Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Artistic director Mark Babych has directed the Octagon's first production of a Shakespeare play for nine years. He has assembled a large cast of eleven actors for this bitter-sweet romantic comedy who have created some very nice comic characters. Matthew Rixon, who was superb in Four Nights in Knaresbrough in the Octagon's last season, utilises his commanding stage presence to great effect as Sir Toby Belch. Michael Mears gets a great deal of humour from his prim, slow-speaking Malvolio, especially over the joke played on him with the forged letter, and by the end he gains the audience's sympathy for the cruel extent to which the joke has been taken. Paul Trussell's slow-witted, Aussie-accented Sir Andrew Aguecheek, once the pace of the farce picks up, also manages to bring out the humour in the part. Michael O'Connor's Feste is an accomplished musician and singer, but he seems a little humourless for a fool.
Patrick Connellan's set design is aesthetically pleasing and functional, if a little overstuffed with symbolism; his costume designs with their 1930s feel work well and suit the characters. The production as a whole is enjoyable and brings out lots of humour, but the pace seems to lapse quite a lot towards the end. Whilst there are some serious moments towards the end of the play, there is also plenty of comedy here which has been sacrificed. However this is an enjoyable production and a promising return of Shakespeare to the Octagon.
"Twelfth Night" runs until 16 October 2004
Reviewer: David Chadderton