Directed by Victor Kalka, this production of Shakespeare’s comedy gives an extra twist to the proceedings right off the bat.
The cast of 12 walks to the lip of the stage and in pairs they toss a coin: heads or tails determines what role they will play in this performance.
And so it is on this occasion that male actor Zac Bush is playing Viola, who is herself pretending to be a man, Cesario, who just so happens to have caught the eye of Olivia. Tonight, Olivia is being played by Cameron Hutt.
Meanwhile, Viola’s long-lost twin brother Sebastian is played by Caitlin Williams, Rowena McNicol is Duke Orsino and Olivia’s pompous manservant Malvolio is played by Lucy Ross.
All topsy-turvy then, though on another night, should the coins fall another way, a more conventionally gendered production may be offered.
No doubt the actors get a buzz from the process. Not knowing who you are playing for the next couple of hours would certainly keep you on your toes. But the element of chance also demands that each actor is completely invested in two roles and that they are content with – depending on the toss – not playing the part they may be better suited to.
Working on a plain set with three doors inventively used (and slammed for punctuation), Bush is very good as Viola and Hutt stands out for his fluency and the strong character choices he brings to Olivia. McNichol’s Orsino, Sarah Greenwood’s Maria and Lucinda Howes’ Antonio are solidly sketched and well spoken.
The comic pickings are slim by comparison. The badinage between Toby Belch (played by Eleni Cassimatis as a raging party babe) and Patrick Sunderland’s nerdy Andrew Aguecheek is only fitfully funny and their interplay seems uncertain. Michael Smith’s thoughtful but not terribly funny Feste fails to raise a laugh more often than not.
On balance though, an appealing and nimble production of a play that almost always charms, no matter what you do to it.