Theatre Thursday: Bard on the Beach’s Twelfth Night

“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”

Perhaps the most famous quote to emerge from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and one of my personal favourites. And great indeed is Vancouver’s current location of “Twelfth Night”, having recently opened Bard on The Beach’s 24th Annual Shakespeare season.

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The venue is phenomenal. It’s been a good three years ( my excuse being that I was out of the country) since I’ve had the pleasure of attending Bard on the Beach and it certainly didn’t cease to stun me this time round. With two bars, it’s own shop, seating areas, fairy lights, an information corner, and of course the Mainstage Theatre, the custom-built Tent holds over 700 seats and encompasses a unique and beloved theatre experience in our city. My favourite aspect? The fact that the set has no backdrop- allowing you to see outside all the way to the ocean, complete with ships sailing past, dog walkers strolling by, and at times, curious bystanders lingering and peeking. It is a supreme pleasure to enjoy the incorporation of our city into the set and watch the sunset throughout the play.

Now- onto the play itself. Viola loves Orsino. Orsino loves Olivia. Olivia loves Viola ( who is really pretending to be a man). Malvolio loves Olivia ( who was tricked into it by Viola’s maid). Hearts are broken and mended, true identities are revealed, and a happy ending is incurred by everyone…well except Malvolio. If you are looking for one of Shakespeare’s more comedic romantic stories then you’ve found it.

I’ve seen the play produced in a variety of genres and locations (even, I dare to admit, watched “She’s the Man” which takes on it’s own interpretation of the story- and was filmed in Vancouver) but Bard’s version was a new one for me. Set at the ‘What you Will Hotel and Spa’ it  was reminiscent to me of a Fawlty Tower’s episode; Malvolio, the Hotel Owner,  is a constant source of mockery and struggles to maintain control and authority among his guests, while the guests constantly wreak havoc and chaos around the hotel, pulling numerous pranks and indulging in a few too many drinks.

There are many farcically funny moments throughout the production, timed and executed perfectly by some of the wonderful actors on stage. I loved the way in which they spoke Shakespeare’s language- using an inflection, tone and emphasis as we would today- allowing for greater understanding and engagement with the words by the audience- which we all know can be a constant struggle with Shakespeare.

I find myself in a battle with Shakespearean text sometimes. I desperately love it and yet struggle to follow it.  I watch in rapt fascination one minute and find myself tuning out the next. The language barrier is just hard to get past sometimes- even though it’s in my own language! When I have these moments however, I give up attempting to translate them to modern day prose and instead focus on appreciating the beauty the words themselves;

“I am indeed not her fool, but her corrupter of words.”

“Well, God give them wisdom that have it; and those that are fools, let them use their talents.”

I find I still am able to enjoy the production and with the actor’s gestures and emotions am usually steered back with realization towards the present dramatic moment. It’s ok to get lost in Shakespeare! Simply by accepting this fact I think it makes the plays more enjoyable and less intimidating to a wider audience.

I highly recommend a trip to Bard on the Beach this summer.  Take your kids, take your family, take your friends- arrive early, grab a glass of wine, browse the shop, take in the scenic surrounding views of Vancouver, and settle in for some Shakespeare. It’s a wonderful way to spend a summer evening in our city.

Hamlet, Measure for Measure and Elizabeth Rex also play this Summer at Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach.

For more information visit: http://www.bardonthebeach.org

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