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Review Round-up: Halls Open NT Twelfth Night

Former artistic director Peter Hall returned to the National Theatre last night (18 January 2011, previews from 11 January) for the opening of his 80th birthday production Twelfth Night with his daughter Rebecca Hall making her NT debut as Viola.

With an all-star ensemble including Simon Callow as Toby Belch, Amanda Drew as Olivia and Simon Paisley Day as Malvolio, this was the fourth Twelfth Night of Hall's career and plays the NT Cottesloe until 2 March 2011.

Hall shows no sign of slowing down — he directed the Theatre Royal Bath production of The Rivals which transferred to the Haymarket this Christmas and staged A Midsummer Night's Dream starring Judi Dench as Titania at the Rose last year — but what did critics think of his birthday production?

Maxwell Cooter

"As expected from a Hall production, the verse is beautifully spoken and the staging is elegant ... But for all elegance, the production is curiously flat and... lacking in humour ... Part of the problem is Rebecca Hall's Viola. While I applaud her enunciation, the gender ambiguity of the role is missing ... Simon Paisley Day as Malvolio... captures the puritanical soul of the steward but fails to get to grips with his ambition or his sexual desire for Olivia ... Marton Csokas' Orsino has a rather curious manner, looking and sounding more like a refugee from a bohemian opium den ... Charles Edwards' Aguecheek is one of the funniest I've seen ... There is also an unusually melancholic Feste from David Ryall ... Amanda Drew's Olivia is perhaps too easily ready to cast off her mourning habits and embrace the possibility of love with the disguised Viola. There's a genuine beauty to Hall's production ... But Twelfth Night is not a chamber piece nor a painting for the gallery; it's a chaotic, uproariously funny slice of life ... And for all the stateliness and aesthetic pleasure of Hall's production, these baser emotions are never quite revealed."

Libby Purves
The Times

"It is 56 years since Peter Hall first directed Twelfth Night... a young Ronnie Barker was in the cast and Maggie Smith and Eileen Atkins were assistant stage managers ... In a fitting — and poignant — marker for his 80th birthday, he returns to the South Bank and directs his daughter, Rebecca Hall, in the same play ... Malvolio is played with a real spat of viciousness by Simon Paisley Day ... Hall’s production is lyrical, shot through with the sound of lutes and flute. It is rich in hilarity and physical jokes — how could it not be with Simon Callow belching as Sir Toby and an incomparably idiotic Charles Edwards as Sir Andrew Aguecheek? And Amanda Drew is a wonderful Olivia ... Rebecca Hall’s Viola is practical, observant, firmly authentic in feeling ... And, touchingly and grandly, Feste the Fool is another veteran of Peter Hall’s generation: David Ryall... is a spoilt priest of a jester... and involves us with more melancholy and sweetness than any youthful love."

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"As shipwrecked Viola, separated from her twin brother, Rebecca Hall is arresting ... Yet there’s something missing: a relish for the play’s sensuous energies. Elsewhere there is much to admire. Simon Paisley Day delights as Malvolio ... Charles Edwards' Sir Andrew Aguecheek is puppyish, precise in every last twinge of ludicrous excess, while Simon Callow revels in the role of Sir Toby Belch. Alongside them Finty Williams makes the smallish part of Maria seem intriguingly substantial. Some of their comic exchanges are beautifully managed ... Marton Csokas' Orsino is a cipher, and David Ryall’s creepy Feste isn’t engaging — when he tries to get us to sing along with him the gambit falls flat . Perhaps the most curious aspect of the production, though, is Anthony Ward’s design. Its dominant feature is a canopy that suggests the billowing sail of a small ship ... This Twelfth Night has a pleasing intimacy, yet the overall impression is sparse rather than dynamic. The chief problem is that, for all the business to do with mistaken identities and cross-dressing, there’s not enough sense of either true bewilderment or enticing sexiness."

Paul Taylor

"It's amusingly typical of this workaholic giant of the British theatre that Sir Peter Hall's idea of an 80th birthday treat is to be given the chance to direct his fourth production of Twelfth Night ... I would love to report that this anniversary Twelfth Night... rises to its historic occasion. But I found it a bit of a let-down. Its virtues are fine verse-speaking, clarity and luxurious casting. Yet it is also sluggish and too decorously constrained for a comedy so driven by a mad, topsy-turvy epidemic of misdirected love ... In her long-haired Cavalier disguise as Cesario, the lovely Hall would bring out the bisexual in Oliver Cromwell ... But though the production fields a few nice re-interpretative touches... Simon Paisley Day's uppish, sanctimonious Malvolio arrests what looks like a neuralgic spasm ... Simon Callow is in his fruity booming, thinking-person's Brian Blessed mode as Sir Toby ... Charles Edwards gives the funniest performance of the evening ... But the great comic set-pieces... fall flat. The results are disappointing but one would not put it past the irrepressible, tireless Sir Peter to give us fifth and triumphant Twelfth Night before he retires to the great green room in the sky."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"Peter Hall has nothing more to prove ... he introduced Samuel Beckett to British audiences, established the Royal Shakespeare Company, and moved the National Theatre to its present home on the South Bank ... Those who like their Shakespeare productions to have a big concept may well complain that this staging is dull. In later years Hall has become the least flashy of directors and his work seems to become ever simpler and more direct ... You will probably have seen funnier productions of Twelfth Night than this ... Rebecca Hall, willowy, sexy and combining sadness with a lovely wit and warmth, is one of the finest Violas I have seen ... It’s just a shame that Marton Csokas is such a self-absorbed and affected Orsino ... Simon Callow might have been born to play Sir Toby Belch .. Simon Paisley Day's Malvolio can’t quite eclipse memories of Derek Jacobi ... If not quite an unqualified triumph, this is still a production that successfully distils the wisdom of Hall’s many years in the theatre."

Michael Billington

"In classic, late-Hall style, there is a rapt attention to verbal detail ... Rebecca Hall displays a sombre quietude ... Charles Edwards' Aguecheek, arguably the best performance of the evening, is no mere ninny but an aristocratic manic depressive ... Simon Callow's fine Sir Toby is also a genuine rural blueblood... who is also capable of insensate cruelty. And Simon Paisley Day's Malvolio catches all of the character's narcissistic self-love ... Rebecca Hall misses some of Viola's growing mischief and allows her hands to hang limply from her sides for much of the evening ... There is a lot to enjoy in performances of Amanda Drew as an erotically confused Olivia, and Finty Williams as a bubbly Maria slightly awed by her social superiors. In the end, there is no such thing as a definitive Twelfth Night. But Peter Hall, now 80, offers us a resonant chamber-version that highlights the play's verbal splendour and that is filled with an awareness of the still, sad music of humanity."


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