What You Will
15/07/2017 - 22/07/2017
Feste and Maria like having fun. Feste and Maria don’t like doing work. When the foul-tempered Malvolio begins prying into their fun they do what they do best, prank him! Based on William Shakespeare’s 12th Night, What you Will promises to be an exciting romp for the whole family!
Head down to the Fortune these school holidays for a hilarious new production created by Dunedin locals Zac Nicholls and Jordan Dickson. Featuring live music and some very silly characters, this show is sure to have the whole family giggling all the way home.
11am & 2pm, 15-22 July, Fortune Theatre
Bookings: (03) 477 3274
Malvolio: Shaun Swain
Feste: Nick Tipa
Maria: Sam Shannon
Playful fun with an utterly vital message
Review by Terry MacTavish 18th Jul 2017
Malvolio’s furious outburst, “My Masters, are you mad? Do you make an alehouse of my lady’s house?” becomes “Do you make a playhouse of my lady’s house?” in this delightful cut-to-size children’s version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night or What You Will. The answer is yes, playing is precisely the aim of the child-like servants, Feste the Fool and Maria the maid, who just want to have fun as they go about their duties in Lady Olivia’s house, bossed by stuffy, puritanical steward Malvolio.
So what could be better for a happy entertainment for the winter school holidays? This sub-plot of Twelfth Night, which is the Fortune’s main-bill show, lends itself obediently and very successfully to the perennial tale of servants, or children, taking revenge on the pompous adults who run their world. A win-win all right, utilising the Fortune’s resources, including the impressively dilapidated ballroom set, attractively lit by Anna van den Bosch, to provide holiday merriment, while introducing the very young to the joys of live theatre and the incomparable Will Shakespeare.
Shakespeare’s Commedia roots have never been clearer, as the well-cast Harlequin and Columbine characters of Feste (the irrepressible Nick Tipa in sparkly purple tuxedo) and Maria (bubbly Sam Shannon) play pranks – good classic lazzi, all of them – on Malvolio, their uptight, pedantic boss. Malvolio is acted to the hilt by Shaun Swain who combines, in his diminutive but extraordinarily authoritative figure, Pantalone, Dottore and a bit of Braggadocio. Swain is a genuine Dunedin treasure, currently stealing hearts as Valentine in the grown-ups’ Twelfth Night.
The three busy actors are smoothly experienced in the genre, introducing themselves with cartwheels, bursting into catchy song and interacting confidently with the eager audience. Consequently the young patrons, and their grandparents too, are engaged from the first as Maria and Feste grumble about their tasks and beg for a day off, for all of them. But Malvolio is having none of it. “It will never happen. The day I take a day off, is the day I let you have fun!”
Clearly this challenge must be answered and, as in the real version (more or less!), a letter is dropped in Malvolio’s way assuring him of Lady Olivia’s favour if he will dress in ridiculous clothes, act like a chicken and smile incessantly – not something dour, Scots-kilted Malvolio is accustomed to do. The only things that will make him smile, we are told, are paying taxes, recycling and eating cabbage. Certainly not the wise-cracking Fool, “back from fooling other fools foolish enough to be fooled by him.”
Zac Nicholls’ clever script is full of such felicities, effortlessly spun into delicious candyfloss by Director Jordan Dickson and gifted Nicholls, who is also both Musical Director and a beguiling presence at the piano throughout. The children are enthralled and enthusiastically join the cast, inventing names for their teams like Punch the Pecky Tube and Fluffy Pink Unicorns, and unselfconsciously demonstrating the best chicken-walking I’ve seen on stage for many a long year.
The audience relish the knockabout comedy, the disguises (especially Tipa as a splendidly accented Doctor) and the chance to shout warnings and advice to the naughty servants, with whom of course they identify whole-heartedly. Swain plays Malvolio as more than a stage villain though: there is a dark side to the comedy and the youngsters show a little sympathy as he is humiliated, tricked into believing he is sick and left alone. Enter the Cat, a rather curious device for his redemption, who should perhaps have been introduced to the narrative earlier, but it’s an opportunity for Shannon to show she has dance as well as trombone skills.
Indeed What You Will is blessed with a highly skilled and truly professional team of Children’s Theatre practitioners, recalling the halcyon days when Play School and Spot-On were filmed in Dunedin, with the likes of Fortune co-founder Murray Hutchinson training a generation of wonderful actors-for-children. The University of Otago Theatre Studies Department, the nearby Playhouse with its tradition of good theatre performed by children, our local Globe offering opportunities to put Shakespeare into practice, and the support of the Fortune’s education programme, have given us another such renaissance.
What You Will may be playful fun for the littlies, but the theme is eternal and profound – everyone needs a little creative play and laughter, or life loses all meaning. In an endangered world that desperately needs the imaginative thinking the Arts inspire, but where, like Malvolio, certain powerful leaders are “sick, of self-love” and support for the Arts is horribly threatened, the message is utterly vital.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Stimulating and relatively light-hearted
Review by Alison Embleton 18th Jul 2017
A collaborative effort from writer Zac Nicholls (with some mentoring from playwright Emily Duncan) and director Jordan Dickson, What You Will is a delightful companion piece to the current Fortune mainstage production of Twelfth Night. The narrative follows a pared down version of Twelfth Night’s sub-plot of Maria (Sam Shannon) and Feste’s (Nick Tipa) rebellious chicanery aimed at their cranky and demanding taskmaster, Malvolio (Shaun Swain).
The script is intelligent and the narrative is crafted in a way that makes the complexities of the plot accessible to most children without talking down to them. There are a few places where the dialogue could be tightened up: characters occasionally go off on tangents that don’t add much comedic or narrative value and the opening is a little sluggish. However, it’s refreshing seeing a show aimed at children that is also genuinely enjoyable for adults. There are jokes for all ages (though it’s all strictly G-rated) and some classic Shakespearean lines thrown in for those in the know.
What You Will benefits from piggybacking on the elaborate set used for Twelfth Night, but full credit to the director and the cast for utilising it in their own way. The performers are also somewhat restricted to the centre stage due to lighting limitations, but considering that they have to work around the complex lighting rig set up for evening performances, I think it’s perfectly adequate and checks all the right boxes for a kids’ show (lighting design by Dickson and Anna van den Bosch, who also operates).
The sound levels of the performers do fluctuate quite a lot. One of the actors drops the ends of quite a few lines, and while I appreciate the difficulties of adding singing, dancing and live music to the mix (all three actors deliver very physical performances, Tipa and Shannon in particular) you can structure a show to allow for pauses/recovery where needed. Any actor should be able to execute a stage whisper and communicate clearly with the audience without yelling at them (unless it’s a character choice). Besides, if you’re performing two shows a day that also include musical numbers … be kind to your vocal chords!
Volume problems aside, the addition of live music (music direction and live accompaniment by Nicholls) is delightful and there are some very entertaining lyrics. I do think a little more could be made of Nicholls’ participation in the action, so that when he does join in it feels more natural. That being said, I’m sure there could be some logistical elements in play with this decision.
Shannon’s Maria is a little petulant (you would be too if you had to do all that work) but very sweet and she fulfils the ‘voice of reason’ role without coming across as righteous. Tipa’s Feste is bold and mischievous as the main antagonist, and Swain’s Malvolio is a convincingly cantankerous villain, made to see the error of his ways. The decision to make him a poster-boy for recycling and to have the other characters mock him for it is an odd one, which could be rectified with a call-back to allow the other characters to see it as a positive character trait instead as a reason to lampoon him.
The choice to create What You Will as a companion piece to the current mainstage production of Twelfth Night is a strong one. It puts an accessible spin on a classic story. There are well-structured messages about the effects your behaviour has on others… which I’ve seen plays pitched at adults try and fail to deliver. Additionally it also gives a unique opportunity for entire families to view versions of the same play; parents/caregivers and older children can enjoy the kids show as well as the fully-fledged main stage production in the evening.
While What You Will does follow the standard formula of Children’s Theatre, complete with the classic “He’s behind you!” as well as the jazzy song and dance numbers about learning lessons and being nicer to each other, it is genuinely clever and entertaining. Solid performances from all three actors, as well as a few instances of audience participation, help to keep the young audience engaged and the actors manage to incorporate the sassier responses from the audience seamlessly into the show. In fact, I think more could be made of the audience participation: kids love to get up on stage. Embrace that, get them up there early and let them really revel in it. That enthusiasm rapidly diminishes as we age. Most adult theatregoers panic and melt into their seats at the first inkling of audience participation.
This is a stimulating and relatively light-hearted show with great themes for kids and enough wit to keep an older crowd amused as well. Like extra marshmallows with your hot chocolate, What You Will is the perfect winter holiday treat.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer