cast of Twelfth Night

The cast of Twelfth Night. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Twelfth Night

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre



With the ongoing debate of gender neutrality, one wonders would the Bard have had an issue with creating any sustainable and dramatic impact with the plot of his Twelfth Night if he had written it today?

And with our acceptance of same sex relationships the mechanics of the paly seem even more diluted. Like any creative work though it inevitably asks question of the audience whether it is intentional or not.

Perhaps though that’s looking too deeply at what is on the whole, a highly entertaining and effective performance. Director Christopher Luscombe coats this tale of mistaken identity, love and deceit with both an eastern exotic and a foppish Edwardian brush.

The play opens with Nicholas Bishop’s bare chested and robed Orsino whiling his days away surrounded by opulence and the finer things in life, headily painting young men to the lyrical melodies of a grand piano. It’s clear he has an affection and love for beauty regardless of its sexuality or gender.

Later Antonio, played by Giles Taylor in his crisp grey day suit, pines at the notion of being separated from the recued Sebastian. It seems obvious his feelings are beyond friendship and in both situations, there is more than a nod to Visconti’s Death in Venice.

Adrian Edmondson is the hapless Malvolio, stopped short, it seems, at unleashing his full comic potential for the sake no doubt of the RSC, but it was warming when occasionally the gritty voice of his Young Ones Vyvyan character materialised. There is no doubt respect here but not to play to his full potential felt like a wasted opportunity.

The serious overtone leaves you feeling sorry for Malvolio’s eventual mistreatment yet at odds for him when he is reminded of his former acerbic nature only to leave with a bitter vow of revenge.

Neither Dinita Gohil as Viola or Esh Alladi as Sebastian seem to play out the depth of their character’s feelings. Within the elegant surroundings of Victorian glasshouses and their formal gardens, created by designer Higlett, their responses to love are far too dismissive to the grandeur everyone else is experiencing.

Viola as Cesario seems politely inert to Olivia’s advances and Sebastian is oblivious to the doting of Antonio.

With Edmondson constricted by the sense of occasion, the real comedy was delivered by John Hodgkinson’s lewd and overbearing Toby Belch with Michael Cochrane’s feeble but sweet Aguecheek.

Their mischievous merriment has them cavorting about like a couple of cartoon toffs at a weekend country house party. Kara Tointon as Olivia was engaging and splendid to watch but again the suddenness of her apparent love for Cesario or its depth felt at times unconvincing.

Composer Nigel Hess brings the production dangerously close to a full musical theatre experience with some very well crafted and effective songs. His subtle underscoring of the text was suitably controlled and added considerable value to the more poignant moments without any dialogue being lost.

It is perhaps the combination of so many refined and courteous elements and the generous musical interludes that prevents any depth or heartfelt passion to appear in the relationships of the lovers, as everyone seems well checked by their good manners.

With so much dramatic weight given to plight of the much wronged Malvolio, leaving angrily with revengeful thoughts you can’t help wondering about the potential of a sequel. Overall it’s a clean cut tailored and polite Twelfth Night but one that still entertains on every level. To 24-02-18

Jeff Grant


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