Thursday, August 2, 2012

Twelfth Night Review

Twelfth Night
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

This is the third professional production I have seen. The previous two being  the Chichester production with Patrick Stewart and Gregory Doran's 2009 production with Richard Wilson. This time it was Jonathan Slinger's turn to play the tragic servant. I also went to a post-show talk, although the sounds produced by the tank of water being pumped out became increasingly distracting (whatever it was I do not want to mop it up).

I rather liked this waterlogged take on the play, after seeing a rather colourful production in 2009. This production presented an Illyria that was once a world of pleasure but has now fallen into disrepair. Using the familiar wooden boards of a ship and the tank of water, the idea was that this world was slowly moving into the sea. From the very beginning, as Viola (Emily Taaffe) entered the world by clambering out of the water as if she has been washed ashore, Orinso's (Jonathan McGuinness) court seemed to have lost the will to live. The Duke and his servants lay around on couches and played tunes on a piano that reminded the Duke of happier times. Olivia (Kirsty Bushell) was upstage lying on a bed, as if in solitary confinement for the loss of her brother.

Here to upset the countess' dispirited household comes Nicholas Day as Sir Toby Belch and Bruce Mackinnon as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Sir Toby is ever the inappropriate uncle, sporting a Hawaiian shirt and speaking quite jovially, whilst Bruce wears a blazer that clashes with his spiky hair and plays Sir Andrew as the bumbling fool that he is. Felix plays the part of a dull-witted Fabian apt to making short and unintelligent interjections. Kevin McMonagle adds to this odd ball group as an aged Feste who has seen better days but merrily plays his role as a fool. He provides one of the highlights of the production with his songs, as he plays some sombre chords on a portable electronic keyboard, adding to this broken down setting.

If there was a problem with the production it would have to be the romantic leads. Emily Taaffe was quite a lovely Viola but she did not manage to go beyond that. She did not feel like the messenger that would wait like a sheriff's post till she is allowed to see Olivia. Whilst I liked Jonathan McGuinness's washed out (no pun intended) Orinso, though once again he did not provide anything else.

Stephen Hagan was alright as Sebastian, though it was quite noticeable how tall he was in comparison to Emily Taaffe. I do however take the whole illusion of the identical brother and sister for granted, since I assume that it would be greater challenge to pull off in comparison to the identical same-sex twins in The Comedy of Errors. Kirsty Bushell however was very good as she transformed from a grief stricken Olivia to an Olivia brimming with excitement to see Cesario again. She did however look a rather too old to fall in love with the child like Cesario/Viola.

Jonathan Slinger once again proves himself a brilliant Shakespearean actor as Malvolio. His performance was that of the stuck up servant with nose upturned in disgust. He made his status clear at times as he moved about the household on a buggy. Jonathan said that he preferred to approach his roles from a psychological stand point, and always tried to find the opposite of what Malvolio was perceived to be. Indeed his Malvolio displayed a neurotic side to his character even before the letter scene, and when he was given the ring by Olivia to pass to Viola he seemed to stare at his employer in a stupor. When his humiliation came he wore more (or less) than just yellow stockings. It was outrageous but it was clear that Jonathan was enjoying it, and he did say during the talk that he went on a journey with it.

As well as the wooden boards and water tank, the set comprised of a dilapidated hotel. Characters would come up and down an elevator and instead of a box tree the fools would hide behind a reception counter and a number of settees dotted around the stage during the letter scene. Malvolio and Maria were also dressed for the setting, as a smartly suited manager and a serving maid in a black and white uniform.

This production did well in showing a sombre Illyria within a destitute hotel, whilst an abnormal group of fools roamed the place plotting the humiliation of a snooty manager. The performances from the leading actors were however mixed overall, which makes this production worth seeing at a high Bargain.

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