Twelfth Night (Rhodes Arts Centre)
Contexture's second season focuses on a single play: Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, which director Simon Anderson and his design team have relocated to Hollywood in the silent screen era. The audience is greeted by the sound of waves and a projected seascape which looks deceptively calm. A violent shipwreck heralds Viola's precipitation onto the shore and her decision to disguise herself as a boy.
A flurry of camera and dressing-room action then introduces us to self-centred Orsino (James Wooldridge), the dashing star of the film currently in production, and his leading lady Olivia (Gailie Pollock), who will have none of him – on or off the set.
For the most part, this particular time and place fit well enough with the story; everybody is after all is busy playing a part on and off the stage or screen.
The verse tends to be rattled off and a couple of fluffs on the opening night suggested that perhaps the actors were not always thinking about what they were saying.
Katharine Davenport's Viola is an exception to this, and her two great set-speeches come over naturally, developed as they should be from the immediate circumstances.
I also liked Laurence Aldridge's Feste immensely; a clown of many skills with a personality that reminds us that neither Buster Keaton nor Charlie Chaplin was always the personification of sweetness and light.
Malvolio is played by Moray Treadwell as the most pompous of butlers, well deserving his comeuppance; in this early 20th century setting, one feels that his revenge is likely to involve the media. Neil Sheppeck reels around as Sir Toby to the silver hip-flask born and Nicholas Benjamin earns a rueful laugh for "I was adored once, too".
Dara Seitzman's Maria is very much the confidential dresser, keeper of wardrobe and other secrets and not averse to feathering a nest for the future. Pollock and Wooldridge are both effective, but the centre remains Viola, whether in her on person or as Cesario.
The contribution of the design, film and projection team of Tom Cliff, Rob Dyer, Martin Robinson and Per Tingleff is a large one.
Twelfth Night runs at the Rhodes Arts Centre, Bishop's Stortford until 1 April.