15th May 2014
This play, performed so often by amateur and professional companies, needed a new angle to draw me in, and it had more than one. It begins with a home movie that takes us through the childhood and adolescence of the two central characters, in 2014 surroundings, and then moves into Duke Orsino’s lovelorn living room, complete with beanbag, water cooler, and iPhones. The sparse and fast-moving story moves on quickly, with umbrellas for weapons, cans of lager for the life-loving Sirs Toby and Andrew, and perhaps the most dour is Malvolio, a grittily Scottish comb-over chap in pinstripe suit and with a downturned mouth. All the character and production choices work superbly. We follow the story easily and become sympathetic to every character’s dilemmas and shortcomings. It’s a good production.
I do have some criticisms. The high stakes of Orsino and Olivia’s love lives are not found until late in the story, and Alisdair Brown’s gorgeous Malvolio is marred by his desire to look at us far too often. Sebastian’s zest, charm, and love for life and adventure, despite his grief at losing his sister, never emerge. Sir Toby’s sudden decision that the joke on Malvolio has gone too far is glossed over, and the final song, which is sinister and cynical, is performed by the company as a rousing curtain call.
This is a wry and rather dark play which shows us humanity’s shortcomings as well as its virtues, and the former is lacking here. Nevertheless, the evening is packed with good, modern interpretations, performed by a committed company, and slickly directed by Linda Shaw and Bruce Walton. I believed Marc Griffiths’ lovesick irritability, and Ian Nutt and Kate Groves certainly seemed to love each other dearly. Ray Atkinson’s resilience and musical skill made Feste a likeable man, and as a company there is a strong sense of ensemble and desire to tell a compelling story. A lovely evening.