REVIEW: Twelfth Night Or What You Will, Scena Mundi

Scena Mundi’s production of Shakespeare’s comedy focuses on the vanity of the characters with mixed effect. 

Scena Mundi - Twelfth Night_2 © Jessy Boon Cowler.JPG
Emma Hall (Lady Olivia) and Harriett Hare (Viola). Photograph by Jesse Boon Cowler.

Viola is in love with Duke Orsino who is in love with Countess Olivia who in turn is in love with Viola dressed up as a man servant of Duke Orsino. A pretty straight forward plot that is simply told in the atmospheric surroundings of the French Protestant church in Soho Square.

This refocused production of Twelfth Night concentrates on the theme of vanity as evidenced by the blue catwalk and the contemporary vibe during the opening sequence to set up the scene. But although in this way it gets the audience thinking about the direction that the production is going to take – it isn’t constantly made clear and looking back on the opening sequence now it seems a bit random.

However, there is still plenty to enjoy about this production that is never over the top – particularly in the characterisations of Sir Andrew and Sir Toby – perfectly performed by Thomas Winsor and Jack Christie to gain the most laughs of the night. There is plenty of energy throughout and it is clear to see that the cast are enjoying themselves immensely.

Cecilia Dorland’s production is respectful and faithful to the text and is staged to let Shakespeare’s language do all the communicating, yet occasionally some of the words are lost due to the echoing surroundings.

The comedy is perfectly played to make the audience laugh at the vanity of characters such as the wonderfully pompous Malvolio played by Martin Prest – whose facial expressions in reaction to what is happening is memorable for all the right reasons. Yet there is an underlying tension and viciousness that comes through in Dorland’s production – the cruel trick that Sir Andrew and Sir Toby play on Malvolio reveal that vanity can expose your weakness and vulnerability.

Essentially, it is a production that is about the performances. Winsor as Sir Andrew is a weak and feeble character to play – but wonderfully expressed throughout. Emma Hall as the snobbish Countess Olivia soon warms up into a passionate and sincere performance, while Harriett Hare as Viola is strong and independent – even if she causes a few problems along the way.

The lighting and music suits the production and the surroundings of the French Protestant church well and all that is lacking perhaps is the audience’s ability to really engage with the characters – it just feels a bit distant at times, particularly at the climax of the show when everything is revealed and misunderstandings are resolved.

Overall, Scena Mundi has created an atmospheric production, with a refreshing take on Shakespeare’s beloved comedy that is very much a character focused performance.

Twelfth Night Or What You Will plays at the French Protestant Church in Soho Square until the 9th April. For more information and to book tickets visit: 

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