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A CurtainUp Review
Twelfth Night

The Donmar's Acclaimed Twelfth Night Comes to BAM
by David Lohrey

Lizzie Loveridge's review of the original London production of Twelfth Night just about says it all. Our only difference can be found in our respective attitudes toward the play prior to seeing this production. She expresses having been excited at the prospect, while I must confess to having had my doubts.

The truth is that before this magnificent production I had never seen a production worthy of the text. Even the much-praised version at Lincoln Center failed to move me. But this deeply felt production has made me a convert.

This Twelfth Night is splendid. Everything -- from the twinkling candles, which dominate the stage, to the three-piece live combo -- works together to make this production under the direction of Sam Mendes a thrilling experience. While it is true that the remarkable performances of the leads makes this world-class theatre, what really holds the audience is the depth of talent. Every role is a revelation, beginning with David Bradley's Sir Andrew Aquecheek and Paul Jesson's Sir Toby Belch. They should be signed immediately to play Beckett's immortal hobos in hell. Helen McCrory (Ovilia) is as sexy as a panther, while Simon Russell Beale's Malvolio reminds one of what brilliance means. He may look like Peter Ustinov, but he has the stage courage of Laurence Olivier. The daring and magical casting of Emily Watson as Viola and Gyuri Sarossy as Sebastian gives one a hint of Mr. Mendes' genius. These look-alike actors make the dream seem true.
Finally, all of this works together in that remarkable way great theatre always does, to seem effortless and natural. If you make only one more New Year's resolutionit should be to see Twelfth Night at BAM.

Twelfth Night .
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Sam Mendes
Set Design: Anthony Ward
Costume Design:Mark Thompson
Starring (the name BEFORE the/ is the role played in Uncle Vanya which plays in repertory with 12th Night): Simon Russell Beale (Vanya/Malvolio, Helen McCrory (Yelena/Olivia), Emily Watson (Olga/Viola), Mark Strong (Dr.Astrov/Orsiono
With: David Bradley (Alexander Sebreyakov/Sir Anthony Aguecheek), Selina Cadell (Marya Voynitsky/Maria), Anthony O'Donnell (Telegin/Feste), Cherry Morris (Marina/Lady), Luke Jardine (Tefim/Fabian/, Gyuri Sarossy (Petrushka/Sebastian)
Lighting Designer: Hugh Vanstone -- re-created for BAM by David Holmes
Sound Designer: Paul Arditti
Music: George Stiles
Musicians: Caroline Humphris (music director and piano), Peter Sachon (cello), Frederic Hand (Guitar)
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes, plus one 15-minute intermission
BAM's Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street (Ashland/Rockwell Pl.), Brooklyn 718.636.4100
For detailed schedule and transportation options, including special Bam Bus Service,
28 performances, 1/16/03-3/08/03. Tickets: $30--$75

--- the Original Review by Lizzie Loveridge ---

O learn to read what silent love hath writ
-- Penultimate line from Shakespeare's twenty third Sonnet
I was excited at the prospect of seeing Sam Mendes' (now dubbed Midas by the British Press) production of Twelfth Night because of the parallels with Uncle Vanya. This went out of the window as I saw probably the most satisfying and beautifully crafted production of Shakespeare's play, and all too poignantly, Mendes' last, as Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse. This Twelfth Night stands in its own right. There is no need for Chekhovian comparisons.

Twelfth Night is liked by many as the last and the most perfect of Shakespeare's "comedies". He returns to an earlier construction using twins, an idea that fascinated Shakespeare, himself the father of twins. The ultimately sad downfall of Malvolio tempers the happy ending. Feste is one of Shakespeare's most intelligent fools. Why is this Twelfth Night so special? We know Mendes has been planning it for some time because he delayed it to produce To The Green Fields Beyond two years ago.

At a most simple level, this production works better because the twins (Emily Watson and Gyuri Sárossy) look alike, matched for height and build and looks and delivery, all this rarely achieved onstage but requires a mental leap from the audience. The character of Olivia (Helen McCrory) has been given a delightful playfulness, rather than the serious Olivia we are used to seeing. When, in an early scene, Feste (Anthony O'Donnell) tries to amuse her, she flings back her sombre veil and smiles, casting off the grief of her brother's death.

Mendes has used a large gilt picture frame at the rear of the stage. Sometimes empty, it is filled with the object of affection when anyone speaks of someone they love. We the audience see who is in the speaker's imagination. As Orsino (Mark Strong) languishes in his rather self-absorbed love for Olivia, she appears in the frame, veiled and in mourning. When Malvolio inappropriately pictures life as Olivia's husband, she too appears, only to turn her back on him. The twins are there as each mentions the other who is lost. This frame ties in with the twenty third sonnet quoted line about love being read with looks with which Mendes starts the play.

This Twelfth Night has no storm to cast Viola (Emily Watson) on the shores of Illyria but some Illyrians spaced at the edges of the stage who answer her questions about the country. There is so much more here. Instead of being in the garden, Malvolio reads his scamming letter lying down on his bed in his humble servant quarters bedroom, where all the best fantasies occur, with the onlookers behind a folding screen. When the twins are reunited, despite being a seasoned theatregoer, I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Viola and Sebastian face and mirror each other in a vision of near perfect symmetry.

Emily Watson's Viola is sincere and beautiful. She speaks her lines naturally as if they are her words and not a script. It was like hearing them for the first time. This intelligent rendition makes her a memorable Viola though Mark Strong's Orsino is rather too ordinary. The foxy Olivia from Helen McCrory confirms that she is developing into one of Britain's great actresses. Her looks aside to the audience, her flirtatious winks are subtle and sweet and totally charming in a mischievous and sexy way.

Simon Russell Beale is a definitive Malvolio. Here is a role where his physical shape is a real positive. His waxed moustachioed pompous Chamberlain walks as if he is wearing a heavy corset, busily moving his legs, while keeping his upper torso stiff and straight. He turns up in hairnet and woollen dressing gown to complain about the noise from Sir Toby (Paul Jesson) and his companions. After the letter, he dresses in flesh cringing, 1920s loungewear, his silver chain of office, like a ghastly taste medallion, on his chest partially bared by an open necked silk shirt, topped with a velvet cap. Brought down, blindfolded and restrained in a soiled straitjacket, he is the most poignant of figures, as Olivia owns he has been "sorely abused". Russel Beale's voice is beautiful, so smooth and rounded.

David Bradley brings modern comedy to his portrayal of Aguecheek, using some of the physical walks that Max Wall was known for. His long lank hair and stringy legs has us laughing as he enters. Paul Jesson's Belch is dressed like an English huntsman, red faced with a handlebar moustache and freely breaks wind and belches to live up to his name. Together Bradley and Jesson make the comedy highly enjoyable and not as tedious as it can be coping with Elizabethan puns. Anthony O'Donnell sings Feste's sad songs tunefully and convinces as a fool worth his upkeep.

Anthony Ward's design is lit by real candles, some at the rear of the stage, some suspended in glass. The colours are monochrome, greys and blacks and pewter with a yellow bow tie for Aguecheek, a coloured waistcoat for Sir Toby, coloured trimmings for the Fool. Mark Thompson's costume is 1920s, long linen coats, elegant fedoras, brocade dressing gowns and full-length lace dresses before the age of the flappers.

Although long sold out, there are ten seats available each day from 10.30am when the box office opens, plus standing room and I am told the queues form from 8.30am. I think I may stand in line for a chance of seeing this Twelfth Night again. Maybe they should consider filming it?

Matt Wolf's book Sam Mendes at the Donmar - Stepping Into Freedom with a foreword from Sam Mendes will be published mid October.

Nicole Kidman was originally meant to be in both these productions of Uncle Vanya and Twelfth Night before filming commitments got in the way. She could not have been better than Helen McCrory and Emily Watson.

Twelfth Night
by William Shakespeare.
Directed by Sam Mendes

Designed by Anthony Ward
Costume by Mark Thompson
Starring: Simon Russell Beale, Helen McCrory, Emily Watson, Mark Strong
With: David Bradley, Paul Jesson, Selina Cadell, Anthony O'Donnell, Cherry Morris, Luke Jardine, Gyuri Sárossy, Gary Powell
Lighting Designer: Hugh Vanstone
Sound Designer: Paul Arditti
Movement Director: David Bolger
Music: George Stiles
Running time: Three hours with one interval
Box Office: 020 7369 1732
Showing to 30th November 2002
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 23rd Septenber 2002 preview performance at the Donmar Warehouse, Earlham Street London WC2 (Tube Stations: Covent Garden or Leicester Square)
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