Dec 10: ‘Twelfth Night’ by Filter Company, UK: A rare stage-performance

Kolkata shook under Shakespearean-bash as Filter Theatre Company, UK in collaboration with British Council, performed Twelfth Night, as a part of Shakespeare’s 400th birthday observation, in the evening of Dec 1 & 2, 2015. Shakespeare-lovers of Kolkata made a beeline to G D Birla Sabhagar to listen to the chaste rendition of Shakespeare’s much-loved Twelfth Night. But hold on! You got, instead, a different presentation with a brand-new outlook, a freewheeling performance, where the actors indulged in music, gymnastics, ball-on-cap antics, direct interaction with audience while play was on, and, what not!

It is rather a hallmark of the Filter style that they aim not at line-by-line or word-to-word transcription of a play, but, at winning the heart of the audience by roping them in and making them feel to be a part of the performance. This punk style of presenting Twelfth Night on stage reminds us of a rock gig rather than a straight play. Breaking into a mirthful chorus with loud orchestra on singing out ‘Present mirth has present laughter’; or Viola being informed of her present plight on a radio forecast; or Orsino’s rendering of comic speech ‘If music be the food of love, carry on…’; or the informal asking for a ‘boy’s coat’ from the audience for cross-dressing; or, the  orchestra breaking into a crescendo at Sir Toby Belch’s cracking of a drunken joke—all these credit this play with a  novelty which, though, somewhat off-the-track, could win applause of the younger theatre-goers.  However, the older ones would love to find the poetry of Shakespeare to be encased in their dialogues, unaltered, in totality! A lady, who teaches a school in Kolkata, came out with a wry remark, “This is a performance of acrobatics and gymnastics and loud orchestra, nothing serious!” This was rather a rock-and-roll remix of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which had an immediate appeal.

The acoustics of Filter Theatre are laudable. The music in the play enlivened the audience so much that the comment of Virginia Woolf seems quite cogent in this context, ‘the play seems … to tremble perpetually on the brink of music’ (while reviewing a revival at the Old Vic in 1933). Even she went on writing about a Shakespearean mind, which is ‘mobilised and under control but with feelers left flying that sport and play with words so that the trail of a chance word is caught and followed recklessly.’

In a word, right from chancing upon Illyria to the cross-dressing to the jocular interaction with Sir Toby Belch – all seemed full of life and zest in this colourful rendition of Twelfth Night. To quote Paul Taylor, ‘The Company are developing a cult status… But then, experiment is, by its very nature, challenging and to divide audiences is a great deal better than to leave them numbly noncommittal’ [as printed in the theatre-brochure].

Kudos to director Sean Holmes; associate directors Oliver Dimsdale and  Ferdy Roberts;  managers of acoustics and music Tom Haines, Fred Thomas and Ross Hughes; and musician Alan Pagan! And special applause to the cast – Ronke Adekoluejo (Olivia), Christie du Bois (Viola/ Sebastian), Fergus O’Donnell (Malvolio),  Harry Jardin (Orsino/ Sir Andrew Aguecheek),  Sandy Foster (Feste/ Maria), and Dan Poole (Sir Toby Belch)!

Filter Company, UK is now on its India tour and is performing Twelfth Night in eight cities including Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar, Hyderabad and Goa apart from the four major metropolises. We must thank British Council, India, for allowing us to be witness to such a rare stage-performance in our city!

Report by: Ketaki Datta, Kolkata, Dec 10, 2015,

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