17 April 2020 | TheLittleSongbird
"Better a witty fool than a foolish wit"
Have appreciated Shakespeare's work for a long time. 'Twelfth Night' was one of my first Shakespeare plays. Actually along with 'Macbeth' it was the play that introduced me to and got me into his plays, through reading the text out loud in English class, while analysing the language as we went along. As a young adult, it's still one of my favourites of his. The story is complicated but lots of fun and charming, it has heart, memorable characters and moments and a lot of quotable lines (including the above).
This production of 'Twelfth Night' is a good introduction to the play if not familiar to it already, and will make one want to get into Shakespeare and see more productions of 'Twelfth Night'. Just to say as a word of warning for anybody in that position, many other productions of the play will be more faithful and traditional (this is conceptual and does some re-invention along the way, a most notable difference being making Malvolio female). Traditionalists will find that more to their taste, for me some changes and new interpretations are not a problem but it does depend on how it's executed and whether it adds anything. This production feels fresh and is mostly funny and clever, visually striking and well acted, even if the heart is not always there and subtlety goes out of the window.
Not everything worked in my view. While most of the staging and execution of the material works really well, the nightclub scene is gratuitously overblown and it comes over as excessive for no real reason (even questioned its necessity). The comedy is often spot on, but with so much focus on it the production does lose some of the play's heart.
Olivia's character and predicament doesn't quite have the moving pathos as ought, and the production could have done with more subtlety as it can get very over the top in the bigger set pieces. The costumes were a bit too much of a mish-mash in style, sense of place and colour, so the period is not always clear.
Costumes aside, the production is visually arresting with a very strikingly grand setting that allows for a lot of spectacle that doesn't swamp the drama too much. The dialogue still sparkles and delights, one can totally see the appeal of the text and why the best lines are so quotable. The storytelling never has a dull moment, full of vitality and energy, and is non-stop fun from start to finish. The comedy is not subtle but it is clever and often hilarious and the chemistry between the characters is close to nailed, though that between Sebastian and Antonio could have been explored a little more.
Malvolio (or should we say Malvolia) is a masterpiece of stage and character direction, have not a more interesting or funnier interpretation of the character in a long time. The direction opens up the drama to thrilling and entertaining effect and doesn't do anything to over-complicate the storytelling, a lot of it goes for the big approach but it only feels properly overblown and unnecessarily so in the nightclub scene. The performances range from good to brilliant, with the standout being Tamsin Grieg's brilliant Malvolia, so funny yet bringing much variety and colour to how she spoke and moved about on stage. Tim McMullen and Daniel Rigby are very funny as Sir Toby and Andrew, Rigby has the hard task of not making the latter annoying and succeeds. Tamara Lawrence brings a lot of heart and thrust to Viola. Only Phoebe Fox disappoints, and it's not the performance which is actually spot on in characteristics. The character just felt underdeveloped and gets lost amongst everything else going on, hence what was meant by the production missing out on the emotional impact that 'Twelfth Night' has.
In a nutshell, enjoyable with much to love but could have been even more than it turned out. 7/10