Tuesday, 21 November 2017

REVIEW: Twelfth Night at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon

There can't be a better place to see Shakespeare's plays than Stratford upon Avon. As you walk across the park through the trees along the river towards the RSC's home you can't help reflect that this beautiful town was his birthplace and a perfect historical home for his plays. The Royal Shakespeare theatre reopened in 2010 with a complete remodelling of the interior into a thrust stage creating a more intimate space and it provides an excellent setting for this production of Twelfth Night.

The sumptuous set is designed by Simon Higlett and draws inspiration from the Arts and Craft movement, the art of Audrey Beardsley and William Morris and creates a strong Victorian period feel. This is intermingled with period influences from Oscar Wilde, Queen Victoria's servant Abdul and Gilbert and Sullivan. In this context the transposition of the play from Illyria to a country house in Victorian England works with Feste, Viola and Sebastian becoming Indian servants, Orsino an artist and Malvolio, at times a character from comic opera. The whole setting is enhanced by Tim Mitchell's subtle atmospheric lighting and Nigel Hess's music.

The play, originally over five acts , is a comical farce of mistaken identity and pranks.The first half all too slowly sets up the characters and the situation but the second half delightfully and comically explores the confusion and provides a stage for Adrian Edmondson to shine. His full comic timing and movement is the highlight of the show as he first pursues Olivia in yellow cross gartered stockings, dances with joy and then later with great pathos seeks revenge , "Madam you have done me wrong , notorious wrong". His performance in the second half is in sharp contrast to his subdued and contained presence in the first half. 

Olivia is played by Kara Tointon. She has a strong elegant stage presence, gradually being drawn out of mourning by "Ceasario" , the disguise adopted by Viola (Dinita Gohil) and the mistaken identity of her twin Sebastian (Esh Alladi). Gohil plays the cross dressing part with ease and convinces as first Orsino and then Olivia fall for her charm.

There is a wonderful cameo from Michael Cochraine as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, tottering foolishly around the country house and grounds, under the overbearing and unpleasant pressure from Sir Toby Belch (John Hodgkinson).

The one character that does not translate to the Victorian setting well is Feste,
usually described as a clown, fool and wonderful impersonator. In this version, Beruce Khan has turned him into a rather unlikable munshi with a curious accent and a rather bizarre dance routine.

The musical numbers provide some enjoyable lively sequences and illustrate the plays opening line ,"if music be the food of love , play on" but ultimately the pace throughout is not quick enough allowing the audience to reflect as one character says,"if this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction", Albeit an enjoyable one. 

You can see this production live in the cinema on 14th February 2018.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★
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