Paulette Randall’s new production takes Shakespeare’s funniest comedy and transplants it from the Italian coast to a more sultry South American setting. Her Brazilian Illyria is beautifully set by Libby Watson who stretched the production budget with a fact-finding trip to the country’s ancient former capital Salvador.
Sadly Libby’s crumbling colonial backdrop, with its weed fringed flagstones, palm trees and balconied residencia, coupled with perfectly stylised costumes don’t make up for a lack of intelligibility and some pretty mixed acting talents.
You have to have a pretty good grasp of the complexities of the plot and a working knowledge of the original dialogue to plough your way through Shakespearian English delivered in a range of South American accents that test the ear at every stage. Fortunately some of the physical elements of the performance make up for the audible deficiencies but a long first half tested the audience’s patience.
One saving grace was Marcus Powell’s wonderfully worked Malvolio who grew in stature as the play progressed ranging through inscrutable formality as the straight-laced major domo (although inexplicably he appeared to be Japanese) to the cross-gaitered butt of Belch’s humour, finally wringing every ounce of bathos from his wounded pride at the cruel treatment handed out to him.