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Rebecca's Hallmark

Even though she made an auspicious debut as a ten year-old in her own father's wonderful Channel Four production of Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn, Rebecca Hall's rise has been rapid and remarkable.  

A couple of years ago she was nowhere. But last night she was reunited with dad, Peter Hall, as a winsome, willowy Viola in an otherwise disappointing Twelfth Night at the National. And I've just seen her give a riveting, erotically charged (more so than her Viola) performance in Ben Affleck's movie thriller The Town.

The NT Twelfth Night is austere, classical, Caroline in period and costumes and fairly dull for long passages. There's no colour or vivacity in the acting, except in a rather forced way by Simon Callow as Sir Toby, and the gulling of Simon Paisley Day's severe but insufficiently ridiculous Malvolio is neither nasty nor funny enough.

I think Hall and his designer, Anthony Ward, make a big mistake by starting with a pleasingly bare stage and not finding good enough solutions to the scene changes.

The topiary in the garden, for instance, is represented by three standing translucent screens decorated in autumnal leaves; where did they find them...Heal's? Malvolio's prison is a large birdcage, and Sir Toby and Andrew have to carry their drinking table on and off in the dark.

Sitting in the second row of the Cottesloe, I could hear all sorts of muffled offstage biffs and bumps as the furniture and the actors sorted themselves out.

You don't laugh much at this Twelfth Night, but you do relish some of the lesser lines, such as Callow's delivery of "Am I not...consanguineous?" as he strives in his cups to justify his presence in Olivia's house.

And there's a civilised ripple, if not a huge sex stirring, in the meetings between Rebecca's disguised Viola and Amanda Drew's mourning countess.

Judi Dench was on hand to see her daughter Finty Williams do pretty well by Maria -- in so far as you can do anything with that thankless role, except giggle a lot  -- and two of Simon's closest friends, and former lovers, designer Christopher Woods and director Daniel Kramer -- were lending support.  

("Thank you for your support, " said David Frost, "I shall always wear it.")

There are a few tickets held back for students, I understand, but the short, straight run of this production, just fifty-six performances, is sold out. In fact, it was sold out before they even printed the brochure.

If the show were better than it was, this would constitute a minor scandal, something of a slight to the open house availability principle of subsidy that Peter Hall did so much to create in his early career.

Hall, Peter Brook and Trevor Nunn often have -- or had -- conspiratorial dinners in which they all yearn to be working in small theatres with small companies of actors.

That's all very well, but what about the great unwashed who are paying you for the privilege of indulging your aesthetic principles? The challenge of Twelfth Night is not to produce an elitist, austere, classical chamber version for a few lucky middle-class white punters in the Home Counties, but to proclaim an erotic and delirious masterpiece to the masses. Oi, Pete, what about the workers!?





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