Friday, November 10, 2017

'Twelfth Night' by William Shakespeare

10 November 2017

“What country, friends, is this?” It is Illyria and we’ve been here before. I think I have seen ‘Twelfth Night’ more times than any other Shakespeare play. I’ve seen the play interpreted in many different ways but it always seems to work. On Thursday we were at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon to see Christopher Luscombe’s new RSC production of ‘Twelfth Night’. Luscombe’s 2014 RSC production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ (reviewed here in November) felt like a cosy, crowd-pleasing version but had some subtle, serious touches (such as Dogberry’s shellshock). His ‘Twelfth Night’ has a similar feel. It’s a play famous for its songs but, in this production, composer Nigel Hess creates additional songs based on fleeting references in the text, making it feel almost like ‘Twelfth Night: The Musical’. Luscombe sets the play in the 1890s, bringing a late Victorian decadence with hints of Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley. There’s a beautifully lavish set by Simon Higlett and steam trains, music hall and top hats. Though he is far from being the main character of the play, it is traditionally Malvolio who gets the top billing and Adrian Edmondson gave an impressively restrained and touching performance, managing to be both obnoxious and sympathetic with a charming twinkle in his eye. (I last saw Adrian Edmondson on stage 25 years ago, when he starred with Rik Mayall in ‘Waiting for Godot’ at the Queen’s Theatre in London.) But unusually for Shakespeare, ‘Twelfth Night’ gives two female actors the lead roles: Dinita Gohil’s Viola and Kara Tointon’s Olivia were both excellent as the emotional heart of the play.

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