Youth must have its fling, so they say. And the current EODS Twelfth Night production gives youth its talented, exuberant fling, with a clutch of excellent youngsters at its very heart.
Several crucial roles – not to mention the show’s musical direction - are filled by actors in their teens. Amateur theatre here at the Italian Gardens is certainly not the reserve of the middle-aged-and-elderly!
Down with the kids is director Sandra Tomlinson. “They have been a joy to work with. They take direction eagerly, and their energy keeps us all going. We have seven under-20s with speaking parts, and I hope they will all have caught the Shakespeare bug for life now.”
Sandra is not quite factually correct, since one of the seven celebrated her 20th birthday during this week’s production: Lyla Schillinger stands out as Viola, a challenging part that requires a range of emotions, some huge speeches, and the ability to dress as a boy for more than half the performance!
A recent arrival in Eastbourne with her family, Lyla has already completed a Foundation year at the Oxford School of Drama, and for September she has secured a degree place at one of the best drama schools in England, Guildford School of Acting. High quality indeed.
Opposite Lyla, as Sebastian, James Tomlinson is equally impressive. He had already caught the eye two years ago, at just 14, playing Tobias in Sweeney Todd. And in Twelfth Night he doubles as musical director, with a sequence of superbly authentic settings and arrangements of the play’s songs and incidental music.
“Early music is a passion of mine, so it’s fun to play around with,” admits James modestly, but he’s no lightweight, tackling A Levels in English, Latin and Maths alongside the Music which he expects to pursue at university in due course. He is a music and drama scholar at Eastbourne College.
Melodie Gibson stunningly seizes the third of the lead roles as Viola, and has become the production’s poster girl. “It’s an amazing experience,” she declares with the disbelieving freshness of the ingénue. “One of my friends just called me and said they’d seen my face on a huge poster in town!” Before Twelfth Night, her credits amounted to one or two Cavendish School shows and a local Aladdin panto. “I was convinced that after the first rehearsal they’d pull me over and say sorry, you’re not good enough…” No worries there: she is good enough and to spare.
Bertie Beeching’s Antonio, no minor role, comes across with confidence and clarity. Another Eastbourne College scholar, and almost an EODS veteran, with a couple of Shakespeares already behind him, Bertie has taken what he breezily calls the “standard route” – spear-carrier, Second Lord, and Donalbain in Macbeth. Next year Hamlet, no doubt.
Completing the Magnificent Seven are Sussex Downs drama student Helen Wood – “I have only one actual line, but I’m onstage loads and I’ve realised that you are acting the whole time!” – and Nick Ransom (Valentino) and Sam Hackney-Ring (Curio). The lads have previously tasted college and youth productions locally, but both switch seamlessly into Elizabethan mode, language and character. Who ever said Shakespeare is ancient stuff for ancient stuffy folk? Catch the tumble of youthful talent in Twelfth Night, and you’ll think differently…
By Kevin Anderson.