Royal Shakespeare Company
Duke of York's Theatre
Gregory Doran is one of our best and most thoughtful Shakespearean directors. He is also lucky enough to be able to cast streams of top actors using the drawing power of the RSC.
While the headlines and publicity photos for this production centre on belated RSC debutant Richard Wilson, the strength in depth is to be envied and Nancy Carroll in particular takes some beating. She plays the dual role of Viola and as convincingly boyish a Cesario as one could hope to see.
Doran sets the play in a sunny Moorish or Levantine country using ethereal music to engender a mood of wistfulness. He comes up with some fresh interpretations, which is always a strength and maintains interest throughout a play that will be familiar to many audience members.
Following a shipwreck that parts her from twin brother Sebastian (Sam Alexander), she is thrown on to the mercy of Jo Stone-Fewings' languid, ineffectual Duke Orsino. It is not hard to see why the smoky-voiced, mourning woman whom he worships, Alexandra Gilbreath as a very modern Olivia, is unimpressed by such a rich wimp, preferring his young servant.
Much of the evening's fun derives from her household. The lady is plagued by drunken hangers-on led by the fine pairing of Richard McCabe and James Fleet as Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek respectively. They carouse and plot, aided by Pamela Nomvete's bold Maria and a particularly annoying Feste (Miltos Yerolemou).
The best set pieces though centre on the most pompous member of Olivia's retinue, Malvolio. In Richard Wilson's hands, he becomes the kind of prig whom every one of us has met and been irritated by. The famous letter scene and cross-gartered grimacing attempt to smile bring out his strengths, the former helped by a novel suspended box tree.
However where the actor really excels is in generating true sympathy for this embittered soul as the play draws to a happy closure featuring no fewer than three marriages.
This Twelfth Night will be remembered for the superlative Nancy Carroll and the tragic demeanour of Richard Wilson. The casting of Victor Meldrew should ensure that it fills the Duke of York's through that tricky winter period when theatre audiences can have a tendency to hibernate and those that are attracted should have a good time.
Playing until 27 February 2010
Reviewer: Philip Fisher