At first sight, it seemed that there d been a late change of plan and that we were about to see a dramatised version of Brideshead Revisited . Languid young men, dressed in white, drank champagne, listened to 1920s music and danced together. But no, we were in Orsino s court - although Harry Burton s Orsino seemed to be a bit too muscular and hot-tempered for this bunch of effete youths.
The story of how Viola is shipwrecked in Illyria, disguises herself as a man, Cesario, and joins Orsino s court while he plays court to Olivia, has been updated by director Rachel Kavanaugh to the 1920s. A time of idleness (for the rich) and blurring of sexual roles - both themes prevalent in this play.
“What shall I do in Illyria?” wails Viola, and what indeed, for the life of all the characters in this Arcadia is empty; only Malvolio finds that he can fill in the time adequately - and of course, he must be punished for his industry.
Christopher Goodwin s Malvolio looks and behaves more like a senior civil servant, looking down his nose at those he knows are his intellectual inferiors but who are always destined to have the upper hand. One senses that he knows his place, his final cry of “I ll be revenged on the whole pack of you” is half-hearted, he knows that he cannot unduly disturb the social order.
This production is by some distance more successful when it takes place in Olivia s household. Peter Forbes Toby Belch and Paul Raffield s Andrew Aguecheek are dinner-jacketed buffoons, desperately thinking of lame practical jokes to fill in the hours. In this venture, they are greatly aided by Gavin Muir s Feste, whose tuneful songs illuminate the production.
What is less successful is the interplay between Orsino and Emily Hamilton s Viola/ Cesario. She doesn t convince - one can t really believe in her passion for Orsino, behaving as she does more like a schoolgirl with her first crush. Neither can one really accept that this Orsino is ready to enter into a state of marital bliss.
That said, this is a thoughtful production of one of the darkest of Shakespeare s comedies. Kavanaugh has more than maintained the humour but has also managed to bring out the grimmer points of the play. As in Brideshead, these are selfish people and one senses that it won t all end happily for them.