twelve nights gina frost

Theatre Review: ‘Twelve Nights or WTF’?

afflecks three minute theatre

 Reviews have spoilers.

Tour This Play! Twelve Nights or WTF? The 3MT, Manchester

Starring: Charlie Colquhoun, Sophie Anne Ellicott, Sophie Toland, Daniel Brotherton, Louise Wilson, Tony Charnock

  • Written by: John Topliff
  • Directed by: Gina T Frost
  • Original run: December in central Manchester, the Three Minute Theatre
  • Feels like it would look good in: Lantern Theatre (Liverpool), Chelsea Theatre (London), Theatre 503 (London), HOME (Manchester) 

“I’ll have to relieve sexual frustration… I’ll sing a song!”

Twelve Nights or WTF is a musical comedy adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (or What you Will) which celebrates probably the best LGBT play ever written – with plenty of well-measured (f)risks and frolicks that could keep any rum Manc warm through the winter.

Written by John Topliff and directed by Gina T Frost, Twelve Nights pinned a thoughtful return of the Manchester Shakespeare Company to the North’s theatre scene with just over a week of performances to an audience, some of whom would return for a second swig with a fresh crowd the night after.

So. The story. You know the score: we all proper fancy each other under the safety of a mask so let’s all cross-dress for the forseeable until we mess it up….oooops.

Only, the masks in Twelve Nights eerily complement the initial dystopian setting of ‘FUKIP’, where we discover Daniel Brotherton as Sebastian and Sophie Toland as Viola: twins who are separated in a crash when bravely escaping their homeland, only to plunge right into a s***tip of a racist federation. The video backdrop and aural montage which frames the first example of love-as-suffering in Act I Scene I is like a strange hybrid of an Adam Curtis doc and German Expressionism.

twelve nights gina frost

We lose Viola to the dark, and emerging from the City of Mancia’s binbags is a startled and part-naked Sebastian, or rather – now a hotel duster and unrequited match for Sophie Anne Ellicott as the jazzy Horsina Pilton, an entirely Northern businesswoman thriving in a rich man’s world.

Except… she’s pining for the hopelessly supercilious Oliver de Tabloids, a dahling played by Charlie Colquhoun and rogue to Horsina’s success. de Tabloid’s ambition is driven by his very ‘fell and cruel hound‘, a duke’s hubris that fuels the innuendo. (A little bird tells me Oliver was originally written as that pukka-trash, pumping-up-your-UKIP Jamie Oliver…)

Now, this is a Shakespearean rom-com, so Oliver has to either be flanked by cronies or be fawned over by an equally unsuitable suitor. Enter all: the hilariously trollied Tia Maria, a character totally owned by Louise Wilson, Oliver’s meddling aunt and her American BFF of the moment, Sophie Toland‘s Andrea Palemuscht.

The Drinks Are On Tia Maria

The West Coast accent fell away here and there, but it was certainly forgivable. Toland carried the Brechtian torch of taking on two roles, tackling Viola’s eastern European accent with ease. Wilson takes this on too, playing Antonia, a FUKIP fugitive who’s copped off with Viola in the meantime.

Drunken plans ensue as Tia sees that she can’t introduce Andrea to Oliver who is irretrievably (for now) infatuated with Sebastian. Clearly, the next best thing would be Oliver’s lackey, Tony Charnock’s Malcom, a cringe-worthy Carry-On gay man where bathos is only the beginning of his journey…

“How am I supposed to run a hotel chain without a steady supply of cheap labour?” gurgles a deadpan Horsina. 

These dark moments help punctuate the first half and slows the pace, ready for all the reveals after the intermission.

When we return, the double entendres and sarcastic setups embroiling Malcom and Oliver are well timed, especially for the now desperate Malcolm; they serve as further sartorial stabs to the play’s cultural context.

It became clear we were watching something that served up a real-time medicine with the sweetest sugar possible. A cheekily political 80s soundtrack contrasted the play’s original songs (including Feste‘s Song adapted as ‘Hey Ho the Wind and the Rain’, poignantly sang by Charnock).

I would  love to see this soundtrack available to listen to again as sung by the actors on the night.

The 3MT has a musical comedy ripe for touring

The Three Minute Theatre – given the space and budget as well as the direction – often makes use of epic theatre. For Twelve Nights, the stage’s omniscient transformation from desolate future landscape to Oliver’s penthouse works quite sublimely within the play (as you should see if it gets the tour it deserves in 2015). The alienation isn’t cold, though. There’s a real sense of satisfaction as an audience member to be conscious of watching something both gloriously funny and eye-wateringly close to the bone.

Without giving away too many of the juicy bits, John and Gina have relished the opportunity to ensure that their paean to William Shakespeare bellows at the heart of a city, whose history is one of working class, gender and sex-based political dissent.

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