Tucked away in a tiny corner of the Paradise venues is a truly exceptional condensation of one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies. The cramped space of the appropriately named Snug, which seats only around twenty people, is a suitably intimate setting for this rollicking two-person performance and is perfectly suited to their task of reduction.
2Elfth Night is a jaw-dropping display of vaudevillian Shakespeare, with female-male double-act Keane & Doyle sharing nearly every part and assigning those in which three characters are required onstage for an extended period to members of the audience. Twelfth Night fits this format well, with its central focus on divided twins and duos of sorts, such as Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Keane & Doyle, in true clowning fashion, are in character as soon as we enter the space and remain thus throughout, donning the guise of each character as the play progresses.
“Chaotic, intense, farcical and joyous”
The result is chaotic, intense, farcical and joyous. So perfectly do they inhabit and distinguish each specific character, that it is sometimes difficult to believe that there are only two actors onstage. Particular highlights include cross-gender cast examples such as Keane’s frat boy-aping Sebastian and Doyle’s imperious Olivia. I also commend Doyle’s British accents, which are some of the best I’ve ever heard from an American actor, to the extent that I was completely unsure of his native dialect until he thanked the audience at the end of the show.
Music is an integral part of Twelfth Night and Keane & Doyle take full advantage this, updating the many numbers to fit recognisable popular songs, from Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, Oasis’s ‘Wonderwall’ and the truly inspired setting of ‘O mistress mine where are you roaming?’ to the tune of Haddaway’s 90s dance banger ‘What Is Love’, due to Shakespeare’s song sharing the words of Haddaway’s title. These interpolations and Shakespop mash-ups enhance the production’s irreverent tone and make it one of the most accessible Shakespeare productions at the Fringe.
It must also be said that the plot, despite being conveyed by just two actors, is incredibly clear and well conveyed to the audience. There are moments when the comedy is stripped away and Keane & Doyle demonstrate their dramatic chops. For instance, during Keane’s delivery of Viola’s speech in Act 2 Scene 3 which concludes with her reply to Duke Orsino that she is ‘all the daughters of [her] father’s house’, there was a palpable, awestruck silence in the theatre, as Keane delivered the lines with beautiful sincerity and a clear, naturalistic tone. The best productions of Shakespeare’s comedies are those which recognise the need to lean into those serious moments of shade amidst the raucous light and 2Elfth Night is a perfect example of this.
The American double act have previously tackled other topics such as piracy and have their sights set next on reworking Much Ado About Nothing. I would compel you to catch them at your earliest convenience and look out for their brilliant work. This is a company operating in the true, vaudevillian spirit of Monty Python, the Reduced Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre of Brent and their work presents Shakespeare as the playwright himself would surely have intended: fast, direct, involving and moving.
Image: Keane & Doyle