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Twelfth Night

William Shakespeare
RNT Cottesloe Theatre
(2011)

Twelfth Night production photo

London is currently enjoying a veritable feast of Shakespearean productions. Indeed, on the night that Twelfth Night, directed by Sir Peter Hall, celebrating his 80th birthday with this production, opened in the Cottesloe, Nicholas Hytner's Hamlet was playing upstairs in the Olivier, while just over the river at the Donmar, Michael Grandage's King Lear continues to wow audiences.

The RSC has also got into its stride with six plays with Michael Boyd's As You Like It and Lucy Bailey's Julius Caesar also well both worth a visit. Would it were ever thus!

While many directors might regretfully feel an obligation to give their actor daughters a role in their productions, few are as fortunate as Sir Peter in this regard.

Rebecca Hall is a radiant, expressive Viola, equally good cross-dressing as young Cesario and playing the female part. She is helped by a period setting that features lavishly dressed nobles with fashionably cavalier flowing locks.

She is part of a superbly balanced cast that is very nearly as good in the bit parts as the leads. It helps that this director has always been a stickler for verse, which is as clearly spoken as ever throughout the almost three hours.

In particular, that might be regarded as a compliment to the New Zealander Marton Csokas, whose diction as a wild-looking Orsino is perfect.

Twelfth Night is a comedy about repressed passion and Sir Peter, who first took on the play in the days, not far short of six decades ago, before young men first got angry, balances the two elements expertly.

Orsino mooches around pining for Olivia, played with puritanical restraint by Amanda Drew, until her character eventually blossoms swapping her black garb for tangerine. This lady mourning twice over only has eyes for the barely effeminate Cesario, who has a good line in delivering love poems from "his" master in seductive fashion.

The central comic figure is Simon Paisley Day's stiff, humourless Malvolio, as upright as he is dull but beneath the surface as desirous of passion as everyone else on show. He becomes a truly tragic figure in one of Sir Peter's many fresh visions, imprisoned like an unloved budgie in a cramped, human-sized birdcage.

Before that, he features in what is always the play's funniest scene, growing visibly as he reads the letter announcing that greatness has been thrust upon him, while watched by his tormentors. Inevitably with this creative team, there are moments when it is impossible to stifle loud laughter.

The rest of the comedy is delivered by a superb quartet of character actors playing the drunken revellers. Happily boorish Simon Callow, doltish Charles Edwards, mischievous Finty Williams and the deadpan David Ryall respectively seem made to play boisterous Sir Toby Belch, enthusiastically dim Sir Andrew Aguecheek, sexy, witty Maria and the painfully lugubrious fool Feste.

Sir Peter's return to his old home lives up to every expectation, though they were high to start with. The pity is that the run only lasts around six weeks.

Playing until 2 March

Reviewer: Philip Fisher