NOTE: The following review dates from January 2007 and this production's West End run at the Old Vic.
Twelfth Night is a play that lends itself naturally to an all-male production. Viola’s transformation into Caesario and the sexual confusion engendered by the change should be intensified by the masculine casting. However, the misunderstandings are surprisingly muted.
There’s an air of melancholy hanging over Edward Hall’s production. From the mournful air that so beguiles Orsino to the scattered furniture of the opening scene – suggesting a rather sad morning-after. The excellent Tony Bell’s downbeat and world-weary Feste sets the tone: his lugubrious presence hangs over the production. There’s also much use made of a white-masked chorus, observing the scenes, and adding vocal or instrumental accompaniment from time to time.
That’s not to say that there are not funny scenes: the letter scene is excellently done, with Malvolio snatching the letter from Olivia (in the form of a statue) herself – affording the opportunity to direct a V-sign at the steward as he preens himself in his conceit. And the scene where Malvolio reveals his yellow stockings and cross-garters is an excellent piece of theatre.
Not does Hall neglect the snobbery element; there’s genuine malice in Sir Toby’s “dost thou think because you virtuous” speech – to which Bob Barrett’s Malvolio stretches himself to his full height, as if willing himself to be Sir Toby’s equal.
Strangely, for an all-male production, the homoerotic element of the play (in Antonio’s love for Sebastian and the closeness between Orsino and ‘Caesario’) seems almost understated; but Dugald Bruce-Lockhart brings a real sexual intensity to the part of Olivia. I particularly liked Simon Scardifield’s Aguecheek, an almost Wodehousian buffoon, but Tam Williams doesn’t quite capture the androgynous quality of Viola, able to captivate both sexes with ease.
There’s an inventive set, courtesy of Michael Pavelka, based around the use of several wardrobes through which the actors appear; a device incorporated into their Taming of the Shrew, too.
There are enough excellent performances throughout to ensure that this play never flags. As in all Propeller productions, the ensemble work is excellent. For all the inventiveness of the production and the quality of the acting, I would like to have seen more of the comedy brought out.
- Maxwell Cooter