There is no doubt that, in this time of elongated West End runs, the masterful skill of the repertory company all too frequently is overlooked. To be able to switch between two shows on a weekly or even daily basis and to deliver each with passion and enthusiasm takes a level of proficiency far beyond the reach of many and yet – somehow – the Original Theatre Company contains eleven such individuals.
At the same time as they are touring their brilliant presentation of the farce See How They Run, this company are also delighting packed houses with an equally accomplished interpretation of Twelfth Night. To perform both with almost flawless perfection is a testament to a great deal of hard work and, for the returning patrons, demonstrates skill fully deserved of our admiration.
This production is set in the final days of British rule in India, for reasons which (initially) are not completely obvious. Newsreel footage provides a link between the action on stage and contemporary events in New Delhi, but projecting those images onto an uneven surface makes them very difficult to see. It is the audio commentary alone that describes the unfolding events and offers that association.
It all begins with most of the scenery being removed from the rather cluttered stage, leaving just a seated Alastair Whatley in the role of Duke Orsino to inform the audience of his desire for the beautiful Lady Olivia Rachel Donovan. Unfortunately Lady Olivia is in mourning for her father and brother and has vowed to maintain this for seven years, during which time she wishes to remain single.
Orsino takes on a new “manservant” who is actually the recently shipwrecked Viola Siobhan O’Kelly. Finding herself alone in a strange land, she decides that to be disguised as a man will increase her chances of both safety and employment. This sets the scene for a comedy of mistaken identity, unrequited love, misplaced affections and even a drunk uncle.
Arthur Bostrom as Olivia’s butler Malvolio is simply superb, as is Lucy Speed as the mischievous housekeeper Maria but it is Leo Atkin as the entertainer Feste, who really steals the show with his fine singing voice and his rendition of “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” at the start of the second act.
Sir Toby Belch Sebastian Abineri and Sir Andrew Aguecheek Rhys King make a wonderful double act as they set about trying to taunt Malvolio into madness whilst, at the same time, drinking copious amounts of alcohol. The cast is completed by Craig Gilbert, David Partridge and Pete Donno who all play their part in adding to the confusion which unfolds, in this thoroughly entertaining piece.