Some theatrical productions are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. Others, like Aquila Theatre Company’s Twelfth Night, must resign themselves to mere adequacy. Though the staging promises passion, revelry, and a riposte to puritanical society, it delivers only a solid rendition of this Elizabethan merriment.
Aquila, a touring company composed of both British and American players, has fared better with its other takes on Shakespeare comedies. Past seasons have featured a delightfully mod Much Ado and a dotty fez-flecked Comedy of Errors. This time, however, directors Robert Richmond and Peter Meineck resist a pop-cultural frame, instead presenting a straightforward—if smuttily costumed—interpretation. Against a charming painted backdrop, various would-be lovers cross-dress, cross-garter, and speak at cross purposes.
Certainly Shakespeare plays don’t need a snappy concept to make a splash (that’s often their undoing), but they do require somewhat more verve and care than the present production provides. Kenn Sabberton succeeds as stick-in-the-mud steward Malvolio, Lisa Carter acts Olivia in fetching voice and person, and Lindsay Rae Taylor is the rare Viola who somewhat resembles an adolescent boy. But the remainder of the cast neglects to make much of an impact. Worse, the more evident directorial choices (an onstage coffin, excessive capering, bondage-outfitted Fool) don’t really come off. And while music may well be the food of love, actor-composer Anthony Cochrane’s synth-folk score is singularly unappetizing. (His sonic ingredients includes lute strum, harpsichord twang, and electro beats.)
Aquila prides itself on embodying a kind of “theatrical utilitarianism,” offering clear-cut productions that make Shakespeare accessible and enjoyable for the greatest number of spectators. Its Twelfth Night certainly makes the language and plot quite intelligible, but also uninspiring. Instead of “very midsummer madness,” it’s very midsummer run-of-the-mill.