Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Twelfth Night

To the Wyndham's to see a stellar cast in Twelfth Night, directed by Donmar supremo Michael Grandage. I really enjoyed the production but left feeling slightly short changed. Hard to know why.

Set lightly Sur La Plage, and looking swish on a stage of stressed driftwood, the production gives ample opportunity for virtuoso performances - but perhaps the vast array of individual talent on display comes at the expense of a unified whole. It's a form of West End-itis. Excellent work from Ron Cook and Guy Henry, who use their own discrepancy in height to great comic effect as Belch and Aguecheek, whilst Victoria Hamilton's Viola pitched perfect the moments of anguish, as she struggled not to reveal her true feeling to Mark Bonnar's assured, but haunted Orsino.

Derek Jacobi is, as expected, a wonderful Malvolio, who grows stronger the deeper he is gulled. A brief moment of fear in the cell is quickly crushed on release, but his misplaced sense of new found nobility, makes it almost impossible for him to speak the word 'revenge' and he chooses instead to demonstrate his plans by violently ripping up the letter that trapped him, before straightening his shirt and walking off head held high. A dangerous psychosis - chaos to calm.

The moment though wasn't supported by the ensemble, with each character responding with their own private reaction. This may be authentic, it may even spin a new ambiguity over how we as an audience experience Malvolio at this crucial moment - but I find it lacks a basic theatricality. The little Malvolio in my own head wants the audience to be momentarily shamed by the cruelty of a joke that went too far, rather than have an opportunity to banish puritanism forever through unforgiving laughter. It just seems to fit with the rhythm of the packed final scene; the discomfort coming hot on the heels of the miraculous reunion of the twins, and moments before the lovers escape the stage, painfully reminds us that love can be as exclusive as it is wonderful which in turn sets Feste up for his final song of acceptance to the audience.

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