As a great lover of The Bard's works, I'm always delighted to see companies take on the challenge of mastering Shakespearean text. It's especially delightful seeing it brought to life by youths, as I think it's important the next generation pays a certain reverence to the master of the craft.
But what we had here from Echo Youth Theatre was not a straight text to stage version. In their interpretation, with the script adapted by Echo's very own Kate Pantry, who also directed the production, we were transported back to the beginning of the 21st century to a time when teen/high school rom-coms were everywhere, and specifically to Illyria High.
The story's hero, Viola, played with confidence, charm, and wit by Nina Murdoch, is the new girl at school, but disguises herself as a boy in order to get close to the basketball team captain, Duke (Orsino). Naturally, as these things go in American High School movies, Duke wants to date the Head Cheerleader. It's at this point we are introduced to the Mean Girls-esque Olivia, for whom we are treated to a rampaging powerhouse performance from Holly Trinder. And then the confusions of the classic tale really begin!
Along the way, there are some eye-catching individual performances from brothers Korben and Devon White, not least when they perform an unforgettable duet (sort of) to Enrique Iglesias' Hero.
As someone who was a teen in the late 90s/early 2000s, I enjoyed a number of the songs of the time period featured throughout, as well as a few nods to movies of that era. It was a clever device, splitting the attendants, sailors, and musicians into different stereotypical social factions (cheerleaders, nerds, theatre kids), although having the character of Lady Belch (Sir Toby - played excellently I might add by Minnie Harrington) as the school Principal didn't quite work for me, especially when she becomes complicit in a prank against the head boy, Malvolio.
It was a very smart and inventive adaptation, and thankfully, Echo had the acting chops among their ranks to back it up with a confident and entertaining performance. It would have been tempting with a contemporary setting to update the dialogue too, but I'm pleased Kate chose to stay faithful to the original text. It gave the young actors the chance to test their mettle with some challenging passages, and they showed they were up to the task.
You can catch the remaining shows at Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich on the 27th and 28th October.