Saturday, October 14, 2023


Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Heather Fairbairn

Bell Shakespeare production

The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 21 October


Reviewed by Len Power 13 October 2023


There’s a lot to like and enjoy in Bell Shakespeare’s production of “Twelfth Night”.  This comedy of mistaken identities in an exotic land called Illyria has a bitter sweet appeal with mood-setting music by Sarah Blasko.

Separated by a shipwreck on the coast of Illyria, look-alike twins, Sebastian and Viola, create confusion when Viola disguised as a man, Cesario, falls in love with Duke Orsino while Olivia falls in love with Cesario, thinking she is a man.

The director, Heather Fairbairn, sees the play as an exploration of gender and sexuality, but some gender swapping of roles adds an extra level of confusion with twins, Sebastian, a male played by a woman (Isabel Burton) and Viola, played by a man (Alfie Gledhill) who pretends to be a woman.

The gender swapping continues with Malvolio, now called Malvolia, played by a woman (Jane Montgomery Griffiths). This change is more successful as Griffiths plays her as a female steward who has never known love and becomes a ripe target for a cruel practical joke.  Her performance brings out all of the comic and tragic elements of this character and is one of the highlights of this production.

Jane Montgomery Griffiths as Malvolia

The whole cast give fine, colourful performances in their various roles in this ensemble production.  As Feste, a jester to Olivia, Tomáš Kantor gives a notably physical and vocal performance.  His singing of the songs of the play to Blasko’s haunting, contemporary music is another highlight of the show.

The attractive and atmospheric set and costumes, designed by Charles Davis, with a clever lighting design by Verity Hampson, immediately suggests a strange and exotic location.  The staging by the director is creative and very well done.

Once you work out the gender issue of the twins, this is an involving and enjoyable production of Shakespeare’s classic comedy.


Photo by Brett Boardman

Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at