Wanderlust Company serves up Shakespeare with a whole lot of spirit and energy, and so fast and furious the effect is like riding a high-speed roller coaster on acid.
Pairing down cast and subplots, these folk roll, lift, carry, and suit each other up to convey all the main characters with just six performers and barrel through the play in a mere seventy minutes.
I take away some splendid images of this inventive production. Olivia makes an entrance carried down the aisle above the heads of the audience, with her diaphanous train of mourning floating through the air like a demonic ghost. Viola is picked up and literally stuffed into her “pants role” over and over as she races back and forth to Olivia’s house to woo her on her master’s behalf. Orsino swoons and is carried away by music and the sound of his own voice into the arms and writhing bodies of his court followers. The stark white faces of the ensemble with their kohl-rimmed eyes look like left-over mimes from Marcel Carne’s classic French film Les Enfants du Paradis, who’d been long ago abandoned on an old film lot.
The problem is that somewhere in the remix much of Shakespeare’s language gets lost. Not only does the verse get buried, but the not fully trained voices lose breath support, abandon ending consonants, and mangle meaning in the race against time. It’s also a special pity that the score of this musical take by composer Jim Clemens, which is varied, tuneful, and most interesting doesn’t have the mature voices to fully do it justice.
Twelfth Night: A Musical Remix
by William Shakespeare
Directed and choreographed by Justin Poole
Composer: Jim Clemens
Details and tickets
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of promise here in this mostly young cast. Sean Byrne seems to have modeled his characterization on the young Orson Welles, to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance, and he might deepen the comparison with the over-the-top yet uncannily confident, brilliant actor. Holly Hanks is a most interesting choice as Feste, with a strength and arresting androgynous demeanor. She reminds me of a German cabaret singer and her rendition of “O Mistress Mine” was most effecting. (More vocal training will help protect this arresting talent.)
Makayla Baker plays both Viola and Maria, which I would say makes a bit of a muddle of things, as do some of the other casting choices. Nonetheless, Baker demonstrates an impressive grasp of her characters. I’d reiterate that the chief challenge for almost all the actors is inordinate speed and getting mushy in the delivery. Add to this, for all the women, an urging that emotional intensity not vocally ascend into squeakiness.
Director Justin Poole has adapted the work and conceived of what I imagine – judging by the constant house lights and how the company members move into and interact with the audience – is intended as a theatrical romp of “street theater” Shakespeare. His direction for this genre is attention grabbing and most inventive. I also liked the choice of using the song “Come Away Death” to stage a dream sequence of Orsino’s and Viola’s growing attraction for each other, making their odd, “forbidden fruit” courting understandable and sympathetic.
I commend Poole for giving these young actors this sizeable a challenge. With more technique and seasoning, the Wanderlust Company will do significant justice to the bard.