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A CurtainUp London Review
The setting is pretty enough. Doran's Illyria is either in Cyprus or on the North coast of Africa with bright, sunlit brick walls and Arabic influenced costumes. But listening to the first act, it all seemed strangely unfamiliar, difficult to understand, obtuse and this a play that I must have seen more than a dozen times. This by contrast with the feeling one has when understanding the clarity of the experience of Shakespeare's verse in a brilliantly spoken play.
Nancy Carroll, a very fine actress, takes on Viola but doesn't get much help from her director. Dressed like one of the BBC's costume drama romantic heroes, Carroll swaggers like a pantomime principal boy as Viola tries to find her masculine gait. Alexandra Gilbreath's Olivia is more light hearted, but plays for comic effect and, out of sympathy with the others in the cast especially Nancy Carroll's heavy of heart, Viola/Cesario, contributes to the unevenness of the production.
Richard McCabe's Toby Belch is fine and full of wind (not just belching) although his Maria (Pamela Nomvete) is less playful. The real problem is with Richard Wilson's Malvolio. Wilson's early scenes are poor in diction, and without the arrogance and bad temper of Malvolio, it is hard to understand why the trick is played on him and to really enjoy his silly posturing in those yellow stockings. I did however love the staging of the garden scene, one of the very best I have seen, with the miscreants set high up in a topiary cube of leaves suspended above a narrow tree trunk and able to pop out of the foliage to observe Malvolio.
Feste (Miltos Yerolemou) sings beautifully, twirls like a whirling dervish and acts as a Greek Orthodox priest as Sir Jasper when the behaviour towards Malvolio seems terribly cruel. After the interval there is a musical jamming session which strikes of desperation to involve the audience in clapping. Antonio (Simeon Moore), who looks more like one shipwrecked for decades on a desert island than a ship's captain, speaks his lines extremely slowly and sounds laboured. I liked James Fleet's Aguecheek in his extravagant Scottish costume but his caper was all too brief.
The high comedy of the play with Olivia falling in love with one of her own sex never takes flight, I think because we cannot believe in the attraction for Cesario, and it doesn't help that Sebastian and Viola are not physically well matched as twins.
Now if you want to see an excellent, original and spirited Twelfth Night I can highly recommend the pared down version directed by Sean Holmes from Filter in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company which makes an appearance at London's Tricycle Theatre from 4th to 29th May in 2010.
Editor's Note: If you have any doubts about Twelfth Night ranking high on any list of most popular and frequently produced of Shakespeare's plays, consider that, in addition to the two at the Donmar mentioned above, we've reviewed the play eight times during the past year. That includes one version with puppets and last summer's New York Shakespeare in the Park production which made Curtainup's top ten On and Off Broadway for the year 2009.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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