Culture Writer Jasmine Sandhar reviews the Young Rep Company’s performance of Twelfth Night, finding that the performance flawlessly executes a modern twist on a Shakespeare classic

3rd year English and History student

Inspired by the cultural celebration that has been occurring in the lead-up to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, The Rep have launched the Uncommon Riches Festival. ‘Filled with 1000 young people across 7 jam-packed days’, the theatre is making a conscious effort through its youth programme to include and inspire young people to appreciate the arts industry.

As part of this festival, on Tuesday 19th July, I had the pleasure of attending the Young Rep Company’s performance of Shakespeare’s iconic romantic comedy Twelfth Night. Having never seen the play onstage before and only reading at my own leisure some years ago, I was unsure of what to expect. However, by the end of the evening, I was quite pleasantly surprised.

Undeniably, the greatest strength of the performance was directors Becky Deeks and Alice Chambers collective decision to ‘put a noughties twist on Shakespeare’s classic’.

This modern retelling of the narrative breathed a newfound sense of energy

This modern retelling of the narrative breathed a newfound sense of energy into something that could otherwise be seen as outdated and monotonous. It also gave the younger cast the opportunity to relate to the contents more and have fun playing around with the script, such as adding moments of wordplay that could only be understood in today’s context. Sir Toby Belch, played by Haleema, was particularly adept at this, providing some ad lib spins that had the audience in fits of laughter.

Nevertheless, special mentions must also go to those who managed to execute their roles flawlessly, as though they were thespians treading the boards of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Amar Jagpal absolutely nailed the authoritarian pomp of steward Malvolio, striking the perfect balance between a minor character of the plot and protagonist of the subplot, who carried himself in a truly professional manner from body language to speech.

Another standout was the Duke Orsino (Elijah McDowell), whose charm and charisma radiated across the stage and throughout the entire theatre, whether he was jiving around or lying down on the floor. Chloe Jane Portman also did a fantastic job of transitioning between Viola and Cesario, finding ways to blur and amalgamate the boundaries between masculinity and femininity in a truly Shakespearean fashion. 

Arrangements of pop anthems from artists ranging between Britney Spears to Evanescence were both extremely entertaining and well thought-out

Perhaps my favourite aspect of this performance was the use of early 2000s music. The arrangements of pop anthems from artists ranging between Britney Spears to Evanescence were both extremely entertaining and well thought-out. Bob Cheel (bass guitar), Ella Kirk (drums), Alice McGowan (electro-acoustic guitar) and Tyriq Baker (keys) worked in tandem with one another, effortlessly weaving harmonies and countermelodies into a scarf of sound that wrapped itself around the audience. In addition to this, extreme musical talent was demonstrated by the fool Feste (Shaniah Smith), whose karaoke machine provided a brilliant backdrop to belt out ballads with.

Of course, not everything was perfect. There were moments where lines were forgotten and stumbles through, and it was difficult to hear what was being said at times. However, these merely acted as a bit of chop that was easily overcome by the steady sailing boat composed of the cast and crew, who were sure of where their journey was headed. To think that these young people were able to put on such an accomplished performance at this age serves only to feed my optimism for the future of theatre. 

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