Disguise I see thou art a wickedness,” insists Twelfth Night‘s Viola. And indeed, it doesn’t seem to be the allurements of masquerade that drew Cheek by Jowl’s director Declan Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod to this project—a production of Shakespeare’s comedy acted in Russian, under the auspices of Moscow’s Chekhov International Theater Festival. The costumes and sets are rather minimal, if awfully attractive. The members of the all-male cast called on to play woman are fitted with dresses, but no other trappings of femininity. The text’s gender ambiguities don’t interest director and designer overmuch.
Rather, it’s the liveliness and playfulness of Twelfth Night that appeal. While the more serious and solitary moments drag (perhaps owing to the disconnect between the flood of Russian vocatives and the pared-down English supertitles overhead), the scenes that fill the stage with bodies and action are a delight of choreography and athleticism. At times, Donnellan appears to be directing a rugby scrum, not an Elizabethan comedy. The physicality of the staging, the strong ensemble work, and the unexpected samba numbers played and sung by the cast do make one wish Twelfth Night could stay around longer than its brief BAM run permits.