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Festival Review: Shake ***

Michael Cox reviews a production that's 'well done and filled with good humour'.

Five wooden sheds sit side-by-side; a table spread with lush food set near the stage’s edge. Five actors take to the stage, most playing multiple characters and all (save clown Feste) speaking French. Not quite what one expects when re-entering the fabled land of Illyria, the setting for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, but here we are with Eat a Crocodile’s reimagining.

The story is still the same. Twins Viola and Sebastian (both played here by Delphine Cogniard) are shipwrecked, each assuming the other has perished. Disguising herself as a man, Viola goes to Duke Orsino’s court and offers service. Orsino has fallen for the bereaved Olivia and sends Viola (now pretending to be Cesario) to woo Olivia on his behalf, but Olivia (thinking Cesario/Viola is a man) becomes smitten with her instead. Meanwhile, Olivia’s rascal uncle Sir Toby Belch is causing her and the household hardship with his shenanigans, which include ridiculing Olivia’s pompous servant Malvolio.

Pure nonsense, but the play usually works a treat, especially when a cast invests in their characters’ outrageous circumstances. Shake certainly embraces that outrageous spirit with its double, sometimes even triple, casting and use of musical interludes. The cast are also uniformly strong, playing off of each other (and at times against themselves) with relish.

If there is a weakness, it is in the fact that narrative clarity has been sidestepped. Without a working knowledge of Twelfth Night (or at the very least reading the synopsis in the programme), audiences will surely feel lost. It is also too long: two hours without an interval is asking the audience a bit much, though in fairness taking a break would disturb the pace.

It is well done and filled with good humour. However, one’s enjoyment will probably still hinge on already having at least an idea as to what's happening. So, to those with a good knowledge of Twelfth Night, add a star; to those who don't, take one away.

Shake was presented as part of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival. Its run has concluded.

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