English Touring Theatre and Sheffield Theatres
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a play that’s produced so frequently that one may be forgiven for approaching yet another revival with a certain amount of scepticism and fatigue.
But when it’s done well, a viewer is soon seduced anew, quickly remembering that there are few plays in the English language more glorious than this one. And Jonathan Munby’s lovely, rosy production for English Touring Theatre—the company’s second collaboration with Sheffield Theatres following their acclaimed Translations—proves a delight, doing justice to the material’s giddy mixture of romance, comedy, lyricism and melancholy.
Munby’s production debuted in Steel City in September and has been on tour for the past month, arriving in Richmond on Tuesday. It’s certainly not a revival that attempts to radically reinvent the play. But it projects the themes with great clarity and with some nice novel touches, too.
The production’s Illyria—elegantly designed by Colin Richmond and beautifully scored by the great Grant Olding—suggests a fairytale place conjured from the imagination of Feste (here a folky Irish troubadour incarnated vibrantly by Brian Protheroe) and populated by the comically and the painfully love-struck.
A couple of the design concepts are derivative—the use of a wardrobe for characters’ entrances and exits is straight out of Propeller, for one—but other aspects feel fresh, not least the luscious appearance of rose petals (a nod to American Beauty, perhaps?) which burst forth beautifully from breeches and from bras as the characters confess to us their unspoken loves and lusts.
Munby ensures that the characters’ relationships (including the connection between the separated siblings that’s the pivot of the plot) are kept brilliantly in balance. Their longings all register, whether it’s David Fielder’s ripe and randy Sir Toby getting demonstrably turned on by the machinations of Maria (shrewd Doña Croll, showcasing a mean right hook) or the pash of Antonio (Ross Waiton) for Sebastian (Michael Benz).
A couple of the performances could use a little more heft, but mostly the cast is spot-on, from Rebecca Johnson’s prim and prissy Olivia melting memorably into sauciness as she falls for Viola/Cesario (Rose Reynolds) or Hugh Ross’s Malvolio bursting into tears on the line “I thank my stars I am happy.” At first Ross doesn’t quite seem to be maximising the comic possibilities of the role, but he sparks to life as the production progresses, while still not stinting in showing how this Malvolio’s sourness springs from sadness.
The evening's lengthy running time leads to a few longueurs. But overall this is a terrific Twelfth Night: elegant, sexy, intelligent and full of feeling. “Most wonderful,” indeed.
The production concludes its tour at Theatre Royal Brighton, 25-29 November.
Reviewer: Alex Ramon