Twelfth Night at the Young Vic

Following last year s triumphant Grimms Tales, I came to the Young Vic expecting great things from Tim Supple s Twelfth Night, but I was not prepared for the staging. This is a strange production of Twelfth Night, or should I say that it s set in a strange place.

Orsino s palace seems to come straight from Arabian Nights, where musicians play Eastern music, characters recline on cushions and Viola is disguised in turban and a fetching turquoise trouser suit. From this, we might expect Olivia s house to resemble Scheherazade s. However, once we get to her home, we re transported to a different world where Sir Toby Belch is in raggedy tweeds like a down-at-heel English gentleman, where there s a Malvolio with a Welsh lilt, a Scottish Maria and an English Andrew Aguecheek (dressed, for some bizarre reason, in a kilt). It is little surprise that Viola can wonder at what country she is in - the audience was beginning to have similar thoughts.

Further, for all the shouting and coarseness, there is little real comedy as Maria and Sir Toby hatch their plot. With one notable exception, the Olivia household is staggeringly unfunny. Nor does Thusitha Jayasundera as Viola really portray the anguish she feels as she bears messages from the man she loves to the woman who loves her (although, for once, she carries off the male disguise very well). Jayasundera only really comes to life at the end when reunited with Nitin Chandra Ganatra s Sebastian.

There are some strong performances: you can certainly sense how Leo Wringer s langorous Orsino could captivate Viola, but the real standout performance is Robert Bowman s Malvolio. From his first scene, strutting around with a prayer-book like a Celtic Tartuffe, to the letter scene where he can barely contain all his repressed desires for Olivia, Bowman manages to suggest a man who has the severest difficulty in keeping his emotions in check. And when he appears yellow-stockinged, cross-gartered and smiling like an inane Tony Blair, you get a glimpse of a man who, despite his designs on Olivia, loves himself more than anybody.

Praise should also be given to Adrian Lee s music. While sometimes a trifle loud, an array of exotic instruments and strange melodies enhances the action and provides substance for Orsino s belief that music is the food of love.

Maxwell Cooter