"'Tis not for gravity to play at cherry-pit with Satan." Act III, scene iv
|OVO ; July 1, 2008 St Albans, Hertfordshire, UK|
Director : Adam Nichols ; Starring :
Reviewed on : 2008-07-07 14:58:16 ; Reviewed by : Wendy Attwell
|Twelfth Night - The Musical takes us as passengers on a voyage aboard the SS Elysium, a cruise liner in the 1920s, where dancing twins 'Viola and Sebastian' are headlining as the entertainment. After a BBC World Service announcement of the loss of the ship in a storm, the action moves to the SS Illyria, where Count Orsino and Olivia spend their time at opposite ends of the lounge, drinking and bemoaning their woes. Enter Sebastian and Viola (disguised as a man), both unaware that the other has been saved from drowning. Viola falls for Orsino, who thinks she is a man and sends her to woo Olivia in his name. Olivia, also thinking she is a man, falls for Viola. Meanwhile, drunken playboys Sir Toby and Sir Andrew revel in playing tricks on uppity butler Malvolio. Into this comedy of wrongly pursued love and mistaken identity throw a whole load of well-known songs - some poignant, some funny - and you'll have some idea of what to expect from this show.
When I first saw this production in 2007 I raved about it for months. It had all the qualities that one wants from a Shakespeare play and was of a quality far exceeding what one would expect from a small theatre company. So when I heard that OVO were reviving the production, with original cast, I was delighted. I was also rather nervous. Would a second viewing, one year on, stand up to the 'near perfect' rating that I gave it first time round? Could it live up to the reputation I had built for it in my mind? The answer to both of these questions is a resounding 'Yes!'. Director Adam Nichols and his wonderful cast have created a production that would not look out of place onstage at the Globe. In fact with its comic audience banter, larger than life characters and flawless direction, this is exactly the kind of production I would expect to see played at such a prestigious venue. This show has packed out small theatres and I see no reason for it not to work equally well at larger ones.
Whilst it retains most of its original cast, some changes have been made, most notably the replacement of Tim Robinson with Howard Branch as Malvolio. Branch isn't quite as smug and self-satisfied as Robinson was in the role, but he does make us feel extremely uneasy with his pleading as he is tied up and taunted by Feste, Toby and Maria (as they sing Gershwin's 'It Aint Necessarily So'). Perhaps we feel that he doesn't deserve the abuse heaped upon him; certainly he is more of a victim. As the cast break into song and dance at the end of the show, his is the only unsmiling face, and as he knocks their hats off and shouts about revenge we suspect that he may have suffered serious damage rather than mere humiliation at the hands of the tricksters. In the original production Malvolio had his own song, which he has lost here. As well as playing the role down slightly this also has the effect of making him a more sympathetic character. Other aspects of the show have also been slightly pared down and tightened up, and this can only benefit the production as a whole.
Faith Turner as Viola/Cesario once again manages to bring a poignancy and depth to the character that is all too often lacking. When she speaks to Olivia it is with honesty, courage and a small amount of temper, and it is this which sparks Olivia's interest. Viola's relationship with Orsino is doting but not fawning. As a woman she is almost dumbstruck by her love for him and her inability to act on it, but as a man she is forthright and practical. Orsino (David Widdowson) touches her as he would a man - clapping her on the shoulder, putting a hand on her arm - and she reacts to this with a palpable pain. Widdowson too plays up the sexual tension, startled at how these gestures of friendship make him feel. There is a breath-stopping moment when in conversation the two lean in and, completely conscious of their action, almost kiss: Orsino as though he is testing his feelings and Viola in hope and despair. Faith Turner really does draw on our heartstrings, and her fabulous rendition of 'Maybe This Time' (from the musical Cabaret) gave me chills.
But what really makes this play successful is the comedy, worked into the more serious scenes as well as being fully-fledged in the more obvious comic interludes. The ever-lovely Anna MacLeod reprises her role as scheming Maria, flirtatious and giggly with a very real and very infectious laugh. Howard Salinger as Feste is a chirpy chap out to have some fun, as are lovable rogues Sir Toby Belch (Dan Warren) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Will Franklin). This is all summed up nicely in their song 'Happy Days are Here Again' and in Belch's solo of Irving Berlin's 'No Strings'. Joined by Tania Rowe as sexy pouty Fabia, and Paul de Burton as a deckhand, this scheming team come up with all sorts of amusements to be had at the expense of others. Other original cast members include Kathryn Rogers as sweetly melancholy Olivia, and Edmund White as Sebastian. The whole show is framed by Master of Ceremonies Paul de Burton, who welcomes the audience, tells some wonderfully groanworthy jokes and commentates on the action when appropriate.
The entire cast and crew of this production are multi-talented and their work is of extremely high quality. Director Adam Nichols has made the right call in reviving this show, hopefully not for the last time. This is a Twelfth Night that is warm and sexy, utterly charming and very much fresh and alive. I could go on and on about just how good it is. Instead let me say this: it is one of the best pieces of Shakespeare that you will ever see. And if that doesn't inspire you to see it, then nothing will.
Read the 2007 review of OVO's Twelfth Night.
Sir John Gilbert, R.A.,
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