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  • Writer's pictureFrances

Twelfth Night Review | Royal Exchange | Manchester

“If music be the food of love, play on.”

The Royal Exchange revels in Shakespeare annually, celebrating his work with directors who modernise his classics with diverse casting and inventive staging. This year, Twelfth Night, directed by Jo Davies encloses a musically driven, dream-like production. A piercing cage looms above the actors as they perform, imitating rain and spotlighting entrapped characters. Although it appeared to be an eerie central prop, the shattered centrepiece restores a sense of displacement and disorder to the comedy.

The gender swapping storyline sees Viola (Faith Omole) disguise herself as her brother Cesario after they are both shipwrecked in a storm. Having believed to have lost her twin brother in the process, Cesario becomes a page to Duke Orsino who she begins to fall in love with.

The playful cast are what you come to expect from the Royal Exchange. An assorted range of striking talents from television, theatre and cabaret. The Exchange sees productions that are unbiased and unexpected with casting, offering a voice to communities that are often underrepresented. The most recognisable members include Mina Anwar as Maria, Simon Armstrong as Sir Toby and New Tricks actor, Anthony Calf as Malvolio.

In this production, Kate O’Donnell a transgender cabaret performer, steals also scenes as Feste, the freelancing fool. While setting up for the second act, O’Donnell banters with the audience and admits that in her position she is “very reliant on tips”. Feste’s role animates the atmosphere of the comedy and O’Donnell’s ties well with the shift in tones as she performs the melancholy The Wind and The Rain to wrap up the play.

Faith Omole is charming as Viola balancing her passionate soliloquies of love with comedic timing. The faultless cast all breathe life into this well-known love triangle as the production offers a playful sense of fun. Even the steward played by Anthony Calf amplifies his compulsive characteristics, entwining his long-winded love letter and hand sanitiser.

This classic relies on its cast to carry its scenes, as they are left to fend for themselves in a new land with few props to distract from their story. It is a testament to its talented performers that they are able to keep audiences engaged in this well known tale of love and heartbreak.

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