As I attempt to type ‘twelfth’ correctly for the fourth time, I consider that it would almost impossible to stage a production of Twelfth Night—by far the gayest of Shakespeare’s works—in this day and age, which ignores the blatant possibility for explicitly queer interpretation and characterisation.
You know, we’re there, we’ve reached that point.
Sport for Jove, however, have managed to ignore it in this production, now at the Seymour Centre after its initial run at Riverside Theatre. Basically, if you’ve seen She’s the Man, you’ve seen this production’s commentary on gender and sexuality.
It should be noted that this production is actually remarkably well done. The set and costumes effortlessly take us to the play’s setting and time—coastal Australia in the early sixties—and are elaborate without becoming visually overpowering. The context makes for an interesting interpretation of events: a sexual revolution, flourishing youth culture, the emerging visibility of female sexuality epitomised in the passionate Olivia (Megan Drury).
Whilst extremely funny throughout, Sport for Jove’s production also manages to be touching in surprising places. The strength of the direction of the Malvolio plotline, and the performance of Robin Goldsworthy in the role, turns the subplot from “Fun And Gaslighting With Shakespeare!” into a series of heart wrenching moments to combat the play’s otherwise overpowering comedic tone.
The weakest points in terms of acting talent were, oddly, the play’s two leads. It is difficult to believe Anthony Gooley’s Orsino in his love for love for Viola (Abigail Austin), which seems to come out of nowhere. It is equally difficult to believe on Viola’s side, as we’re never really shown anything about Orsino that allows us to understand her feelings for him.
A particular high point and fascinating feature of this production is its constant immersion in music—on the radio, through records and, most notably, in Tyran Parke as the Fool. Choosing to structure the play around the songs of the Fool (beautifully arranged here by Christopher Harley) is an interesting choice, and one that works incredibly well.
Parke’s voice is enchanting and melancholy, and numerous times throughout the play I found myself wondering when the Fool would sing again. It feels as if the players are almost constantly in song—not quite a musical, but a performance knitted together with a kind of unspoken magic. It’s playful, and youthful, yet wonderfully wistful, and we’re constantly brought back to the play’s tentative sentimentality by Parke’s sad lilt.
All of this would have been utterly perfect, were it not that the production consistently goes for the “no homo” reading of the events, leaving the audience with the somewhat stale conclusion that “everyone’s queer, but really no one is”. When Cesario puts on a dress and becomes Viola once again, I can’t help but feel a little hollow. When this audience laughs, even still, at the play’s flirtations with queer romance played for humour, I realise why.
Sport for Jove’s Twelfth Night is wonderful, really. It’s an enjoyable and poignant portrayal of youth in love that expertly walks the line between humour and sentiment.
Maybe I was expecting too much.