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A CurtainUp London London Review
Twelfth Night

Yet a barful strife!
Who e'er I woo, myself would be his wife.
— Viola
Twelfth Night
Rebecca Hall as Viola/Cesario (Photo: Nobby Clark)
In celebration of his 80th birthday last November, Sir Peter Hall, once Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, directs his fourth production of Twelfth Night in the Cottesloe at the National starring his daughter Rebecca Hall, as Viola with his ex-wife, opera star Maria Ewing. Sir Peter's belief that Shakespeare's verse should be spoken as verse and not as prose comes to the fore in this mostly beautifully spoken of Shakespearean productions. However the concentration needed to deliver perfect speech, leaves Rebecca Hall rather impassive and motionless as Viola, although she is undoubtedly a sincere actor as she speaks the lines clearly and slowly.

There is much to like in this traditional production from the ornate white lace collars on black suits and long flowing hair of the Jacobean detailing on hair and costume, and that's just the men! I liked the self-indulgent Orsino (New Zealander Marton Csokas) although it was difficult to see the chemistry between Orsino and Cesario/Viola, as it was between Olivia (Amanda Drew) and Cesario.

Simon Callow blusters away as the red faced Sir Toby Belch in a performance which he obviously thoroughly enjoys but which is rather one note, unlike that of his collaborator Sir Andrew Aguecheek which Charles Edwards imbues with greatly expressive acting — always animated even when listening to the lines of others. Simon Paisley Day exaggerates the self regarding Malvolio, wincing when he thinks he is commanded by Olivia to smile.

Amanda Drew's thin and reedy voice makes for a peevish Olivia as she protests her love for Cesario. When Olivia mistakes Sebastian for Cesario we are left wondering if this mistaken identity is caused by the lack of good opticians or designers of hearing aids in 17th century England as to our eyes and ears, apart from similarities of dress and wigs, there is no resemblance by way of physical appearance or voice between siblings Sebastian and Viola. Judi Dench's daughter Finty Williams plays the maid Maria but she has no vocal or visual likeness to her famous mother, not that she needs it in this role.

A bird cage confines Malvolio cruelly as he is imprisoned, his tall frame squashed as if sitting on a perch, a visual allusion to the bird references in the text. There is a group of musicians playing authentic period instruments for Jacobean atmosphere for Feste's songs sung by veteran actor David Ryall. Anthony Ward's set has miniature Jacobean houses that line the rear of the stage but seem bitty as is the larger skewed but still small scale baronial hall and gardens, again to the rear of the action, presumably meant to remind us of where the scenes take place, on a budget! The garden letter scene takes place with Toby, Fabian (Simon James) and Aguecheek standing behind glass screens painted with leaves but the comedy doesn't really come off in this serious but lucidly spoken production.

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Twelfth Night
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Peter Hall

Starring: Rebecca Hall, Amanda Drew, Marton Csokas, Simon Callow, Charles Edwards, Simon Paisley Day
With: Joseph Timms, Richard Keightley, Finty Williams, David Ryall, Elizabeth Muncey, James Clyde, Ben Mansfield, Samuel James, Cornelius Booth, Jeffrey Wickham
Designed by Antony Ward
Lighting: Peter Mumford
Music: Mick Sands
Fights by Kate Waters
Running time: Three hours with one interval
Box Office: 020 7452 3000
Booking to 2nd March 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 20th January 2011 performance at The Cottesloe, National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 9PX (Rail/Tube: Waterloo)

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