Twelfth Night As A Gender Experiment

Twelfth Night at The Rose Playhouse ★★★☆☆

Lettie Mckie
By Lettie Mckie Last edited 33 months ago
Twelfth Night As A Gender Experiment Twelfth Night at The Rose Playhouse 3

Men playing women, women playing men, men playing women dressed as men... The Rose Playhouse's rep production of Twelfth Night is doing it all. With four different casts — all female, all male, own gender and opposite gender — this new production from inside the ruins of a Tudor theatre reminds us that nobody liked a good gender swap like Shakespeare.

One of London's most incredible archaeological discoveries of recent times, the foundations of the Rose are hidden under an eerie lake of water in the basement of a modern block, just a few minutes from The Globe. With very little money (be warned there aren't even any toilets) but huge ambition for future excavations, The Rose Playhouse puts on plays from the site's tiny viewing platform.

Twelfth Night: A Gender Experiment is fun, irreverent and madly confusing. Six actors played all of the parts in opposite genders on the night we visited, and as per the script things get extremely muddled when Viola (played by a man, Christopher Logan) falls in love with  Count Orsino (played by a woman, Julia Goulding). Meanwhile Orsino loves Olivia (played by a man, Henry Gilbert) but she falls in love with Viola thinking she is a man.

The company embraces the multiple gender concept with tongue in cheek humour, but some actors are more successful at appearing natural as the opposite sex. While Logan's falsetto is a perfect foil for Viola and Gilbert makes a beautifully graceful Olivia, sadly Goulding overacts and is not a convincing Orsino.

As the play twists and turns to its comedic conclusion, farcical misunderstandings pile on top of each other and the sorry figure of Malvolio (played by a woman, Shuna Snow) gets stuck in the middle making a complete fool of himself. Snow is absolutely brilliant as a hammed up, cod upper class version of the silly courtier who allows himself to be convinced that Olivia loves him.

Confined into a tight space with minimal props and scenery, the cast brings a complex story to life with nuanced energy and emotional maturity. Next Friday — 16 October — will see all four casts perform together, surely resulting in more chaos than even Shakespeare could have predicted.

Twelfth Night: A Gender Experiment is on at The Rose Playhouse, 56 Park Street SE1 9AR, until 30 October. Tickets £12/£10 concessions. Londonist saw this show  on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 11 October 2015