Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse
Everyman Theatre, Liverpool
Well, you wait around for a Twelfth Night in the north west and then two come along at once. But this one is a bit special as it marks the reopening of the not merely refurbished but completely rebuilt, much-loved Everyman with many of its most famous and loyal past performers either on stage or in the audience.
Tne back of the thrust stage is designed to mimic the walls of bricks reclaimed from the old Everyman that are used throughout the building, but huge walls, hedges and archways literally unfold before it in Laura Hopkins's simple but effective set design, which also scatters shards of broken mirror around the wooden floor.
The play opens with Viola being washed up on the shores of Illyria, saved by the captain from a shipwreck which, so she believes, took the life of her twin brother Sebastian. Their sodden entrance onto the Everyman stage is extremely striking and impressive and I'm still not sure exactly how they did it.
Artistic director Gemma Bodinetz has supplied a pretty full rendering of the play (unlike the Octagon's greatly cut version) which makes for a pretty long evening, with the final curtain on press night coming down at 11PM. However there is plenty to hold the attention throughout.
The purely comic characters are in safe hands with Everyman regulars Matthew Kelly as Sir Toby Belch, Adam Keast as Sir Andrew Aguecheek (with a touch of the Rick Mayall in some of his gestures) and Pauline Daniels as Maria, plus Paul Duckworth as a camp Feste in red braces and matching high heels and Alan Stocks as Fabian, who slumbers through most of the first act but provides some Father Jack-like interjections.
The comic scenes are lively and well-rendered, with the only lapses being those scenes and lines that mean little to a modern audience that hasn't studied the play and its history. The scene with Malvolio in his prison cell also seems to go on a long time. A bit of trimming would have helped.
Jodie McNee comes across as a little overwrought in her opening scene as Viola, but that could be put down to being cold and soaking wet; for the rest of the play, dressed as a man, she gives a very strong and subtle performance. Opposite her, Adam Levy is the lovesick Orsino mooning over Natalie Dew's wonderfully girlish Olivia who beautifully builds up the farce over her obsession with Viola's alter ego Cesario. There is a lovely poignant moment during Feste's song where Orsino weeps over Olivia's rejections while Viola regards him longingly.
But the real stand-out performance is from Nicholas Woodeson as Malvolio, who speaks the lines as clearly as if it were a modern play and makes him believably pompous but, in the end, we still feel sorry for him after the cruel trick that was played on him.
It's a long night, but the seats are comfortable, the theatre is beautiful and the whole building is full of life and energy from the bistro downstairs to the street cafe near to the entrance and the theatre bar on the next level up, so a pretty impressive opening for the next incarnation of this iconic Liverpool theatre.
Reviewer: David Chadderton