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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp London Review
by Charlotte Loveridge
The set shows a narrow alleyway of houses with warm colours reminiscent of India. An off-kilter square at the front of the stage provides the actors with interestingly angled entrances and exits, as well as the sense of haphazard and irregular buildings. Washing is hung out across the set to allow Sir Toby and his fellow conspirators to eavesdrop upon Malvolio. However, into this classically timeless Indian atmosphere, evidence of more modern culture emerge. Bicycles, plastic shopping bags, and even polystyrene kebab boxes infiltrate this Illyria. The costumes are similarly hybrid, ranging from saris to sneakers and jeans, and from polo gear to garish seventies fashion.
This vibrant world is peopled by a high-profile cast of Indian actors. Orsino is outstandingly played by Raza Jaffrey in the tradition of Bollywood romantic heroes, whose love is thwarted in some way. In the striking first scene, monsoon rain pours in the background, while the Duke and his court sit in stifling heat and an insufficient fan whirls feebly. This pathetic fallacy vividly enhances the sense of Orsino's oppressed, languishing passion for Olivia. As he sits as if pinned to his chair by the heat, his frustration is palpable. This is not a Duke who is enjoying his unrequited love affair. The range of Raza Jaffrey's performance is both accomplished and well-judged as the volatile lover. For example, in the scene where Feste perceptively bids the Duke "May the tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta," Orsino laughs at his own romantic hyperbole, but abruptly turns melancholy and grim.
Shereen Martineau is an energetic Viola, played with all the gusto of a shipwrecked maiden who suppresses her sororal grief to immediately launch into her daring, cross-dressing plan. She is lively, upbeat and quickwitted. I especially liked the verbal sparring between Cesario and Feste, who was dressed as a (very unconvincing) woman. Neha Dubey's imperious, petulant and hot-tempered Olivia shows us a woman both aware of, and cossetted by her superiority in nobility, wealth and beauty. Paul Bazeley as Sir Andrew Aguechhek maintains a nice balance between ludicrous and pitiable, while Sir Toby Belch's (Shiv Grewal) malicious streak is made more obvious by Paul Battacharjee's Malvolio which plays down the steward's excruciating egoism and lofty disdain.
Unfortunately, the execution does not quite live up to the premise and the excellent idea of an Indian Illyria is frittered away in a fairly mediocre production by largely unoriginal and conventional direction. In particular, the play hints at a world of delusion, deception and fantasy. Viola asks on her first entrance, "What country, friends, is this?" and Sebastian, baffled by being taken for Cesario, doubts his sanity and consciousness, "I am mad, or else this is a dream." What this production ultimately fails to explore or exploit is the potential of Illyria as an exotic, dream-like world.
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. Click image to buy.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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