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Apr 22

THEATRE REVIEW   by Paul Vates

Merely Theatre’s Twelfth Night at The Greenwich Theatre

 

“A theatre company that, literally, makes you want to come back again…”

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Merely Theatre in association with The Production Exchange are currently touring the UK with a Shakespeare double-bill: Romeo & Juliet and Twelfth Night.

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[Robert Myles as Malvolio – with Belch and Aguecheek looking on]

 

Nothing unusual in that, surely? Well, Artistic Director Scott Ellis is proud to point out that Merely is an old-fashioned repertory company and is based around a gender-blind casting scenario. So for this tour, the company has ten actors in total. But there are only ever five performing on any given night. Each role has been doubled up with actors, so the combinations available are manyfold.

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[Robert Myles as Malvolio]

 

The style is bare and in-your-face. The script edited so we stick to the action for most of the time. The story, told as plainly as possible, zips along at a cracking pace, at times dragging the actors along behind.

 

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[Luke Barton as Olivia]

 

Luke Barton stands out for me – doubling as Olivia as well as Andrew Aguecheek. He shows his range, playing the former’s femininity without campness or humour, but throwing himself wholeheartedly into the slapstick of the latter. Close on his heels is Robert Myles, revelling in a Rigsby-esque Malvolio while playing Sebastian straight and calm. Emmy Rose only has the one part – but don’t feel sorry for her. She plays Viola with openness and honesty. Hannah Miles tries a little too hard to be funny as Sir Toby Belch for my liking, but her warmth as the Duke Orsino makes up for it. Finally, the troupe has Tamara Astor as Feste and Antonio. Her laid-back, hippie Feste is at times lost amidst the manic energy of Aguecheek and Belch.

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[Hannah Miles as Sir Toby Belch]

 

One cannot fault the production for its energy and urgency. Sometimes, though, this flows over into a desire to drive the comedy at the pace of a farce, thereby losing some focus. What could be laughter from the audience only receives smiles at times – and perhaps that is the only issue here. In the need for pace, the audience has no time to take it all in which is exactly what we need to appreciate the skills on show. When the pace dropped for romantic and sad scenes, it came somewhat as a relief. I also became fascinated by Barton’s constant fringe maneuvering (slick it back or cut it!) and Rose’s little hops (one step back before moving two forward).

 

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[Tamara Astor as Feste and Luke Barton as Aguecheek]

 

I leave wondering how the ‘missing’ five actors would do the play – and, for that matter, how they tackle Romeo & Juliet. A theatre company that, literally, makes you want to come back again to find out…

 

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Review by Paul Vates.

 

 

 

Tour details: www.merelytheatre.co.uk

 

Performances Length: 2 hours (plus interval)

 

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Twitter: @MerelyTheatre