Twelfth Night – November 2012

9/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Edward Hall

Company: Propeller

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Wednesday 14th November 2012

What a difference five years and an almost complete change of cast can make! When we saw this production in May 2007, it was paired with The Taming Of The Shrew, the latter being part of the RSC’s Complete Works Festival. Although we like the actors involved in that ensemble, we just didn’t care for their take on these plays, so it was always going to be interesting to see this revival.

The set and staging were almost identical, but the performances were so different that we enjoyed ourselves enormously. They blended the dark and light aspects of this tricky comedy perfectly, and while we missed Tony Bell’s version of Feste, Liam O’Brien did an excellent job as well; not so much a Lord of Misrule this time, but still a strong character and with a lovely voice too. He played a guitar of some sort instead of a fiddle, but the music was still beautiful.

The start was the same, with Christopher Heyward’s Orsino being wonderfully melodramatic in his love-sickness. I was reminded of The Woman Hater at the Orange Tree (January 2008), with the over-the-top couple the Wilmots giving us plenty of laughs at their absurd over-reactions to events. Orsino’s behaviour seemed more in keeping with the grief theme than any form of love, and it also made me think that both he and Olivia are over-reacting to their situations – playing the drama queens – and that Viola and Sebastian bring them back to earth. I was keen to see how Olivia would be played in this respect, and Ben Allen did indeed play the role in keeping with Orsino’s portrayal, all moody and over-sensitive.

During the storm and shipwreck scene, I noticed a large glass bottle with a sailing ship in it which was held up as part of the choreographed storm movements. I suspect this was present in the previous version but I either didn’t notice it or didn’t note it down. The sea captain had some nicely detailed reactions to Viola’s dialogue, which isn’t normally the case.

Maria was played by Gary Shelford this time, who gave a much more memorable performance than the previous Maria. ‘She’ had a very expressive face, giving knowing winks or being serious when required, and really brought the part to life. This casting also explained her affinity with Sir Toby, as it made her a distant cousin of Bardolph (Gary’s role in Henry V). She moved round the stage during her first conversation with Sir Toby, removing the remaining dust sheets and putting the chairs upright. Vince Leigh was an affable Sir Toby, tetchy at times but too much of a drinker to be a real menace – it’s Maria who tricks Malvolio after all. He didn’t throw up properly on stage this time, just gushed some liquid out of his mouth – unpleasant, but not as gross as the earlier version. Sir Andrew, played by John Dougall, was older than usual and the humour was less obvious, but his pathetic attempts to join in and impress people were still good fun, and the sadness behind his silliness was plain to see. He held a long pause before the line “I was adored once, too”, and Sir Toby snatched off his ridiculous wig in the final scene, leaving him exposed and humiliated.

I didn’t realise at first that it was Viola who came through one of the wardrobes and took a grey jacket off the rail, but I did notice the flower in her hair about the same time she did; she threw it away to complete her disguise, and then Curio, in Valentine’s absence, started the next scene. I was concerned that I might not spot the difference between the twins, as both had bleached blond hair and were very similar in looks, but there was enough variation for me to know who was who. I found that Joseph Chance’s Viola was much more manly in disguise as Cesario, and while that lost some aspects of Orsino and Olivia’s confusion in their attraction to the ‘boy’, it did emphasise for me the general sense of ambiguous sexuality pervading the play. This was heightened by Antonio’s attraction to Sebastian which was shown to be clearly physical, although Antonio tried to hide it by making excuses for his ‘love’. Sebastian was uncomfortable with this affection (not averse to Olivia’s advances, fortunately) and I was conscious that Antonio was probably falling in love with Viola through her brother, as Olivia falls in love with Sebastian through his sister.

Olivia warmed up nicely to Feste’s fooling, while Malvolio (Chris Myles) glowered in the background. Chris is shorter than usual for this role, which added another dimension to Malvolio’s arrogance and self-regard. He played the steward’s role pretty straight, until the reveal of the yellow stockings, that is. He also had a badger goatee, with two dark grey strips on either side of a white one, which added to the impression of pomposity.

When Olivia sent the ring after Cesario, she had a devil of a job getting it off her finger, which got a laugh. Sebastian’s description of his sister to Antonio was emphasised by having him look into one of the wardrobe mirrors as he talked, while Viola stood on the other side and the lighting allowed her face to show through.

The late night drinking party went very well to begin with. Feste’s first song was very pleasant, and Sir Andrew and even Sir Toby added some extra vocals. The catch was as rowdy as one could wish, and when Maria turned up I was slightly distracted by the vivid red fluffy mules she was wearing. Mind you, that was nothing compared to the fact that Malvolio had taken the trouble to put his chain of office round his neck over his dressing gown before accosting the reprobates who were having a drunken orgy downstairs. It was a nice touch, and said a lot about Malvolio’s character.

Feste had to leg it pretty quick over to the Duke’s court for the next scene, where he was called on to sing yet another song. Orsino listened to it while sitting on the coffin (oops, forgot to mention that, just wait a bit) with Cesario sitting beside him. During this song, Cesario adopted a more feminine posture, and as Orsino was affected by the song and became emotional, Cesario ended up holding him until Orsino tore himself away at the end of the song.

The coffin: it was brought on when Olivia first arrived and sat centre back, then it was brought forward for the following scenes. Feste lay in it at one point, probably during the drunken revel. As I recall, it was taken off when the stage was cleared for the letter scene, and the triangular box trees were brought on instead. There seemed to be more of them this time, two sets of five, and there were three statues at the back, the same as before. The plinth for Olivia’s statue was front right, and again the statue held the letter out for Malvolio to spot, with two fingers sticking up at him all the while. Sir Andrew’s question about “her c’s, her u’s and her t’s” was answered by Sir Toby whispering in his ear, after which Sir Andrew smothered a laugh and disappeared behind the shrubbery again.

With Fabian not present, Feste took part again in this scene. The other masked actors did plenty of sound effects to cover the noise of the hidden men, mostly in the form of birds cawing and flying off. The statues were more active than the people, and were constantly reforming, often including one of the characters as well. Malvolio was too excited at his discovery to notice much, and rushed through the letter without losing clarity, although his hands were trembling. The “revolve” led to the letter itself being rotated vertically, and his final grimacing ‘smile’ was a sight to behold! The first half ended with Maria’s explanation of the trick and their exit.

No songs during the interval, sadly, but there was plenty of music at the start of the second half on stage. Viola interrupted this with her question to Feste, and the rest of the masked men gradually eased themselves off stage till they were alone for their conversation about cheverel gloves. After Feste left, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew came along, and Sir Andrew was again completely flummoxed by Cesario’s simple French reply to his own greeting.

Olivia seemed to come to terms with Cesario’s refusal to enter into a personal relationship with her, but her feelings got the better of her and she ended up on the floor, clutching Cesario’s hands in a desperate attempt to persuade him to stay – no chance. Sir Andrew entered for the next scene carrying a large suitcase and a smaller bag, and began packing his clothes which were on the rail. Sir Toby and Feste manipulated him into writing a challenge, and then Maria arrived to inform them that Malvolio was about to make a fool of himself.

Sebastian and Antonio’s scene was straightforward, and then Olivia came back for her first encounter with the new Malvolio. He leaned on the side of the door, grinning broadly at her, until stepping forward to strip off his trousers and reveal what lay underneath. Yellow stockings covered in black fishnet tights were complimented by a leather studded codpiece of considerable proportions. We laughed, and kept on laughing as Malvolio chased Olivia round the stage. Then when Sir Toby, Feste and Maria turned up, they had to use a large syringe to sedate him, leaving him fast asleep at the front of the stage as Feste delivered the “improbable fiction” line to much laughter.

Sir Andrew’s outfit for the fight scene was almost as funny as Malvolio’s. He still wore his evening jacket but with white satin boxing shorts and boxing gloves, and his hair was pulled up through the holes in his protective helmet giving him a very strange and funny appearance. The challenge was read out, with Maria giving Fabian’s responses. The mock duel was well done, with lots of struggling to avoid the fight on the part of both duellers, and never a blow struck in earnest with the boxing gloves. Antonio soon parted them and was arrested, and Cesario reacted noticeably to the mention of Sebastian’s name.

The real Sebastian threw Antonio’s purse at Feste to get rid of him – very generous – and after his fight with Sir Toby he was quite happy to accept Olivia’s offer of entertainment, while she was absolutely thrilled at his acceptance. With two such similar ‘twins’, there was no difficulty believing that one could be mistaken for the other, quite a change from recent productions.

The stage was darkened for the next scene, with Maria, Sir Toby and Feste up on top of the wardrobes looking down on Malvolio beneath them. Malvolio was down to only the codpiece this time, and chained up. Sir Topas stayed up on the wardrobe for his initial conversation with Malvolio, while Feste came down afterwards to talk to the man directly. Sir Toby’s parting instruction to Maria – “Come by and by to my chamber” – suggested a close personal encounter was in the offing.

Sebastian was again in bed for the start of the next scene, and again the sheet which he’d wrapped around himself fell off when Olivia arrived with the priest – nice. Fabian’s request to see the letter was dropped, so the next scene began with Orsino’s entrance and rattled along very nicely, with all the fun of the revelations and a few sniffles as well. The reunion between the twins was moving; it was understandable that they would both be reluctant to believe the evidence of their eyes, given what they’d been through.

Maria was on stage for this scene, although she did try to sneak off when the letter was handed to Olivia. No such luck; she was called back, and gave Fabian’s speech, suitably altered, in which she announced her marriage to Sir Toby and flashed her ring, a large gaudy one, at the assembled throng. Malvolio mustered some dignity as he limped off, and the performance ended with Feste’s final song. Despite this seeming a rather downbeat ending, we were all very happy as we applauded, and even carried on singing the song as we left. A huge improvement on last time, and a reminder that it’s well worth seeing this sort of production more than once, as even with the same cast there can be lots of changes.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Twelfth Night – September 2012

7/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by David Farr

Venue: RST

Date: Wednesday 26th September 2012

We’ve seen this twice before and liked it both times. Our view tonight was even better – we were in the circle – but I felt more distanced from the stage and the action as we were further away than I expected. Still, apart from the revolving door we could see every part of the set, and there was plenty of audience response to help things along.

No changes to report on the staging. There was one thing missing though: Malvolio’s cart must have malfunctioned tonight as although we heard the beeping sound, which caused Viola to look round and pause, Malvolio walked on stage to deliver the ring to Cesario. The recalcitrant vehicle still turned up in Malvolio’s darkened room, but it couldn’t get a laugh as most people didn’t know the significance. I also noticed Feste’s use of electrodes on Malvolio this time – couldn’t remember if this was new or not, but it certainly tied up well with Dr Pinch’s treatment policy in Comedy.

Malvolio’s exhibition of himself in his cross-gartered yellow stockings was just as daring as before and the audience loved it, especially the cheeky way he went up the stairs at the end. We thought the shipwrecked twins were more careful when they left the water not to make too big a splash, but Sir Andrew couldn’t help it – he fell, he splashed. Sargon Yelda, last night’s limping Angelo, appeared briefly tonight as Valentine to deliver the bad news about Olivia in the opening scene, but I didn’t see him again so hopefully he was resting that leg. The youngsters near us were very vocal in their appreciation of the snogging aspects of the production (in a good way) and from what little I heard of their chat during the interval they seemed to be enjoying the performance a lot; this cast are certainly doing a good job of entertaining people.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Twelfth Night – July 2012

8/10

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 ilovetheatre.me

Twelfth Night – March 2012

7/10 (preview)

By William Shakespeare

Directed by David Farr

Venue: RST

Date: Thursday 22nd March 2012

This was an excellent production with very good performances, and a huge improvement on last night. The set was by the same designer, Jon Bausor, and used the same basic design. The floorboards were still there, and there was still no walkway front left. This time the corner area did have water in it, and we were reminded of Singing In The Rain at Chichester last year, so sitting in row C, right by the aisle, we were glad Steve brought a carrier bag to protect the program. As it happened, the ‘tsunami’ didn’t wash up as far as our row, but there were a few wayward splashes – warm water, of course – and others who were nearer did feel the effect. The staff were very good in the interval, sorting out any problems, though some in the audience may have wished they’d provided more of a warning beforehand as well as the towels that were so freely available after the first half!

The crane track had become a girder tonight, and was partly boxed in. There was another girder at right angles to it, also partly covered, and around the join there was an area of crumbling ceiling, very reminiscent of the industrial grunge set of David Farr’s King Lear a few years ago, also a Jon Bausor design. The metal post with ironwork was more visible tonight, and it turned out to be a whole row of them which had been mostly hidden during The Comedy Of Errors. The vertical part of the ramp from yesterday seemed to be at a couple of different angles tonight creating a slightly lower angle, and tonight the objects on there included a bed (reminded Steve of the recent Taming bed, much reduced in size) and a table with a lamp. There was also a bathtub suspended over that general area – took me a while to spot what it was. Behind all of this I could now see the back wall of metal with at least two portholes in it. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops for The Tempest.

At the back of the thrust and to the right of the stage a sloping ramp led off, and was blocked by a revolving door set at the same slanting angle. Just to the left of that was the reception desk area, with lots of pigeonholes behind a short curve of desk. A small screen to the right of this desk, combined with a telephone, allowed Maria to observe who was at the gate, which was a nice touch. This was also the hiding place for Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Fabian during the letter scene. To the left of that was a pillar leaning drunkenly, with a leather seat around it; the leather looked the worse for wear as did most of the furniture on stage. Further to the left was another leather armchair, and beside that a large globe with the land areas positioned round an open mesh. Behind this chair, towards the back of the stage, was a lift, the old fashioned kind with expanding metal doors. With a small platform beside it at the top, the lift shaft was encased in a metal mesh, so we could see a lot of what went on inside it, though it was used for a magnificent reveal later on. Further to the left, a flight of stairs led up to the first balcony, and below that stood a grand piano with a picture of Olivia’s brother on it surrounded by candles, flowers, etc. I didn’t spot this right away, but then there was so much else to look at.

Coming forwards, there was a low padded stool over on the front right of the stage which seemed to have a chess board set up on it; there was still room for people to sit on it or put a tray with coffee things there if need be. A plain chair sat further back from that, while over on the water side there was a diving board built out from almost the centre of the stage to just over the water. The floorboards had a ragged end, in keeping with the style of set, and some dipped down towards the water. The only other thing I remember at this time was the chandelier, which was swathed in black cloth. I first noticed it when someone in Olivia’s household switched it on, a nice reminder of her emphatic mourning.

The costumes were all modern dress, and worked very well I thought. The men usually wore suits, although Sir Toby was in casual gear with a colourful Hawaiian shirt, and Sir Andrew tended towards casual sportswear. Olivia’s maidservants wore black dresses with white aprons, and Malvolio was immaculate in his pinstripe suit, toupee severely slicked down to one side. There were two guards in uniform – white shirts, black trousers – and Antonio wore a large waterproof jacket. Olivia was in black for the first half, a calf-length dress, and changed to a flower print frock during the second half, via an ivory wedding dress. I’ll describe the Viola/Sebastian combo later, along with the nifty outfit Malvolio chose to impress Olivia with.

So to the staging (this may take some time). When the lights went down at the start, I saw various actors come on and take up their positions, mostly lying down. I thought we were going to get the shipwreck stuff first tonight, as the performance opened with Viola emerging suddenly from the water (there’s a long slide apparently, so they don’t have to hold their breath for too long). She stood up in the water, then clambered out, and turning to the audience she asked “What country, friends, is this?” She then spotted the bag lying by the side of the water; it was clearly Sebastian’s, and she knelt there, grieving over the bag and her lost brother while Duke Orsino leapt up, from the chair I think, and carried on with “If music be the food of love”. He was in a pretty rough state with his clothes dishevelled, as you might expect. The good news was that from the beginning tonight we could hear almost every line perfectly well – no worries there. After this scene, the sea captain continued by answering Viola’s opening question, coming on from the back somewhere and bringing on a blanket for her to use. He agreed to help her disguise herself, and I was very aware that with her brother’s bag she would naturally have some of Sebastian’s clothes to wear.

Sir Toby emerged through the revolving door for the next scene, and was as drunk as a skunk, if not drunker (apologies to skunk-lovers, and indeed, skunks everywhere). I think a servant may have switched on the chandelier at this point, but I’m not sure. Sir Toby sat in the armchair, and dangled his feet over the side when he was talking about his boots. Maria was brisk in her chiding, and for once Sir Toby seemed to be in earnest when he complimented Sir Andrew. Given his state of inebriation, he might actually have believed what he was saying.

Sir Andrew’s arrival a short while later was all we could have wished. We heard his horn before we saw the man, and he entered still wearing his biker’s helmet. When the helmet came off, his fair hair erupted into a tousled mop which got a laugh all on its own. Bruce Mackinnon’s performance was absolutely impeccable, and we were soon warmed up and chuckling away at his wonderfully funny delivery of the lines plus his comic expressions and business. He illustrated the “back-trick” by moonwalking backwards – we applauded, eventually – and when he left the stage the audience was definitely in a livelier mood than when he entered.

Valentine and Cesario came on next, and while Valentine sat on the diving board to light up a cigarette, Cesario stood in the middle of the stage, wearing green trousers, a light blue jacket and a patterned shirt, and also lit up. Her inexperience with cigarettes was obvious – she had the cigarette the wrong way round and nearly lit the filter, then coughed a bit once she did get it going – and then Orsino rushed on, clothes still in disarray, to speak with his new favourite. They didn’t make anything of the other servants being sent away that I could see, which is fine, and during their conversation Orsino took the cigarette from Cesario to smoke it himself. Emily Taafe’s Cesario was well done; with her short hair and slight figure she did look boyish, and her voice was low pitched enough to fit with a young lad, so it was believable that the Duke would see the female aspects of Cesario without realising he was actually a woman.

It was at the end of this scene, after Viola’s “myself would be his wife”, that she stood in the middle of the stage with the lights lowered on her and the rest of Orsino’s staff, and then Sebastian also popped up out of the water, sloshing a bit more onto the floor around that corner. He also stood up, slicked back his hair – Viola echoed that movement – and as they were wearing identical costumes it was clear this was the very Sebastian whom Viola had assumed was drowned. He pulled himself out of the water and lay beside it, resting, while the next couple of scenes played out; a little distracting, but not a problem.

The next scene had Maria scolding Feste this time. She brought on some coffee and cups on a tray and put it on the stool near the front. Feste looked hung over and was wearing sunglasses, wincing a bit as he took them off and the light hit him. The jesting between them was pretty good, and then Olivia turned up with her small entourage. She was pretty snippy with Feste at first, but softened as he wormed his way back into her good books with his catechising of her. For this bit she was sitting in the armchair, and he took another upright chair, placed it beside her with the back of the chair between them, as in a confessional box, while he knelt behind the chair to act the priest, as he would do later, of course, with Malvolio.

Malvolio’s reactions during this scene were excellent. He clutched his folder tightly, looking severe and grimacing when something particularly unpleasant happened, such as somebody having fun, even when it wasn’t at his expense. The animosity between him and Fests was palpable, and set us up nicely for his later mistreatment at the hands of Sir Toby and the rest. Olivia echoed his folded hands when she talked of “a known discreet man”, gently reproving him with those lines.

Maria was using the screen on the reception desk when she informed Olivia that there was someone at the door. Sir Toby seemed even drunker than before when he turned up – a lovely performance by Nicholas Day – and had great difficulty getting his words out, the way drunks do when they have to think long and hard about everything, like words, walking, breathing, etc. He reminded me of Frank Gallagher in Shameless at this point.

When Malvolio returned he was clearly disturbed to have spent time with someone who upset the natural order. Olivia had some trouble getting him to describe the young gentleman, and as her back was to me at the relevant point, I’m not sure what it was that piqued her interest enough to have the young man brought before her. She had her maids cover themselves as well, and as at least one of them took off her apron as well, I could see how difficult it would be for anyone who didn’t know the household to tell which woman was Olivia. All four of them sat or stood around the room, so when Cesario arrived, he was immediately unsure of himself.

The dialogue was well done for this bit, and soon Olivia and Cesario were alone. Olivia was well unhappy at Cesario’s insult regarding the tenacity of her looks, but I didn’t spot any particular reaction from Cesario on finding out how beautiful his ‘rival’ was. Later, when Cesario was telling Olivia of the lengths he would go to if he loved her as Orsino does, my view was blocked by Olivia herself, so I’ll have to pick up on their expressions next time, but even from the back I could tell that Cesario’s passion was having an effect on the lady.

That effect continued through Cesario’s departure and her reflections on the speedy nature of infatuation. There was such a loving glow about her that when she gave her ring to Malvolio – she turned her back on him and removed it from a chain about her neck by ripping it off, hiding the chain in her hand – he mistook her radiance combined with the way she put her hand on his arm as a sign of affection towards him, another pointer to his later misapprehension of the letter.

Finally Sebastian was able to get up from the floor, as he responded to Antonio’s question. Their conversation was short, and for once I could have sworn Sebastian actually mentioned Viola’s name, but it’s not in my text and apart from some lovely comedic touches later on, I didn’t spot any significant changes during the play. They did cut some lines, but that’s to be expected. Cesario entered next, and shortly after she came on we heard a beeping sound. It turned out to be the sound of one of those trolley cars, as used by the elderly, only this time it was being driven by Malvolio. Health and safety requirements were well to the fore, as the beeping noises continued throughout the scene (my hearing aids were going nuts!) as well as two flashing amber lights. I liked this staging very much; it not only explained how Malvolio managed to catch up with Cesario, but gave us an extra laugh as he drove the cart round in a large circle before parking it near the back, so we could all see the sign on the back of the seat: For Management Use Only. The ring was dropped contemptuously on the rug in front of the chair (stops it rolling away, I would guess) and after Viola had finished sharing her thoughts on this latest development, she threw it into the water tank. No real splash; it was too small.

Sometime earlier I had noticed an actor sneak on to the left of the stage and lie down behind the piano. I wasn’t sure who it was, but it now became clear – it was Sir Toby, who struggled to his feet to advise Sir Andrew, likewise well gone, on the exact nature of ‘early’. They were both wonderfully drunk, so drunk that a rowdy song was inevitable, and I enjoyed this scene from beginning to end. Feste wasn’t as bad as the other two, but he joined in the merriment, and even took a picture of the three of them together at the appropriate moment on his mobile phone – “Did you ever see the picture of we three?”

Feste had brought on something I didn’t recognise at the start of this scene, and left it on the stool at the front. When he sang ‘O mistress mine, where are you roaming’, this turned out to be an electronic keyboard of some kind, which he used to accompany the song. He also used a microphone. It was a slow, melancholy number, and nicely done. They were soon into the livelier number ‘Hold thy peace’ – I think they cut Sir Andrew’s line about constraining “one to call me knave” – with Sir Toby and Sir Andrew playing bottles, and Feste using the reception desk bell as his instrument. This expanded into Feste banging an oar on the floor, Sir Toby possibly using the microphone(?) and something equally noisy from Sir Andrew.

Maria couldn’t persuade them to keep quiet, and when Malvolio turned up in his dressing gown he was suitably nasty to them all. He even grabbed Maria’s arm when she went to get some wine for Sir Toby, and she was quite shaken by his threat to tell Olivia. The plan to trick Malvolio is always hers, but often the others, especially Sir Toby, are involved to some extent; this time the others are on no fit state to devise any plan whatsoever. Sir Toby’s enquiry as to the reason for Sir Andrew to beat a puritan was dropped (worked well for me, especially as the line itself got a good laugh).

I’m not sure when it happened, but sometime during the first half Sir Andrew took a little dip. (The trouble with non-textual business is that it’s harder to remember where it occurred.) He was sitting on the end of the diving board, with Feste beside him, and I noticed he was gradually edging further back. Finally he fell off, and caused a huge wave of water to wash over the side of the tank, soaking anything on the ground level around it. (Programs were replaced.) I reckon this must have been the scene, presumably when Malvolio turned up, but I really can’t be sure – I’ll pay closer attention next time.

Back at the Duke’s court, Orsino was looking all rumpled again. His chat with Cesario about love was fine, and then Feste turned up again to sing his song ‘Come away death’. He used a guitar this time for accompaniment, but I thought it was little out of tune; he only strummed it occasionally so I wasn’t sure. (It’s always a problem with stringed instruments, bringing them onto a stage under lights – changes the tuning horribly.) I enjoyed his comments to Orsino this time about his mind being an opal; they came across much better than I remember from previous productions. After Cesario’s story of his ‘sister’, which was OK but I missed some of the visuals again, they left the stage and we were into the letter scene.

Fabian made the third in this production, a nice performance by Felix Hayes. The ‘box-tree’ they hid behind was actually the reception desk, and for most of the letter-reading they were peering over the desk with an object held in front of each of them – a vase of flowers, a book and a soda siphon. When one of them made an exclamation, he put down his object, and then had to grab the item held by the person next to him, which went down the line, so the objects were being passed around on a regular basis. Later, Sir Toby left the shelter of the desk and wandered over behind the pillar seat, which he had to dive under to hide himself once or twice. It was all wonderfully funny, including Sir Andrew’s recognition of himself as a “foolish knight”.

Maria left the letter on the stool, propped up on the chessboard I think, which didn’t seem a very obvious place to leave it. Even so, Malvolio managed to spot it, after he’d done a lot of preening and primping beforehand, of course. There was a slight adjustment to the toupee, and a fair amount of posturing, but the main comedy lay in the delivery of the lines, and the comments by the watchers. For “revolve”, Malvolio went over to the revolving door and did a circuit there.  His “smiling” was also funny, although he did actually produce some leering smiles from time to time before that. Maria was anxious to know if her trick had worked, and Sir Toby literally prostrated himself before her when she first came on, so delighted was he with their success.

Next up was Feste, sitting on the pillar seat with his keyboard, playing a little music, so when Cesario came along their conversation began very naturally. The chat with Sir Toby and Sir Andrew was brief but funny, and then Olivia came along to make her declaration of love to Cesario. Rebuffed, the first half ended with her sitting sad and alone on the stage, with the lights going out.

The second half began with Sir Andrew’s determination to leave immediately. He was on his mobile phone calling for a taxi at the start, and at some later point in his conversation with Fabian and Sir Toby said ‘yes, I’ll hold’, all very funny. Sir Toby took his mobile away from him, and ditched it in the water at the end of this bit, before Maria arrived to fetch them to see Malvolio. Then there was the short scene between Sebastian and Antonio, followed by the much anticipated arrival of Malvolio on stage.

In this scene, Olivia entered first, and it was clear that she’s been much affected by her passion for Cesario. I think this may be where she pulled a rope at the side of the stage and removed the black cloth from the chandelier; in any case she’s definitely in a state over her situation, having declared her love to a ‘man’ who doesn’t want her. Malvolio’s appearance, far from being the sober, calm presence she wanted, was entirely unsuitable for any occasion. He came down in the lift, and although the walls were see-through, they obscured enough of his costume for it to be a mystery all the way down. I felt this was a good way to make his entrance – we got the full impact all at once, and it was certainly an eyeful!

He was wearing yellow stockings, and they looked a bit tight from where I sat. They were cross-gartered all the way up, which didn’t help the circulation either. He had on a yellow tie which we could see when his jacket opened up, usually when he spread his arms wide, and little else. The posing pouch which adorned his nether regions was well padded (I cast no aspersions) and had studs; apart from that he was butt-naked, literally. This outfit, plus the grinning, would have sent many another woman screaming from the stage, but Olivia was made of sterner stuff. She did back away from him down the diving board, and for a short while I thought we were in for another splash, but at the last minute she grabbed him so she could swivel him around – he enjoyed that bit – and she was free! (And dry!)

Malvolio’s scene with Sir Toby and the rest was very funny too, and I loved Fabian’s line about “an improbable fiction”. With Malvolio gone, the mischief makers moved on to Sir Andrew when he turned up with his freshly drafted challenge. As Sir Toby read it out, I enjoyed Fabian’s comments; Felix Hayes has a deep resonant voice, and his comments of “good” were perfectly timed to make the most of the humour. After Olivia’s short scene with Cesario, Sir Toby and Fabian returned again to issue the challenge to him. Cesario was terrified, of course, and attempted to flee up the stairs to get back to the house. Fabian blocked his way, and as they were struggling on the steps, Sir Andrew came back on via the walkway. Sir Toby’s comment that “Fabian can scarce hold him yonder” was very apt, and gave Sir Andrew completely the wrong impression. Instead of his horse, he offered to give Cesario his Kawasaki 750 – he handed Sir Toby the keys – which fitted very well with the situation.

Each ‘man’ was given something to fight with – not swords as such, just bits of wood – but there was very little chance of them doing any damage as they never got near the other with their wild swings. Not that Antonio noticed this when he arrived and drew on, as he thought, Sebastian’s side. The officers were there amazingly quickly to arrest him – one of them, Solomon Israel, was using a West Indian accent – and Antonio was almost off the stage before he could even ask ‘Sebastian’ for his money. Viola reacted to being called ‘Sebastian’ – this is the first indication she’d had that her brother might be alive – even before her lines indicated that was the way her thoughts were going.

Feste’s argument with Sebastian was good fun – I was increasingly happy with Kevin McMonagle’s interpretation – and the fight with Sir Toby and Sir Andrew went badly as usual. Sebastian had two of them holding him and still managed to break free, although he took a tumble over the chair as a result. This was the turning point for Sir Toby; Olivia was so angry with him for hurting her beloved that even he realised he couldn’t go on causing problems in her household, and although his lines to that effect don’t come till a later scene, his reaction at this point made it clear. I’m not sure exactly when Olivia changed into her summer frock, but I reckon she was wearing it by this time. Sebastian was ready and willing to go along with whatever this beautiful woman wanted, and she was delighted to find him so amenable.

Now the stage was darkened, and I could just make out a vague shape rising up through a trapdoor in the centre of the stage. I did wonder briefly about the mechanics of the water slide vis-à-vis this trapdoor, but that’s a question for a post-show discussion sometime. Up on the platform by the lift, Maria was kitting Feste out with his Sir Topaz outfit, and after Sir Toby arrived, Feste went down in the lift to visit Malvolio. A faint light allowed us to see the poor man, now stripped of his jacket and tied to his cart, which appeared to be broken although the amber lights were flashing (no beeping this time, thank goodness). Feste’s taunting of Malvolio was soon over, and for once I could see the inference that ignorance was a worse form of darkness than the lack of physical light. When Sir Topaz met Feste himself (a neat trick) he slapped him a couple of times before heading back to the lift.

Sebastian came down the stairs from Olivia’s chamber bare-chested (not an ordeal to watch, by any means) and continued to dress himself as he reflected on the strange situation he was in. When Olivia arrived with the priest, decked out in her wedding dress and saying “Blame not this haste of mine”, I suddenly thought she was worried she might start to show a bump before the marriage and lose her reputation. Sebastian was clearly a quick decision-maker, and accepted her offer of marriage on the spot.

Fabian and Feste were next on, and the short exchange between them was good, with Feste giving Fabian Malvolio’s letter and then taking it back again before he’d had a chance to read it. Mind you, he was pretty slow in that department. With the Duke’s arrival we were into the end game, and it all happened pretty fast from here on. At least Orsino had tidied himself up for this visit; instead of his usual scruffiness he looked smart, and his attendants carried the flowers and chocolates which he intended to give to Olivia. Feste’s fooling was well done, and Antonio’s arrival filled the time nicely till Olivia came along.

She was in a foul mood though, at least with Orsino. She dumped his flowers and chocolates in the water, but kept making sheep’s eyes at Cesario. It was so obvious that Orsino would have had to have been even stupider than Sir Andrew not to have spotted it, and this Duke was no fool. He was already going through the revolving door, with Cesario hard on his heels when Olivia’s “husband” called them back. With the priest confirming Olivia’s matrimonial claims, things already looked bad for Cesario when Sir Andrew came through the door with a smear of blood on his forehead. He shied away from Cesario when he saw him, as did Sir Toby who followed shortly afterwards. His line “I hate a drunken rogue” seemed to give him pause, as if he was starting to realise that he may fall into that category himself.

And then Sebastian turned up, went straight over to Olivia and apologised on bended knee for hurting her kinsman. The crowd were all alarmed – seeing twins seems to have that effect in Shakespeare’s plays. Olivia was standing on the board, Viola front right, Orsino back right and Antonio back left at this point. With Sebastian looking at Olivia to begin with, he didn’t notice Viola at all, and then when he saw Antonio and faced him, Viola was directly behind him. When he did turn round, their reunion was as good as I wanted (sniffled, of course), and Olivia for once seemed perfectly happy with her good fortune, after the initial embarrassment of realising that she had actually fallen in love with a woman!

With these twins having a significant difference in their height, they didn’t go in for further mistaken identities this time, which suited me fine. Malvolio made his entrance clad in just his suit trousers this time, and despite Olivia being conciliatory he was too far gone to do anything but snarl his threat of revenge at them before he left. He even included the audience this time, not nice.  The priest was on stage for this final scene, and reacted a bit to Feste’s admission that he impersonated Sir Topaz, though there’s scope for more there I fancy. Orsino and Olivia were well reconciled by the end, and as Feste settled down to sing us the final song, both couples ended up on the bed at the back; first the women perched themselves on it, then the men followed and snuggled up beside their partner. I was again reminded of the Taming production, where Lucy Bailey had commented that the whole point of a comedy is to get two people into bed together: mission accomplished. We gave them a long round of enthusiastic applause, and left well satisfied that we would be seeing this one again.

What else do I need to say at this stage? The lighting was a bit gloomy for me, until the end when a golden glow brightened the stage considerably. Olivia lay on the bed at the back through all the opening scenes, until shortly before she arrived on stage herself. I didn’t realise it was her at first, but as various characters rose up from their positions on the stage to take part in the play, it became obvious who she had to be. We were both very relieved that the problems with delivering the lines which we’d experienced last night with The Comedy Of Errors were not apparent in this performance, so I apologise if any of my comments on that performance reflected badly on the cast; they’re clearly up to the challenge of Shakespeare already, but perhaps the Comedy production just needs longer to settle than this one. This was only the fourth preview performance of this play, with press night scheduled for 25th April (the Comedy press night is a matinee).

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Twelfth Night – February 2011

7/10

By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Peter Hall

Venue: Cottesloe Theatre

Date: Thursday, 24th February 2011

A slightly weaker production than I would have expected. Some performances were excellent, especially Charles Edwards as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, but Viola and Olivia were remarkably bland. Both actresses were reduced to grinning and simpering a lot, with no sign of the grief that both characters are supposedly suffering. Most peculiar. Malvolio was a nasty piece of work, and his mistreatment particularly unpleasant, as he was penned in a large bird cage and had to crouch on the perch with his knees up around his chin. His later appearance indicates how this has affected his knees. Sir Toby was full of life, and Feste was an older version, with good delivery of the lines, but overall the piece felt lacking in pace and focus.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Twelfth Night – September 2007

2/10

By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Neil Bartlett

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Friday 28th September 2007

I was a bit disappointed with this production, and there were several reasons for this, not all to do with what was happening on the stage. To begin with, this was the first time we’d sat so far back, under the overhang, and I just didn’t feel connected to the performance emotionally at all. I felt the action was a long way away, and I just couldn’t get involved. This may be because we’ve been so close for so long that we’ve adjusted to that, or it may be the performance wasn’t being “sent out” enough, I don’t know. Either way, it made the evening less enjoyable, sadly.

Another difficulty was that we’ve seen the Chichester Festival version of Twelfth Night so recently, and it was so magnificent, that echoes are bound to carry over, and it’s hard not to compare. While this production is clearly different, the fact that I couldn’t engage with it meant I could never overcome the comparison, and it fell short on that score as well. This was unfortunate, as normally we’d have months if not years between productions.

The set was also unfortunate. The acting space went right to the back of the theatre, from what I could see, although there was a door at the back so the set wasn’t right up to the back wall. The walls were clad in backstage plasterboard, and there were racks with clothes either side at the rear, so the setting was clearly meant to remind us that all the characters are playing a part. There was a screen at the front of all this, at the upper level, which created a deep overhang for the rear part of the stage, and which separated later on to show us Malvolio imprisoned in the drying room, but was otherwise a sombre presence, not entirely helpful to a comedy. All of this was in drab colours, and with the black of many of the costumes, which were unequivocally Edwardian, the whole effect was depressing rather than uplifting. The attempt to create a space with no clear time and location might have been better served in other ways than precise period costume and immediately recognisable setting, but that’s life.

The biggest problem I found with the performance itself was that Viola, played by Chris New, was the most masculine Viola I’ve ever seen. Apart from a little bit of simpering, some semi-mincing and some hair patting, this was basically another Sebastian. I was never able to see him as a woman, and there was very little of Viola’s vulnerability, or at least her awareness of her vulnerable position, and no real sign of her grief. Other performances were OK, and any weaknesses I’d put down to the production. The cross-casting of males and females, which seemed to be mainly to get the right proportions for the companion Comedy of Errors, meant that Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Fabian were played by women, and done pretty well, while Viola was still the only female part played by a man. Sir Andrew, in particular, was well done, as an aristocratic silly-ass, who was obviously trying to emulate Sir Toby in everything. Sir Toby was a weaker character than some I’ve seen. His drinking had obviously got the better of him some time ago, and Maria (Siobhan Redmond), all wiggles, was clearly going to have the upper hand in their relationship. They snuck off with their luggage while everyone else is partying at the end.

John Lithgow as Malvolio was also very entertaining. Starched upright, he moved as gracefully and sedately as if dancing a mournful minuet, so when he did break into a trot, to catch up with Viola, he looked wonderfully absurd. His fantasises about being married to Olivia built us up nicely for the actual letter reading, and with no attempt at greenery, the attempts of the watchers to hide themselves were even more funny. Malvolio’s excessive joy at finding his dreams have come true was expressed by rubbing the letter all over his face, and the practice smiles, which took a bit of doing, were wonderfully grotesque. This was undoubtedly the best scene of the play.

The later Malvolio scenes – the cross-gartering, the madness and the revenge – were all good, with Malvolio showing more dignity in the latter two than I’ve seen before. Finally, the discovery sequence was good, although I wonder if that’s just the quality of the writing rather the performances, and I particularly liked the way in which Olivia is in turmoil after finding out she’s married a man she doesn’t know, and who isn’t the man she took him to be (after all, she doesn’t know Cesario that well either). She has to think really hard about whether she’ll accept this marriage or not, but eventually decides to make the best of it. A good level of ambiguity with which to end the performance.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Twelfth Night – August 2007

10/10

By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Philip Franks

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Tuesday 14th August 2007

We didn’t have the best of starts to tonight’s performance. The journey over was done in pouring rain, and we squelched our way to the theatre only to find the foyer jam-packed with other theatregoers as the doors hadn’t opened yet, and only ten minutes to go before the scehduled start. When we finally got seated, I was amazed to find that we were only a few minutes after the start time, and the play itself began fairly soon after that.

I had been worried that the warm-up might affect my enjoyment of the play (I can get a real sulk on me at times) but I was proved absolutely, completely, and blissfully wrong when we were treated to one of the best Twelfth Night’s I’m ever likely to see. I was puzzled at first to see three men come on stage, one standing at the back, one, the butler or manservant, off to one side, and another attendant sitting on the other side. The music, played on the phonograph (see below) was lovely and sad (Elgar’s Sospiri, per the program notes) and then I realised! We’d seen two productions (Chekov International Theatre Festival meets Cheek by Jowl, and Propeller) where the opening scene was the aftermath of the shipwreck, and I’d forgotten (oh, so quickly) that the opening scene in the generally accepted text is Orsino’s “If music be the food of love…”. Blow me down with a feather, we were not only getting Shakespeare’s language, we seemed to be getting his version of the play as well! What a turn up! Recovering my composure quickly, I focused on watching this performance with an open mind, with one further adjustment later.

Best to describe the set now, before I get too carried away. At the back of the stage was a wall of glass panels, as in a Victorian style large conservatory, with three sets of double doors. A curved walkway in front led to some steps on our right, and below these was a beautiful floor design, suggestive of many things. The interior was blue and shiny, looking like a pool or a water splash. There were tendrils of water spiralling out from this centre, and at first I wasn’t sure if they were wet or dry. Dry, as it turned out. Interlaced with the water spirals was a rough, textured shoreline, looking like sandbars, with one or two areas of planking, as in a jetty. In front of the walkway were a couple of patches of sand grasses, left and centre, and to the right of the pool, on the slant, was a bench, while on the left was a box of some kind (turned out to be a piano), also on the slant, as if half buried in the sand. These gave a wonderful sense of flotsam and jetsam, the after effects of the shipwreck, as well as being practical stage furniture. With the glassy blue of the pond and the greyish colour of the sandbars, there was also a hint of winter and a frozen pond, which was quite appropriate at the end when Feste wraps his coat around himself for the final song. And of course they also suggested the sea, and the beach. This was a masterpiece of design.

Above all this hung several items which were lowered to illustrate and enhance various parts of the story (this is a bit like The Generation Game – can I remember what was on the conveyer belt?). There was a model of a large ship (four funnels – possibly the Titanic?), a life belt (according to Steve, it said SS Rodrigo – the name Sebastian uses when he’s first rescued), a toy dog on wheels, an old style phonograph with trumpet loudspeaker, a plant pot with a tuft of very dead-looking plant, a candelabra, and a pair of tannoy loudspeakers. I will try to remember to mention each item as it’s lowered down. I’ll just mention now that during the interval the chair and piano were removed, so the set for the second half was as for the first but without the integral seating. Costumes were Edwardian glamour, with a strong touch of Upstairs, Downstairs.

Martin Turner as Orsino listened to the music for quite a while. This was no hardship. At the end, he gave us the lines beautifully, and I got the impression of an older, world-weary Orsino, who’s perhaps in love with Olivia because there’s nothing else to fill his days. Let’s face it, he doesn’t seem to have spent much time with her up to now, so his references to “fancy” may imply there’s no real basis for his love – an elderly Romeo falling for a younger Rosalind perhaps? All the lines were delivered well, throughout the play, and I heard far more than I usually do, which made it all the richer. I also liked Orsino’s moodiness when he wants the music, then doesn’t, and also when he changes mood at the end of the scene, from being upbeat about Olivia’s capacity for love, to being gloomy again. Perhaps he’d just reminded himself of what he hadn’t got?

Viola (Laura Rees) was carried on by her sea captain, and set down in the middle of the stage. She seemed a perky waif, a bit dishevelled by being nearly drowned, but not particularly affected by her experiences. This was where I had to do another mental adjustment to stop myself from failing to appreciate the performance. I’d been used to recent Violas being more emotional and more obviously grief-stricken, but this performance was different. This Viola was showing more resourcefulness and humour, and fewer outward signs of grief, and it was both perfectly valid and a very good performance. I still found the “My brother, he is in Elysium” very moving, and had a little sniffle. (I had several more sniffles and an outright sob later on – great fun.) This was a very good scene for telling us where we are, who the relevant characters are, and what the situation is.

Another benefit of this production is that it’s an ensemble piece along with Macbeth. As a result, we have such a tremendous cast for this play that many of the relatively minor parts were played by hugely talented and skilled actors. With such a beefing up of all the roles, the whole production soared to new heights, and there was not one weak area.

The next scene showed this up very well. We get to meet Sir Toby (Paul Shelley), Maria (Suzanne Burden), and later Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Scott Handy). Maria is doing her best to warn Sir Toby that his drunken revels will get him into trouble, but he’s not bothered. A couple of maids have brought on the tea tray, and he has a cup of tea, flirting with the maids as he does. He also tips some whisky from his hip flask into the cup. It’s clear he likes a good time, and that Maria has a soft spot for him, though not as completely as later?

Sir Andrew arrives, fresh from bathing, judging by his swimsuit. Scott Handy played him marvellously well. It’s a difficult part, because on the one hand he is a fool, and the butt of many a joke, but he is also hard done by, and his relationship with Sir Toby is one of the darker aspects of the play. Here we have a Sir Andrew who’s infatuated with Sir Toby, always trying to be like him, to copy what he says and does, and who is all too easy to gull. I got the impression he’s up from the country, with lots of money and not much in the way of brains, almost childlike. It was possible to laugh at him, but I did feel very moved by his “I was adored once too”; it suggested a missed opportunity that might have made his life turn out very differently. The dancing that he did, in fact all the dancing in the production, was contemporary to the setting – early 1920s. Sir Andrew’s efforts included a kind of vertical doggy-paddle, and were suitably funny.

Back at Orsino’s court, the next scene was done as a picnic, with flasks of tea and a rug. Then we see Maria chiding Feste (Michael Feast). He’s carrying a large suitcase, and is on the tart and cynical side. He certainly knows what’s going on between people, as his comments about Sir Toby and Maria indicate.

Olivia (Kate Fleetwood) arrives with her entourage. Malvolio (Patrick Stewart) is holding her umbrella, and is dressed like a butler. I noticed he had that slight head tremor which is often associated with very rigid people. Olivia is more sprightly than is usual, and really does enjoy Feste’s wit, smiling if not actually laughing, and sitting beside him on one of the benches. She’s quite strict in rebuffing Malvolio about his attitude. Malvolio is played with a strong Scottish accent, which fits the lines perfectly, and reminds me of a dourer version of Mr Hudson. He’s completely contemptuous of Feste, and we can see the battle lines being drawn already.

Now Viola arrives, and we see several attempts by Olivia to find out who this messenger is. Finally Malvolio reports on him in a very long-winded, pedantic way, and is most surprised later to be told to leave along with the rest of the servants. He peers back through the window as he leaves, which got a good laugh.

For once, Maria isn’t asked to put on her veil to confuse Viola (it’s not in the text), and despite this, the scene worked perfectly well, with Viola/Cesario’s questions about who the lady of the house is seeming more impertinent, but also more practical. This scene was very brisk, and although it lost some of the details I’m used to from other productions, it did get across how Viola’s passion for Orsino is conveyed in her speeches to Olivia, and it’s this that Olivia falls for. It’s as if Viola was wooing Olivia herself, and yet she’s just expressing her own love for Orsino. I also got the need Viola has to see Olivia’s face – she wants to see what she’s up against, and finds the competition pretty stiff, looks-wise.

Antonio and Sebastian’s scene is set in a railway station – lowering of tannoy speakers. Antonio is really keen on Sebastian, and dashes after him to catch the same train. When Malvolio catches Cesario, I was aware that she covers up for Olivia by not disclosing that she left no ring. Again, Viola is pretty cheerful through her working out that Olivia is in love with her boyish disguise, but it all came across clearly.

Now we have Sir Toby and Sir Andrew carousing in the wee small hours. Feste joins in, and again the phonograph is deployed. (It had a slight problem which meant we heard it scratching away for a bit, but that was soon sorted.) Michael Feast demonstrated what a good voice he has with Feste’s song, and when Maria arrives, there are two or three other servants with her. We’re treated to a dance number, with everyone joining in except Sir Andrew. Malvolio arrives, and puts a stop to the party atmosphere. He’s very unpleasant, especially to Maria, and I could see how he’s set himself up for their revenge. Maria’s device is clearly thought up as she speaks, and much appreciated by the two knights.

Back at the Duke’s, the music is played by two of Orsino’s servants – one on the piano buried in the sand, and the other playing a guitar? (possibly – it’s been a while). Viola’s suffering is clear to see, and Orsino obviously feels a strong affection for this boy, but without any of the uneasiness that’s often shown. Viola is actually kissed three times in this production – once by Orsino, once by Olivia in a later scene, which she doesn’t exactly fight off, and once by Antonio, which really throws her. She also kisses Orsino once herself, at the end.

Now for the big set piece of the play – the gulling of Malvolio. Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Fabian are concealed behind an inconspicuous huge red umbrella or parasol, which may not be out of place on a beach, but is perhaps the most unusual hiding place I’ve seen for this bit. Naturally, they keep poking their heads up to say their lines, and Sir Andrew keeps his up too long at one point. When Malvolio “revolves”, Sir Andrew is in plain view, but Malvolio is so wrapped up in himself, he doesn’t see him at first. By the time he does a slow double take, Sir Andrew has had time to get into hiding again.

Patrick Stewart’s performance as Malvolio is the best thing I’ve seen in a long time. He’s a nasty piece of work, and Patrick Stewart doesn’t hold back with playing that side of his character. He insults Feste, has a go at Sir Toby (quite reasonably, in the circumstances), and threatens Maria, as well as raising suits against others, such as Viola’s sea captain. In this scene, he’s positively leering as he describes his idea of married life with Olivia, and he’s even got the proof that such things can happen – he shows us a copy of the Tatler where the pictures prove that “the lady of Strachy married the yeoman of the wardrobe”. We’re all ready to see him taken down a peg or eighteen, when he chances on the letter. The first four lines are written on the outside of the letter, and then we get to the prose bit inside. The reading of the lines was excellent, and the scene was immensely funny. His reactions to the contents inside were fantastic – he’s overjoyed to find she loves him. Malvolio didn’t practise his smiling at this point, so we get to see the fully rehearsed version later. I wasn’t always aware of the reactions from the others, as Malvolio was so funny.

After the interval, with the set slightly adjusted, we get a very evocative seaside interlude, as Feste does his Punch and Judy for a couple of youngsters, another child has her balloon popped by an unpleasant young man, the policeman strolls around chatting to one or two folk, and all is summer jollity. Sebastian and Antonio treat us to scene 3 (before we’ve had one and two), and as they talk, a gentleman who’s been reclining on the far side of the beach, reading his paper, seems to recognise Antonio. He goes over to speak to the policeman, indicating Antonio, and although they don’t do anything more at this time, it’s obvious he’s been rumbled. As everyone disappears, and Feste is packing up his folding Punch and Judy kit into his suitcase, Viola arrives, and starts Act 3 scene 1 proper, by asking Feste if he lives by his tabor. Again, the wit is lively, and sets us up nicely for the next part.

When Olivia and Maria enter, Sir Andrew is well taken with Viola’s words to Olivia, and it’s clear he intends to mangle together a sentence using them all as soon as he can. When they’re told to leave, he’s made at least one failed attempt to give Olivia a present, and he lingers as long as possible behind the glass doors, muttering “odours”, “pregnant”, etc.

After Viola and Olivia have had another verbal tussle, it’s the turn of Sir Toby and Fabian to set up Sir Andrew for the duel with Cesario. Sir Toby’s unkindness is starting to show more clearly, and his character’s darker side is coming to the fore. Next Maria prepares us for the entrance of Malvolio.

Olivia herself comes on first, and we can see she’s being seriously affected by her infatuation with Cesario. Her hair is starting to come down, and she’s much more emotional than any Olivia I’ve ever seen. Later on, she’s actually crying because she can’t get what she wants. This time, though, her additional edginess works really well to set up her reactions to Malvolio’s preposterous appearance.

Maria and another maid are with her when Malvolio arrives, and they spend most of their time trying to shield her from him. At one point, Olivia’s standing on the chair with the maids in front of her. Malvolio’s in a kilt (naturally, given the accent), and his stockings are indeed yellow, and seriously cross-gartered. His first grin got a good laugh, and he continues to grimace for all he’s worth throughout the scene. When Olivia asks if he will go to bed, he runs his hand up her leg. He also brandishes his legs, and even waggles them when he’s lying on the ground. They’re all running away from him, but he keeps on going, and when they run off at the end, lifts his kilt to flash them. It was very funny.

Now they’ve gone, he can admit to the tightness of the garters, and sits down to untie them. He’s tremendously dismissive of Sir Toby, and as he reties his garters in order to leave, I can see that he’s tying them the wrong way round – effectively tying his knees together. Sure enough, when he gets up to make a dignified exit, he finds he can’t move his legs separately, and has to make an uncomfortable decision. Does he redo them, or does he hop off the stage, hoping no one will notice? Being the kind of character he is, and not wanting to admit to a mistake, he chooses to hop, and we were in fits of laughter as he tries to maintain his dignity while hopping to the edge of the stage with his knees together. There’s another decision point as he comes to the steps and realises what he’s let himself in for. It’s a tribute to Patrick Stewart’s fitness that he’s able to have Malvolio, after an agonising pause for thought, hop down the steps and off the stage. It just about brought the house down. I have no idea what the other characters were up to – I only had eyes for Malvolio. Brilliant.

The duel was good fun as well. It’s clear neither duellist wants to fight, and again we see the unpleasant side of Sir Toby. Antonio breaks up the fight, and when he asks for his money back, we can see Viola grasping the possibility that Sebastian is alive very quickly. It’s also the first time Cesario’s integrity has been questioned, though not the last. It’s about here that I started seeing this as a farce, with all the threads being carefully woven to give us the marvellous comedy of their unravelling.

The abuse of Malvolio was unpleasant, and I felt he was very badly treated, despite all his own unpleasantness earlier. It was clear that Sir Toby realised he couldn’t keep this sort of behaviour up any longer.

Sebastian was also very good. He handled the possibility of his madness remarkably well, as well as his sudden marriage to a beautiful woman – he’s got some brains, that boy. For the final revelation, Viola is standing at the front of the stage, with Orsino in front of her so that Sebastian can’t see her when he rushes on from the back. When they do see each other, and circle round, warily, I was sobbing with the emotion of it all. At the end, Antonio leaves the stage, a free man but without the man he loves, while the others gather behind the glass walls of the conservatory to celebrate. Feste comes out to sing us his final song, and that’s it.

Well, I didn’t manage to put in where each item was lowered down, but that’s tough luck – I’ve written quite enough for one play. I particularly liked the excellent reactions from the spare characters on stage – often they don’t seem to be fully participating, but tonight they were completely involved and responding noticeably to the main action. I so want this production to transfer, but sadly, it seems it’s only the Macbeth that will be going to London. A shame.

The post-show was interesting, and we found out that Michael Feast apparently suggested that Patrick Stewart play Malvolio with a Scottish accent. With Macbeth, there were a lot of men crammed into one small dressing room over at the Minerva, and they had a running joke going with Scottish accents. After the suggestion, Patrick Stewart tried it out, and found it fitted the lines perfectly, so the rest evolved from that. I don’t remember much more of what was said now, but the performance will live on in my memory for a long time. Hopefully, I’ll still be able to enjoy future productions, and if they’re half as good as this one I’ll count myself lucky.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me