I have always thought that Twelfth Night, Shakespeare's comedy of mistaken identity, siblings lost and found and cross-gartering, is one of the really great evenings of theatre. Perhaps it is because this was the first Shakespeare that I saw which I both enjoyed and managed to follow or maybe it was that my own school uniform was yellow stockinged; whatever the reason I was really looking forward to English Touring Theatre's version.
This is a fairly traditional production with period costumes, live music and no re-setting or updating. The set is very striking and used to great effect. A heavily raked stage area in front of a curtained frame and background image give a controlled and flexible space. Unfortunately, in the first act, we get too many dribs and drabs of furniture carried on and off which both slows the scene changes and introduces unnecessary clutter to the superbly clean acting area. The rich costumes and controlled lighting do lead to a series of memorable, oil painting tableaux on stage particularly in the 'interior' scenes.
Georgina Rich's Viola is strong and well delivered and I greatly enjoyed Geoffrey Beevers' Aguecheek. Though I think he lacks the appropriate gravitas early on I warmed to Des McAleer's very credible Malvolio as he is pushed over the edge. Sadly, Alan Williams' Feste was less than engaging but I put that down to the director rather than the actor; a strange, distant, unimpressive jester who sparkles neither in his wit nor his wisdom.
There is a distinct lack of drive in the performance with the playing sometimes failing to reach over the front row of the stalls to grab us and pull us in. Toby Belch (Michael Cronin), Andrew Aguecheek (Geoffrey Beevers) and Feste (Alan Williams) may have believed they were carousing loud enough to wake the household but I'm not sure they'd have woken even a light sleeper in the next room.
For me, this production is sound enough, traditional and competent but it fails to find the humour, pace and bawdy excesses of the script. At times we were simply left watching actors stuck in static poses reciting words without conviction. I still love the play but this production added nothing to my understanding of it nor to my store of memorable theatre.
- Robert Iles (reviewed at The Playhouse, Oxford)