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Twelfth Night (Open Air)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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Twelfth Night should be one of the Shakespeare comedies to work best in the open air – Feste is a fool of the outdoors and inclement weather, the gulling of Malvolio is in the garden, the duel and the great denouement scene involve public discovery and declamation – yet we are denied al fresco lift-off in Edward Dick’s revival, following new artistic director Timothy Sheader’s opening salvo with Romeo and Juliet earlier last week.

There is something dogged in the vague 1920s setting on Robert Innes Hopkins’s permanent set for the season, with English bobbies in Illyria, Janie Dee’s Olivia fluttering around in lacy frocks (once she’s broken out of black mourning) and Clive Rowe as Feste delivering Dominic Muldowney’s setting of the songs with operatic extravagance.

In addition, that fine actor Richard O’Callaghan doesn’t quite have the lungs or the fire power for an outdoors Malvolio, and sitting over half way back in the auditorium ensured a feeling of being cut off from a lot of the action. Not much sexual passion is generated between Oscar Pearce’s flatly hedonistic Orsino and Natalie Dew’s pleasant but under-projected Viola, nor between Viola/Cesario and the bubbling-under Olivia.

Ms Dew is a brand new actress and the lack of experience shows, I’m afraid. Viola needs a much subtler, richer expression than we get here, though the chalk blue suits she shares with her lost twin Sebastian (Neet Mohan) are plausible items in a gender-bender’s wardrobe.

There has to be a design difference between Orsino’s court and Olivia’s country fastness, and the burnished brick walls, slatted windows and cupola don’t accommodate that difference sufficiently. The garden where Tim Woodward’s suitably booming Sir Toby Belch and his tennis-playing sidekick Andrew Aguecheek (Clive Hayward in whites and fluffy hairstyle) overhear the letter-reading has three items of mobile topiary, and striped deckchairs, as well as Claire Benedict’s energetically scheming Maria.

But it’s all too forced and unfunny, perhaps a case of first night jitters before settling in for the season. O’Callaghan’s Malvolio has added a yellow latticed waistcoat to his yellow stockings, but you don’t get the grotesquerie of the humour any more than you get the tragic cruelty of his incarceration as a revenge for breaking up the midnight revels.

- Michael Coveney


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