The wonderful turmoil of the opening ship-wreck sequence of Peter Fanning and John Moore’s new musical, What You Will, challenges the audience to grasp for a life-boat or a piece of floating mast themselves and hang on until they can get a foot-hold on the shore. When the chaos abates we are left on the moon-blanched beach with the storm-tossed Viola looking to restore order, with a sense that things will not be that simple – or will they? Audiences have come in numbers to the Ashton Theatre, Shrewsbury School, to attend a triumph of theatre – a visual and musical treat (surely one of John Moore’s very best scores) that will no doubt capture real attention in Edinburgh this summer.
We follow Viola (now Cesario), played and sung with measured grace by Izzy Osborne, to the court of Count Orsino of Illyria – commandingly portrayed by Rob Collins. We fall into a world of slightly exaggerated everything – love, rebuttal, frolic and retribution.
The dramatic engine of constant invention throughout is rooted in the dual roles of Feste, magnificently played by Ali Webb and Rob Cross. Splitting the role was a masterstroke, allowing for invention and mirrored re-invention of the role as the pair meandered (with purpose?) throughout court, accosting the not-so-innocent, and delighting the audience as the Lords of Misrule. Their signature song ‘Seize the Day’ is the catchiest song of the show, and its continuing motif into Act Two cleverly reflects the play’s ever-shifting tones.
Marianne Shaw-Taylor as Olivia handles the sea-change from affected mourning to love’s victim with real understated skill. A natural singer, her signature melodic lines are insistent in the superb ensemble pieces that close both acts. Hebe Dickins as the mischievous Maria commands the audience’s attention in a very assured performance, something we have come to expect of her. She seizes the role of the queen of her merry band, consisting of the inebriated Sir Toby and the affected Sir Andrew, played with comic energy by Ed Key and Jack Houghton. Newly entranced, Charlie Straw’s upstanding performance of Sebastian never notices the aching devotion of Antonio. Gus Haynes steals large parts of the show with this economical, beautifully rendered portrayal. His ‘Lost and Found’, sung in duet with Osborne, is the play’s genuine spine-tingling moment.
Sam Ansloos is a real talent as Malvolio. The character’s inability to see through the central ruse is sublimely played, sung with gusto and timed to perfection. Discovery is staunchly portrayed and Fanning has, to the audience’s surprise, allowed him more than the threat of revenge. Life for the Festes will not be smooth sailing when normal court service is resumed!
A reviewer’s conundrum: how to summarise its relationship to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night? It must be mentioned, but how? – ‘re-working’ is too bland and doesn’t give credit to this show’s genuine inventiveness; ‘modern-musical version’ doesn’t reflect its deft light touch and its respect for the poetry. I’m not sure the sound-bite matters – Fanning and Moore have produced a brilliant theatrical and musical piece which both echoes and creates, leading us into a world which we know and, delightfully, don’t know.