With Twelfth Night ... A Puppet Epic! Shakey-Shake and Friends continues to cement its reputation as the best Shakespeare-for kids company in the city. This is its sixth Shakespeare adaptation and first for a comedy. Shakespeare’s original features some of his subtlest humour and a person might think it one of the least likely to appeal to children. Yet, Shakey-Shake blithely proves that assumption completely wrong.
Not only does the eight-member troupe manage to cover the entire convoluted plot in only one hour, but it does so with admirable clarity. Shakespeare himself, or rather his puppet alter-ego Shakey-Shake (Tom McGee), narrates the action and most of the dialogue is paraphrased with much of the humour for those who know the play derived from the anachronisms and contemporary lingo the characters use. Yet, the company does keep in a remarkable number of the best-known passages of Shakespeare’s original verse so that, having well grounded children in the plot’s set-up, the verse becomes both natural and unintimidating.
The company even adds a frame to the play with two Shakey-Shake characters, Harley (Amanda Cordney) and Zip (Megan Miles) disguising themselves to substitute for actors in the play. This adds another layer to the play’s theme of illusion and reality.
Much of the physical humour that will appeal to children carries references that also will appeal to adults. The company shows rather than narrates the shipwreck that separates twins Sebastian (Shaquille Pottinger) and Viola (Miles). When we adults see the two board the H.M.S. Titanic, we know there will be trouble. Shakey-Shake himself plays the iceberg that splits the ship in two.
More adult-aimed humour comes from substituting Cesario’s friend Antonio in the original with a puppet iPhone’s Siri (Graeme Black Robinson) and the money Antonio gives Sebastian with a debit card. Illyria, however, is shown to be dangerous territory for iPhones because it is Android country.
Many parts of the play that one might think would be cut in a revision aimed at children are not only left in but highlighted. This includes the mistreatment of Malvolio (McGee) as a madman at the hands of Sir Toby Belch (Jeff Dingle) and Maria (Erin Eldershaw). Shakey-Shake rightly points out that this is bullying even if Malvolio had been a “jerk” up until then. Near the end, in the troupe’s typical mode of comic self-commentary, the amusingly self-important Shakey-Shake congratulates himself on having drawn a useful moral from the play.
Those new to Shakey-Shake and Friends will have to get adjust to the fact that the troupe of Muppet-like hand puppets already has set personalities before they take on their roles in Shakespeare. The puppeteers do not ventriloquize but use their mouths to speak and use their arms to act as the rest of the body of the puppet. The entire show is characterized by an infectious sense of playfulness that successfully demonstrates what marvellous stories Shakespeare’s plays tell.
The company recommends the play to children aged 6 and up. Aged 8 and up I think would be more likely given the complicated amount of disguise involved inTwelfth Night and for greater appreciation of the dilemma that Viola experiences disguised as a male servant in love with her master. Nevertheless, Twelfth Night ... A Puppet Epic! is a great way to introduce children to Shakespeare. It clears the air of any whiff of Bardolatry for its own sake to reveal the quality that has caused Shakespeare’s plays to live on in adaptations in so many different media. The company with great good humour proves that Shakespeare is above all a teller of great stories – a quality too often overlooked when Shakespeare is taught in schools.
The FringeKids puppet retelling of Twelfth Night has a lot to accomplish in 60 minutes: making a Shakespearean comedy funny to a modern audience of both children and adults, hitting all the notes of a moderately convoluted plot, and finding ways to deal with the fact that Shakespeare’s sensibilities are not always great for an audience of kids. The show is cute and clever in all the ways a Shakespeare-by-way-of-Muppets homage should be, but really comes into its own when tackling the questionable bits. The cast turn the truly excessive torment of Malvolio into a teachable moment for children about the Bard and about bullying in a way that feels natural and genuine. There is less a sense of a lecture than an honest response to events as they unfold, working with the flow of the performance instead of interrupting it. Finding that sort of development in the midst of some well aimed comedy is definitely epic.
NOW Magazine NNNN
Exasperated by the machinations of its farcically circular plot, a character in Twelfth Night …A Puppet Epic! exclaims, "This is going nowhere! It's like a city council transit debate up in here." You know a government is no longer seen as a source of serious policy when even the puppets in a Shakespeare-themed children's play view it with condescension. Just as with several previous Fringe outings, the latest adaptation from Shakey-Shake and Friends is aimed equally at adults who cherish memories of The Muppets as it is at kids for whom the name "Jim Henson" means nothing. A delightful, kinetic romp that deploys more of the original Shakespearean text than you might guess, the show trusts its audience's intelligence, knowing when to let the story play out and when to offer commentary, criticism or explanation. But while a framing device that adds a further layer of disguise and deception to the plot is utterly unnecessary, other twists — such as turning Cesario's friend Antonio into Siri, represented by a sentient iPad — successfully extend the play's anarchic spirit in ways that resonate with contemporary sensibilities. In some respects, Shakey-Shake's take likely does more justice to Shakespeare's original intentions than would a more straightforward production.
Mooney On Theatre
Playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival 2016 at the George Ignatieff Theatre, Twelfth Night … A Puppet Epic is a wacky take on Shakespeare’s romantic comedy. Produced by Shakey-Shake and Friends, this tale of mistaken identities is full of wordplay and smooth puppet moves. You’ll be giggling and groaning for 60 minutes straight. This puppet-run story by the Bard starts off with a shipwreck. The main character Viola (Megan Miles) and her twin brother Sebastian (Shaqille Pottinger) almost drown, but Viola makes it to the shore and disguises herself as a boy called Cesario. She meets the nobleman Orsino (Graeme Black Robinson), and while the two of them become friendly “dudebros,” she falls in love with him. To make matters worse for the young lady, she is tasked with trying to convince Olivia (sparkling Shira Taylor), who Orsino is adores, to love Orsino back. And to add yet another layer to this romantic comedy, Olivia falls in love with the uninterested Cesario/Viola. So here’s a love triangle in a Shakespearean play that is performed by tech-savvy puppets — what more could a serious Fringer want? Other complementary stories take place, adding even more laughs to Twelfth Night. We’ve got three pranksters: Sir Toby Belch (Jeff Dingle) who is Olivia’s uncle, Maria (Erin Eldershaw) who is Olivia’s maid and Toby’s girlfriend, as well as the jester Feste (Amanda Cordner). This trio pulls many tricks on unsuspecting Malvolio (Tom McGee) who seeks Olivia’s affection. Seems every puppet is in love! Some of the pranks involve a fake love letter, a pair of bright yellow socks and a swordfight. Poor Malvolio. It’s hard to say if I found a certain puppeteer to be a stand-out performer. For me, every single actor excelled at embodying a unique character, provoking emotion, and moving deftly. And my eyes were on the puppets, not the human puppeteers. I felt sorry for heartbroken Viola! The props were so clever. The early shipwreck was smartly presented by two boards that formed the hull of a ship, a shiny blue blanket that represented the wild sea, and an umbrella that was the iceberg. I loved the imaginative staging of this scene. Other visually interesting props included a talking iPhone and an Instagram selfie. Speaking of today’s communications, “What text she?” was an nice line in the play that brought the action into the present day. As a grownup Fringer, I adored this play. With its multitude of characters and social media and technology references, I’m not sure how much a kid would appreciate it, though. But for me, it was pure joy that ended with an amusing version of Never Gonna Give You Up. See this play!