Last Updated on May 18, 2021
60 Hour Shakespeare performs over Zoom.
‘This is America, lady’ announced Feste in the opening lines of Twelfth Night which suggested that 60 Hour Shakespeare’s production was going to present a rather new perspective on this comedic play. One of four Shakespearian shipwreck plays, the action traditionally takes place in Illyria where twins, Viola and Sebastian, are rescued from the waves. Each believing their twin to have drowned, the two become embroiled in a case of mistaken identity which device Shakespeare crafts into a well-loved play with a romantic ending. As Michael Corbridge, RSC Associate and the production’s Voice and Text Director observes, this play happily has a body count of zero.
Directed by Gavin Leigh and produced by Charlotte Cline, this production is staged by 60 hour Shakespeare, a company that uses actors from all around the world and rehearses within a 60-hour limit, a time frame harking back to Shakespeare’s era. This being lockdown, the actors appear on Zoom which must have presented enormous challenges to the cast, never mind the lighting, and costume designers.
Cline points out that Twelfth Night is a good choice for an online production as it is both accessible and high energy. The quick-witted dialogue carries the action along. This production transposes the play to Manhattan circa 1919. It is the eve of prohibition – not good news for the ebullient Sir Toby Belch (Joe Penczak) who spends the entire play drinking. It is set in the iconic Ansonia Hotel on the Upper West Side which was once a residential hotel, a world of its own, inhabited here by Olivia (Sophia Priolo, also the Movement Director) – a Southern Belle who has taken a suite of rooms – and the underworld lord, Orsino (Stefano Guerriero), who is trying, unsuccessfully to woe her. Malvolio – one of Shakespeare’s most ‘notoriously abused’ characters – is here cast as Madam Malvolia (Georgie Rhys), the hotel concierge, who falls in love with her mistress, Olivia. Sir Toby and his gang of hangers-on occupy the bar where they enact their shenanigans. Viola (Ilaria Diotallevi) and Sebastian (Henry Silk) are cast into this den of iniquity and have to find their way amongst a rather shady bunch, each with their own agenda.
The production is filmed in black and white which helps set the atmosphere of the times – there are some great shadow effects – but also ensures consistency as the action shifts constantly between the rooms within which each actor performs. There are certainly a lot of mismatched doors in the background and actors sometimes look into the camera facing the wrong direction, but this aside the Zoom filming works rather well. The racy, jazz soundtrack that accompanies Orsino’s speech ‘if music be the food of love, play on’ introduces the music of the post WWl era and provides a wonderful opportunity for Feste (Nettie Chickering) to shine as the bartender moonlighting as a jazz singer. She has, as Sir Toby observes, a ‘mellifluous’ voice and her performance stands out from what is a strong cast.
The cast is drawn from Italy, USA, UK and Ireland which in itself must have presented challenges for the Director. Viola’s Italian accents works well as the twins have travelled on the ship from Calabria along with their fellow immigrants to New York, and the American actors are the inhabitants of the host city. The company uses both professional and amateur actors which provides a wonderful opportunity for less experienced actors to appear in a Shakespeare production. The standard of the acting carries the performance along and although it ran to well over two hours, I felt fully engaged and the enjoyment of the cast was clear despite the virtual performance. I had to remind myself that they were not only isolated in their own homes but were not even on the same continents or time zones.
Twelfth Night is the third Zoom production of the 60 Hour Shakespeare company. To find out more about 60 Hour Shakespeare and to check out some of their past productions, take a look at their website where you will be able to book tickets for their upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet which will be broadcast live on 31st May. The company performs to raise money for a range of charities and Twelfth Night was doing so for the Fiorentini Foundation that provides scholarships for disadvantaged children with socio-economic and long-term health challenges to access the performing arts.
This production of Twelfth Night was a reminder of the ways in which the theatre world has risen to the challenge of lockdown whether acting via Zoom or live streaming from theatres with plays written for one or two characters. A year on from theatres having had to close their doors, audiences and actors are preparing to return to live performances. Hopefully, one day we will look back on these Zoom productions as a necessary experiment that met the challenges of this strangest of times. For now, we are grateful for the spirit of those who bring performance to life via our computer screens.
To find out more about 60 Hour Shakespeare and to check out some of their past productions, do take a look at their website, where you will also be able to book tickets for their upcoming Zoom production of Romeo and Juliet on 31st May