Dan Jemmett’s production of Shake, which is a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night set in a 1970s seaside resort, takes the gender-bending comedy and boils it down to a cast of five actors and one set. Performed mostly in French with English subtitles, the play relies on modern music (via a record player with some lip syncing and singing) for setting the mood and tone. Though the production has the outward mannerisms of slapstick farce, it rarely connects with the comedy. Rather, the endeavor is flattened by the chosen style of vaudevillian melodrama.
The core of the Twelfth Night story remains unchanged even if some subplots are simplified, happen off-stage, or are dropped all together—shipwrecked Viola (Delphine Cogniard) washes ashore in Illyria. Thinking her brother Sebastian has drowned, she doesn’t know what to do, but knowing the reputation of the local Duke Orsino (Antonio Gil Martinez) she decides to dress as a manservant, Cesario, to serve him. Once employed by the Duke, Viola discovers she has feelings for the Duke who has been trying to woo the wealthy, reclusive Olivia (Valérie Crouzet). Viola (as Cesario) is sent by Orsino as emissary to Olivia to make another plea for his love. Olivia falls for the romantic and earnest Cesario, not knowing her true identity is that of a woman. When the not-drowned Sebastian returns and is confused for Cesario, he sets into motion the revelation of Viola and the confession of her love for Orsino.
Though the set includes five beach cabanas with top and bottom doors, Jammett avoids the obvious opportunity for identity-swapping/slamming doors fun. Without changing stage visuals, the stage business repeats rather than escalates.
The direct address in the play is more pronounced in this production. Pleas to the heavens become laid at the audience’s feet. We are frequently seen and acknowledged by the cast. But in a large venue, this fails to generate a conspiratorial intimacy.
Despite the complex gender dynamics of Twelfth Night, here Jammett seems wholly uninterested in sexual intrigue, forbidden desires, or even performed gender. He does toy with unexpected swapped identities and shared character voices, but to uneven effect. Many members of the cast do double-duty to cover various characters for bits and pieces of the show (beyond the traditional doubling of Viola/Sebastian). Martinez is both Orsino and Malvolio, Olivia’s counselor—both characters are in love with Olivia, so the overlap of these characters makes some sense. Sir Toby Belch performs a ventriloquist act with a dummy as his drinking pal Sir Andrew Aguecheek. This physical manipulation of the dummy makes his control and teasing of Aguecheek a touch more sinister since he can literally put him back in his case whenever Belch is done with him.
Berger voices both Sebastian and his servant Antonio while they speak to each other while intermittently popping a man’s hat on the otherwise mute Cogniard, signifying Sebastian in that conversation. Later Cogniard performs Sebastian outright with the same hat as our clue to which sibling she is. Geoffrey Carey plays Feste, Orsino’s fool, and then sometimes he too is the servant Antonio (another hat signifies this). However, there is no frenetic joy or comedic confusion generated by these switcheroos. There are moments of true confusion when it’s not clear who a character is speaking to while facing the audience.
The changing and poorly defined universe within the production (why is Cogniard mute as Sebastian sometimes and not other times?) makes these choices feel less textual and more stylistic. But it is a style that is adopted without a great payoff.