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Twelfth Night

William Shakespeare
English Touring Theatre
Gala, Durham, and touring
(2004)

Viola in Cesario costume

If you have never seen Twelfth Night before, then there is no better way to begin your acquaintance with it than by seeing English Touring Theatre's version. This is possibly the clearest reading of the play I have ever seen - and I have seen many. In some ways it is pared down to the bone: the set is simple (as it has to be for touring), the costumes absolutely traditional, the text sensitively and sensibly cut, and a great deal of careful attention is given to the verse.

There are no surprises, no attempts to find a "new" approach or a "different" concept. Not that these are, in themselves, bad things: indeed, without them there is a very good chance that Shakespeare would stagnate. We need to be made to see his relevance to today. We need to get deep down into the sub-text to share his understandng of human nature. We need to have our imaginations fired, our preconceptions shattered, our understanding widened, but we also need to be reminded of just what a damned good playwright Shakespeare was and how well he understood - and portrayed - human beings.

This is what ETT's Twelfth Night does. We enjoy the comedy; we recognise the pretentiousness of the Orsinos and Olivias of this world; we glimpse the cruelty that people inflict on each other; and on a theatrical level we admire the way in which he can make coincidence convincing and the improbable believable. And we enjoy the verse.

It is a credit to Stephen Unwin and his cast and creative team that he can make this reviewer, who can more or less recite the lines along with the cast, laugh and feel close to tears - and feel very guilty for having enjoyed the humiliation of Malvolio far too much. Oh yes, and for finding a Viola and a Sebastian who can actually be believably mistaken for each other!

J.D. Atkinson reviewed this production at the Theatre Royal, York.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan