Honeysuckle Weeks is superbly cast as Viola in Shakespeare’s ‘most perfect’ comedy, Twelfth Night, the fourth in a series of Arts Council-funded co-productions between Theatre Royal Plymouth and Thelma Holt.
Following The Tempest, The Taming of the Shrew and Hamlet, this production has a reputation to maintain. And Twelfth Night proves easy to watch if somewhat two-dimensional. But this was never going to be a deep, thoughtful piece when much of the wry observations are lost in swift, clever exchanges, and Holt’s Twelfth Night is fast and furious, and, above all, fun.
The comedy is simplistic and slapstick with twins Viola (Foyle’s War’s Weeks) and Sebastian (Christopher Harper) saved from a shipwreck but each believing the other dead. Viola, disguised as a boy, becomes the Duke’s perky page pressing his suit with the grieving Olivia (Rebecca Egan) who instead falls in love with him/her. Meanwhile, Viola has fallen for the Duke (regally played by Bob Cryer) who finds himself strangely attracted to his supposed manservant.
Set against the agonies and confusions of the emotional triangle is the stand-up, knock down comedy. Christopher Benjamin (The Forsyte Sage, Pride and Prejudice) is apt as the Olivia’s tipsy uncle bumbling about concocting plans and amusement with his comic protégée Sir Andrew Aguecheek (foppishly played by Sugar Rush’s Roger Barclay) and the effervescent Feste, perfectly executed by the talented Hilton McRae, who is wickedly adept with fun and frolics, and has a tremendous voice. His rendition of the love song is spellbinding while his languid humour and people-baiting is the glue director Patrick Mason applied to this piece.
And then there was Matthew Kelly (Stars in Your Eyes, Of Mice and Men). Kelly played Malvolio for laughs and got them every time. He was excellent as a pompous buffoon but he was no brooding killjoy, malevolent in his dealings with the servants, so his treatment at the hands of Maria, Sir Toby et al left a nasty taste in the mouth seeming somewhat undeserved and brutal.
Mike Britton’s crisply simple but incredibly effective set is enhanced by transparent chairs and minimal props while the costumes range from boiler-suits to sumptuous swirling robes.
The action rarely lets up, although some of the longer monologues slow the pace a little too much. But all in all an entertaining evening.
- Karen Bussell (reviewed at Theatre Royal, Plymouth)