PROVO — I’m not always a Shakespeare fan, but as I watched BYU Young Company perform Twelfth Night, directed by Megan Sanborn Jones, I had a blast. Jones has shortened the production and added songs and a western motif. As a result, the hour-long performance is just right for the young audiences to which it caters.
I’m always skeptical of theatre for young audiences and it’s ability to entertain not just the young audience, but also the adults who bring the youth. Often this type of production is over the top cheesy and juvenile. As I walked into the Nelke Theatre in the Harris Fine Arts Center I was leery. The actors wearing silly western costumes and fake mustaches were milling about and interacting with the audience members. My initial thought was that I would be watching another cheesy production for kids. Once the show started, though, I realized this was going to be a positive Shakespeare experience.
Twelfth Night is the story of a twin brother and sister to get separated during their travels. Each believes the other is lost. The story more closely follows the sister, Viola, who in order to gain employment, disguises herself as a male, Cesario. She is hired by Duke Orsino, who frequently sends Cesario to help him woo the Lady Olivia. While Viola/Cesario is falling in love with Orsino, Olivia is falling in love with Cesario. Throw in the foppish Malvolio (also in love with Olivia), and the mischievous maid Maria, a jokester of an uncle, and a clown, and Twelfth Night is a riotous, hilarious mess only the Bard could concoct.
One aspect of this production that I enjoyed was the use of music, often provided by characters on stage. Orsino (played by Scott Jackson) often accompanied musical numbers on the guitar. Feste (played by Cameron Bridston) used his trombone and ukulele to not only add music, but also humor to the production. But, Maria (Olivia Ockey) was my favorite of the night. She was spunky and mischievous, and Ockey’s singing voice was a strong addition to the group musical numbers.
Overall, I found the cast to be well rounded and talented in many areas of performance. I especially enjoyed the performance of Savanah Smith as Olivia. I have seen other productions of Twelfth Night but this was the first production that I truly felt sorry for Olivia in the climatic scene. Yet, even though I felt sorry for her, I was still able to laugh at the entanglement of the scene.
There were some excellent scenes of entanglement and entrapment in this production. Perhaps the most famous entrapment scene in a Shakespearean comedy is the trap set for Marvolio (played by Costner Henson) by Maria (Olivia Ockey), Sir Toby Belch (Jacob Baird), and Feste. I found the balance between this scheming trio to be well met, and their chemistry was perfect. The only moment I would have liked to have seen more was during the letter scene. They were hiding behind a cactus and I really would have like to see the spininess of the cactus acknowledged. It’s a dangerous hiding spot and several times a performer would touch of bump into the cactus and not react to what would, in real life, be a startling experience.
As this production was also produced to take on tours to area schools, the set (designed by Rory Scanlon) and props (by Scott Jackson) are simple but effective. The scenery was painted on a curtain that hung from a free standing frame. The curtain could be moved by stage hands during the performance to create the effect of the characters riding their horse across the desert, much like the old moving screens used in film making in the past. I found this to be a clever and effective tactic. I do wish that the curtain slide more smoothly over the joint holding the frame together in the middle. (Of course, I think the same thing about my shower curtain at home.) What I originally mistook to be acting blocks were in reality square tables or stools that were covered with fabric. This makes them lightweight and easier to transport, again perfect for school performance tours.
The performers really sold the choice to use stick horses with coconut shells creating the clip-clopping sound effect. The cast’s use of pantomime skills was delightful, and I especially enjoyed watching Feste attempting to mount his stick horse. Additionally, I loved that Feste was dressed as a rodeo clown, which was one of many effective costume designs from Alyssa Bybee. The winning costume of the night was definitely Marvolio’s “yellow stockings” costume. It was hideously perfect.
I highly recommend this production. It was such a fun night out. The show is an hour long, which for those without a strong love or interest in Shakespeare, is an ideal length. I felt that even though the script was adapted for shorter performance and for a younger audience that it stayed true to the original script. If any educators are reading this review please take advantage of this touring production. If my early exposure to Shakespeare had been this enjoyable I think it would have lessened by fear of studying Shakespeare. BYU Young Company makes Shakespeare fun for all ages with this production of Twelfth Night. Catch it while you still can.