/16
Surprisingly I hadn’t previously noticed the French Protestant Church on my many previous visits and crossings of Soho Square. It’s in the corner. It’s a little gem. Dating from 1893, it was designed by the English Architect, Sir Aston Webb (of Buckingham Palace facade, and Victoria and Albert Museum Main building, fame) and it’s stunning! It’s from the era of Victorian architecture that enjoyed a Gothic revival – with the Victorian era’s updated building techniques, a polish and quality never previously available in 16th century medieval times could be sprinkled onto church construction. As if the architects wanted to repeat what had been done before, but better 2nd time around. And they did!
What a great location, right in the heart of London, to mount a Shakespeare production! Full credit to Scena Mundi for making this happen – quite an achievement!
And it was in 1601 that the 1st Performance of “Twelfth Night” was performed. Scena Mundi’s production, Directed by its founder Cecilia Dorland, is a respectful version but unfortunately it doesn’t quite live up to its marketed aspirations. Self-describing as “a fashion makeover…in a bold and finely crafted production which takes the Elizabethan style to a church catwalk” and “creates a shimmering world of mirrors and illusions where the mirrors of true love is deformed in many conflicting reflections” one might expect something quite extraordinary.
Well there were no shimmers, no mirrors, and no reflections! I’m all for conceptual theatre but this is over-selling to extreme!
I wonder if the clever marketing person, the Designer and the Director were ever in the same universe, never mind on the same page!
The Set Designer, Edward Fisher, wrapped the columns in a sliver opaque pallet wrap, then added a shiny blue reflective floor catwalk up the aisle. This juxtaposed well and created a tunnel effect accentuating the high church buttresses and amazing architecture. Undoubtedly, Edward read the marketing spiel.
I wish I had photos to show you of the Church interior with this production’s Set Design.
Unfortunately the Press Photos only show Cast close-ups in Elizabethan collared costumes like the one below (Costume Designer Georgia Green, photo credit: Jessy Boon Cowler). The photos do not do credit to the Design and Style of the production nor reflect the fabulous church makeover.
The show started with an electro-pop carnival procession style entrance with medieval palacial court dancing down the blue catwalk. The costumes revealed to be high camp Elizabethan with a nod towards the Pet Shop Boys’ sun-shades and Dr Who costuming. It was an amazing, exciting start! The audience were alert and grabbed. Shakespeare like never before. Darren Royston’s choreography was so indigenous to the era, the production, and the location. It was clever and a treat!
But then “the Shakespeare started”. And the venue was mainly ignored. And the action could have been in a pub room, or on a stage, or in fact anywhere. There was an occasional delightful use of the pulpit, but on the whole the church setting was ignored, its catwalk, and the shiny fabric walls were superfluous to the production. Such missed opportunities and a little disappointing.
The actors were well rehearsed, script perfect, and proved a polished performance. My favourite has to be Edward Fisher as Feste due to his committed approach when traipsing the long haul up and down the catwalk.
I did find the long walk entrances and exits, either off the sides or up and down the aisle quite entertaining as the actors found imaginative ways to continue their characterisations “mime-esque” for longer than their scene dictated. I found myself more interested in whether or not they could upstage the focussed on-stage action all the way down the church at the other end of the aisle. It would be a great improvement if the action was brought out into the nave of the church more, admittedly forcing some of “the congregation to swivel” to watch, but perhaps not a bad thing when the seats are wooden pews. (Even Churches realise that a service is more comfortable if you make participants alter their postural positions by changing them between sitting, kneeling and standing in a pre-choreographed manner – with an added pre and post activity of a genuflex stretch on way in and out of the wooden seating arrangements).
The Sound was really clear, despite the resonance of the church surroundings. The music and sound effects were delightful. Placing the speakers behind the audience at the rear of the church was though an unusual design concept and made some of the audience look around in surprise now and again.
The Lighting was simple: birdies, Short Nosed Par 56s, and some LED Uplighters. But it was very gentle and lit the performance nicely with some splashing onto the Church architecture that was quite lovely. Very few channels to worry about, but nicely effective. The programme didn’t credit a lighting designer which is a great shame.
At the end of the night, it’s an interesting entertaining production. It could have been so much more. You’re expected to feel a little sorry for “Malvolio” but you might also feel a little sorry for the Designer who’d obviously read the brief and tried so hard to take this production to a new level but undermined by the Director sticking to the well worn path, instead of slippy-sliding down the slick newly laid blue plastic toboggan run of a church aisle.
If you’re a fan of Shakespeare you’ll truly love this production! If you’ve read the marketing and want to see “shimmering mirror reflections and illusions” you’ve been sold a brick in a box. Either way, it’s an entertaining evening.
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