Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Propeller, Twelfth Night

How long have I wanted to see Propeller? The all-male Shakespeare theatre company? Forever, that's how long. Or maybe since they started winning awards and I became aware of them. Either. But they don't come to play in my lands of Smalltown, so I have to go to them, to home city Norwich. That's lucky, because we're over here, so let's take the opportunity.

And, by the way, isn't Norwich grown up? Blimey, I don't remember this swanky city centre architecture looking pretty good, new next to old.

Norwich? It's the place to go! But watch out on the missing signage to turn a left or right to find the car parking by the Theatre Royal. I spent 15 minutes blaspheming, so maybe, innocent day tripper, leave extra time for driving the Norwich city streets while cursing. And the lack of independent cheap-eat evening options in the centre just before show time? Grumph. 6.30pm sees me defeated in Pizza Express, regretting the choice but unable to find alternatives. Not that it matters to anyone else. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger remain enthusiastic about high street pizza, which is a benefit to being aged 12.

Parking and pizza aside, Norwich Theatre Royal is an effortless affair, so long as you can find the entrance door (another signage issue. Either I am dumb to signs or Norwich assumes I live here).

But then! There is Propeller! The anticipation of that stage set!

I have driven miles for this, cursed the one-way system, and eaten no dinner, then Twelfth Night begins. And I had that creeping feeling I'd chosen tickets on the wrong play. I should have picked the flip side of their season's double bill, Taming of the Shrew.

The first scenes of Twelfth Night didn't smack me in the face, like I needed them to. I wanted an immediacy and a physicality, which is one reason why I've come to see this company, and I had to endure people talking to each while standing still.

Don't get me wrong. It's not like I'm hooked on Starlight Express on Acid, but maybe Propeller have a reputation before them, and after the trials I've had (and no dinner), I need to see their particular kapow demonstrated there, right up front, so I can have the luxurious pleasure of revisiting those opening salvos in my head for days afterwards.

But Twelfth Night gives possibilities for physical interpretation, and Propeller does take them; the stage becomes a boxing ring and a hall for a tap-dance routine, the fish-net tights strut is excellent and the garden scene is beautifully visual with masked and chest-bared actors becoming statues, shrubbery, and local wildlife.

Then there is that other reason I need to see Propeller in Twelfth Night. Men playing women playing men. That did not confuse me at all. Well, maybe a bit, and I put that down to the replica blond wigs on Viola and Sebastian giving them a touch of the androids with me sat far away in the mean seats of the circle. I had to squint my eyes, at one point convincing myself they really were twins. In the ordinary run of men playing women, Maria was excellently played. No squeaky voices or silly mannerisms, except just enough hip thrust with the character arrival in kitten heels and tight skirt.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger enjoyed it all, laughing at mama's incompetent fury on her drive by, enjoying their perfect pizzas, and notching up another Shakespearean performance in their goal to see every play from mama's purse before they leave home.

But that's enough from Grit. You have to go and support Propeller, even if they're still controversial. And apologies. I just couldn't fit into the diary or the bank balance the all-female version of Julius Caesar at the Donmar.

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