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Twelfth Night (RSC's What Country Friends Is This? season)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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With Jonathan Slinger as Malvolio and David Farr as director, this production of Twelfth Night looks unbeatable on paper. These two theatre-makers were behind the excellent production of The Homecoming last year.

Sadly the end result on this occasion is a somewhat unbalanced version of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies. Let's start with the positives: there are a couple of a stand-out performances and a brilliant set design.

Kirsty Bushell gives a fresh and interesting interpretation of Olivia – finding nuances that I could never have imagined from the familiar lines. She is constantly alert to the situation and always catches the eye – even with the smallest of gestures or looks.

As Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Bruce Mackinnon confirms his potential as a great Shakespearean comedian. His antics are a constant joy to watch with a great flexibility in his physicality as well as in his verbal dexterity.

The performance makes a brilliant use of the underlying scenic structures that are present for all of the main house productions this season. Jon Bausor has designed an atmospheric set that perfectly creates the feel of a decaying hotel whilst never imposing itself on the action. It is truly a delight to behold with wonderful use of distortion and angles to create visual interest.

I wish I could be as positive about some of the other elements. Slinger has all the acting chops to be a great Malvolio. Here he does not quite live up to his potential to be one of the finest character actors of this generation. His opening scenes work well – winning over the audience with a solidly entertaining letter scene. It is after the interval that things start to unravel.

In a modern dress production such as this it is hard to come up with a costume solution for the yellow stockings scene that is outrageous enough to suit the absurdity of the situation while remaining true to the character. But I fear the decision to pair the yellow stockings with a co-ordinating jockstrap is a step too far. For me the sight of buttocks undermined the wonderful writing of the scene because the audience was invited to laugh at the costume at the expense of the situation or the language. The audience loved it but I'm certain Mr Slinger is capable of delivering the laughs without the need of such assistance from the wardrobe.

Some of the other cast members are still finding their feet and there is a flatness to some of the acting. Hopefully that will change.


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