A funny and modern twist on a Shakespearean classic is playing in Toronto
We walked in to the underground studio that was the set for the Twelfth Night, or, Whatever which was designed to look like the atmosphere of a rave. This unique set did not disappoint; the huge space looked like a nightclub where a rave actually could take place, with a dance floor, stage, two different bars and several lounge couches and chairs that were placed strategically throughout.
The first thing we were told was to go ahead and join the dancers on the dance floor because this play was as much for us as it was for them. I quickly realized that most people who were dancing were actually actors and that most of the audience members were mingling on the couches and chairs. And thus began our experience of the Twelfth Night, or, Whatever with a rave-like, dance party twist.
Written by William Shakespeare, seeing this play on the anniversary of his birth and death, seemed appropriate. Modeled after Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and Punchdrunk Theatre’s interactive Macbeth adaptation Sleep No More, Twelfth Night, or, Whatever reinvents the classic comedy the Twelfth Night, or What You Will and uses a drug and alcohol-fueled rave as its backdrop.
The actors dressed like ravers, wearing bright colours, crazy patterns and lots of white to enhance the effect of the black light. The entire space was illuminated with neon colours that often changed shapes and colours to highlight certain characters. The audience was encouraged to also wear neon as this play is meant to be an interactive experience, with no actual stage, and instead, the actors would make their ways around the studio space as if they were attending a huge rave.
The audience was supposed to follow the actors around the huge space but most people remained seated on the comfy couches. I often found it difficult to know where to look as there was a lot going on once the dialogue began. The actors literally used every inch of the studio which made things pretty interesting. At times it could be difficult to see the actors or hear them, especially from the comfort of the couches where the audience sat. This play offered a truly interactive experience as certain characters incorporated the audience members and couches into the scenes. At one point, Malvolio sat down beside my roommate and I and spoke as if he was talking only to us. We giggled a lot but it definitely made the play more exciting, not anticipating what would happen next.
As aesthetically pleasing as this production was, and as awesome as the original music was (props to Joel Lightman and his band The Snobs), I had one main issue with the show. I admittedly have very little experience with Shakespeare and went into the production not knowing anything about Twelfth Night, or What You Will. I found the story difficult to follow, with so many characters and twisted storylines, and it really hindered my enjoyment of the play. An easy solution to this would have been giving audience members a program with a quick overview of the story so those who were unfamiliar with the story wouldn’t have felt so lost.
I think you would really enjoy this production if you were familiar with the story or enjoy Shakespeare in general. My roommate liked it a lot better than I did because she had studied this play before and was able to fully appreciate the story. The rave and dance party-inspired backdrop was definitely a unique and really cool addition to this production that really brought this classic play into modern times.
– Twelfth Night, Or, Whatever is playing at Breakout Studios (1541 Bayview Ave) until April 25, 2012
– Shows run Mondays – Wednesday at 8:00pm with doors and house band at 7:30pm
– Tickets prices are $15 and $10 for students and arts workers
– Tickets are available at the door
Photo by Kelsey Goldberg