Friday, March 23, 2012

'Twelfth Night' by William Shakespeare

23 March 2012

To extend Chekhov’s maxim that if a gun appears in a story it has to be fired, surely any play in which the stage incorporates a large tank of water will inevitably involve someone falling into it. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s new production of ‘Twelfth Night’ has a huge pool of water embedded into the front of the stage and I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to reveal that someone does indeed take a tumble into it, completely soaking several members of the audience. (In the spirit of Douglas Adams I will preserve some element of mystery by not revealing which character this happens to!) But much more impressively, the play begins with Viola suddenly entering the water from beneath the stage and clambering coughing and spluttering onto the stage like a Houdini escape. It’s a stunning opening and sets the standard for a wonderful theatrical experience. David Farr’s production of ‘Twelfth Night’ at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon is part of ‘What country friends is this?’ – the RSC’s trilogy of Shakespeare’s shipwreck plays (with ‘The Comedy of Errors’ and ‘The Tempest’) and is the first RSC offering within the World Shakespeare Festival 2012. The last time I saw ‘Twelfth Night’ was Greg Doran’s 2009 RSC production (reviewed here in November 2009) which completely gripped me, despite my familiarity with the plot. Again this week, I wondered whether I had seen ‘Twelfth Night’ too many times to enjoy it afresh but, on the day that Doran was announced as Michael Boyd’s successor as Artistic Director of the RSC, David Farr’s staging completely bowled me over. The two female leads, Kirsty Bushell as Olivia and Emily Taaffe as Viola, were excellent. In the 2009 production, I thought James Fleet was the best Sir Andrew Aguecheek I had seen but this week Bruce Mackinnon proved equally worthy of the title. I enjoyed the songs of Feste, played by Kevin McMonagle as an ageing crooner carrying a tiny electronic keyboard held together by gaffer tape. And Jonathan Slinger (who I last saw as Macbeth in Michael Boyd’s theatre-opening production, reviewed here in April 2001) was hilarious as Malvolio – with wig and double-breasted suit, looking uncannily like Mark Williams in the “suits you, sir” sketches. The set by Jon Bausor was amazing, with all the components of a dilapidated hotel foyer set at eccentric angles. He created some lovely gimmicks but resisted the temptation to overuse them. It was an excellent show – five stars: do go to see it but don’t sit in the front row, because “the rain it raineth every day”.

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