first night

Twelfth Night


Durham’s outdoor Shakespeare season has always seemed an ambitious feat considering the perilous English summer weather. This makes Twelfth Night an oddly fitting play to perform at this time of year, considering it was written for winter festivals. This juxtaposition of climate and play was mirrored in a show that can be identified by its contrasts.
One such contrast is a sartorial criticism that I have to get out of the way early on. It really isn’t the thing to wear braces and a belt at the same time. Considering this production was set in the ‘20s, such an oversight seems inappropriate for a decade that is usually associated with the height of elegance. Fortunately, this small issue was almost completely overwhelmed by the fact the Sir Toby Belch (Simon Gallow), who committed such a wardrobe offence, was played so fantastically.
From the moment Gallow staggered across the Botanic Gardens and drunkenly collapsed onto a picnic bench, it was clear that he could steal the show. His chemistry with each of the characters, particularly Sir Andrew (Edward Cherrie) was undeniable and infectious. The initial introduction of these two provoked roars of laughter from the audience, seeming reminiscent of the antics of Bertie Wooster and his pals.
In this sense, we certainly felt an element of the ‘20s. In many other senses Twelfth Night fell short. It seemed that costumes were supposed to indicate the time frame we were transported to, but far too many were really just generic smart/casual wear. And otherwise, very little pointed to a particular time period; but this is merely a criticism of the delivery of a premise, as it did not detract from my enjoyment of the play itself.
Olivia (Hannah Sewell) was played with poise, desperation and humour while maintaining a believable character; Orsino (Adam Kirkbride) with a grandeur and sophistication worthy of the Duke of Iyllria; and Sebastian (Conor Turley) with a presence fitting of a character that manages to appear out of nowhere and balance the love triangle amongst the latter two and Viola (Elizabeth O’Connor).
In contrast, O’Connor was a little disappointing. Performing al fresco is a challenge for any actor, but it requires more projection than was delivered in her performance. Similarly, her transformation from Viola to Cesario and back again seemed a little underperformed, an oversight when one considers that the play hinges upon this plot device. Nevertheless, she managed to hold the audience’s attention, and should be credited for formulating enough opportunities on stage for the rest of the ensemble to play off each other.
The use of the ensemble should be mentioned as it emphasizes the obvious talents of director Matt Dann. The set piece of overhearing Malvolio’s (Michael Earnshaw) letter-reading was the cause of great hilarity, as he maneuvered three actors over a wall and across a fountain with enough skill to keep our attention fixed to the foreground at all of the important beats. Earnshaw’s performance itself was particularly effective following this scene, as he suddenly broke from some fairly traditional “villain-work” in order to unsuccessfully woo his mistress. The ensemble was also successfully used when acting off the undeniably talented Joe Skelton.
On the whole, Thrust Stage managed to work a very enjoyable show in light of some (admittedly personal) disappointments. In short, mostly excellent performances were in contrast to an underachieved setting. This should not be perceived as overtly negative, as it was with great pleasure to see such a full audience at Twelfth Night, one that should not have been missed.
* * *
Charlie Oulton

16 June 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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