Twelfth Night – July 2012


By William Shakespeare

Directed by David Farr

Venue: RST

Date: Thursday 26th July 2012

This was the production we liked best in the main house earlier this year, and it’s still the best this time, but not by as much. There were some changes we spotted, plus additional aspects we hadn’t seen before, and a very appreciative audience meant there was a great atmosphere. The performances had undoubtedly come on, but they were pretty well established before, so the improvement wasn’t so noticeable. I could have done without some additional commentary from the people behind us, but it didn’t happen too often and didn’t ruin the evening.

As we knew how the performance started, we lost the advantage of surprise which can make a huge difference with such a spectacular staging. So it probably took me a little longer to warm up than last time, but not much. I wasn’t sure if there were fewer actors creeping on stage during the blackout, but this time I noticed the blinking red light towards the top of the pillar, which indicated the port scenes. During Orsino’s first speech, I was aware that his comments about Olivia’s capacity for love, grieving as she is for a dead brother, would apply equally as well to Viola, grieving over Sebastian’s bag at the front of the stage while this scene is going on.

Some minor differences during the early scenes: no applause for Sir Andrew’s moonwalk, sadly, and Cesario didn’t cough over his cigarette. When Olivia gave Malvolio the ring to take to Cesario, she took it off her finger this time instead of a chain, and it was easy to see how her flirtatiousness was being misinterpreted by Malvolio. The beeping of the trolley wasn’t as loud as before – perhaps other people had trouble with their hearing aids as well – and the ring still ended up in the water.

Sir Andrew’s dunking did happen as a result of Malvolio’s arrival. He (Sir Andrew) edged backwards along the diving board, and fell in at a suitable moment. Three splashes for the front row, though none of them seemed as big as in the earlier performance – perhaps they’re getting the hang of it. The comments about Orsino’s mind being like an opal may have been trimmed, as Feste exited after the word “opal” this time. Cesario’s discussion with Orsino about the nature of male and female love was good, and as I was watching this scene, and others during the performance, I found I was able to register Cesario as a boy, and see the situation from Orsino’s perspective.

For the letter scene, the business with the three objects on the reception desk had changed; now Sir Toby or Sir Andrew grabbed one of the items to throw it at Malvolio, and Fabian deftly removed it just in time. Otherwise it was all as I remembered, and just as funny, with the audience responding brilliantly to every little gesture or comment. The rest of the first half was as before, and we left Olivia sitting on the bench seat with her head in her hands.

The second half started as before. Sir Andrew didn’t get his “yes, I’ll hold” in this time, but otherwise it was the same, and still funny. The ditching of his mobile in the water didn’t please the audience though; there was a slight murmur which suggested we were seeing a less funny side to Sir Toby’s pranks. Olivia didn’t release the chandelier nor change into her summer frock as early as I’d thought last time; the chandelier releasing happened as she was about to go to church to marry Sebastian, and her summer frock appeared after the wedding. One other thing I forgot to mention last time; Cesario did some hand slapping with the guards as he crossed the stage at one point, and when they met with Sebastian later, they did the same with him, much to his surprise.

With so few changes from last time, the improvement we experienced was partly down to the practice the cast have had, a stronger audience response, and our different angle which revealed some things we hadn’t seen before. We have another performance booked, and we’re looking forward to it already.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at