Dubbed a ‘triumph of psychedelic imagination’, I was intrigued to see Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at Bristol Old Vic. The oldest continuously working theatre in the English-speaking world has recently unveiled its multi-million-pound new exterior and bar and is looking pretty triumphant too! A bright neon sign above the giant doors reads ‘Come on in’ and from what I can tell, Bristol Old Vic seems to have a renewed resolve to become a welcome hub for the community, not an exclusive place just for the theatre-loving elite. So, what better way to start this new chapter than with a raucous, passionate, hedonistic comedy by the most ground-breaking writer, Shakespeare. It seems the perfect fit.

Twelfth Night cast at Bristol Old Vic

Image: L-R Brian James OSullivan, Meilyr Jones, Jade Ogugua, Dylan Read. Photo credit Mihaela Bodlovic

Director Wils Wilson injects a healthy dose of mayhem and ‘60s bohemia in this version of Twelfth Night and if you like your music loud, then this is a wonder for the ears as much as for the eyes. I won’t give you the Cliff Notes for this tale, but it’s safe to say that the story of these lovers (who swap genders, trick each other, fall for each other and ultimately create utter comedic chaos) was played out masterfully in front of this captive audience.

Underlying the many, many laughs, Wilson has playfully explored the fluidity of gender, identity and relationships that Shakespeare first delved into in this play. Back in Shakespeare’s time, both male and female roles were played by men on the stage, whereas in this version of Twelfth Night, Wilson has enlisted women to play some of the male roles. Colette Dalal Tchantcho plays Duke Orsino and Joanne Thomson plays Sebastian, the male twin of Viola (played by Jade Ogugua) who pretends to be a boy in the play. Confused? You won’t be, as the play is quite easy to follow and is peppered with a celebratory soundtrack reminiscent of Bowie, Queen and even includes actual panpipes. These were rivalled by Malvolio’s Beyonce-inspired wind-in-the-hair moment complete with yellow stockings and cross garters (really, that happened!), and Andrew’s saxophone/piano solo, played by Christopher Green and Guy Hughes respectively. The boundless talent of the cast was mesmerising as Wilson took the most famous line from the play (‘If music be the food of love, play on’) and really thrust it to the fore – with a gold, spangly crotch. (You’ll have to go see it to get that last line.) 

Twelfth Night, a co-production by The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, is at Bristol Old Vic until 17 November. Book tickets here.

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Bristol Old Vic Theatre
Theatre
Bristol Old Vic Theatre

Built in 1766, Bristol Old Vic is the oldest continuously working theatre in the English speaking world, and remains a place of joy, discovery and adventure to this day.

Twelfth Night at Bristol Old Vic
Theatre
Twelfth Night at Bristol Old Vic

Bristol Old Vic and Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh are delighted to announce that the first co-production between the two award-winning theatres will be Shakespeare’s hilarious and heart-breaking Twelfth Night.