first night

Twelfth Night

Joe Skelton reviews the first show of CTC's Summer Shakespeare Tour


The beauty of Fellow's Garden immediately creates a good impression on the audience, especially when they can lounge in the sun as we did yesterday evening. CTC’s production of ‘Twelfth Night’ opened to the sounds of a gramophone, the modern 'food of love' pleasantly floating to us over the gardens and placing us in the context of the early twentieth century. The simple but suggestive set with its bench, crochet mallets and numerous glasses of wine spoke of the English upper class. This context chimed harmoniously with the location of Fellow's Garden and lent to the relaxed and easy feel. The croquet mallets were utilised well, not least for the cowardly face off between Viola (Jenny Walser) and Andrew Aguecheek (Alex Prescot). This kept the dual light hearted and gave it a particularly English comic touch. Comedy such as this, along with the whole aesthetic of the production, will certainly lend itself well to the stately home gardens to which the CTC tour is bound.

The cast in their chinos and blazers completed this aesthetic, for which the production team should be commended. The performances also supported the jovial and light tone, which Director Anna Bailey sought to create. For the most part, and especially in the first half, this worked well and there was no shortage of laughter from the audience. One couldn't help feeling however that this interpretation pushed a number of performances towards the pantomimic and the main quality I felt lacking from this production, with a few notable exceptions, was the believability of the characters. The characterisation from the supporting characters lacked credibility and some of the principles I felt to be overblown and caricatured, a style which gained the laughs but eventually grew a little grating. Of course Twelfth Night does not contain the same psychological realism as Shakespeare's great tragedies and so lends itself well to a less realistic portrayal, but the characters are not purely external and should not be played so.

The play does indeed invite and benefit from moments of pantomimic farce, but the play becomes all the greater if these moments emerge from believable characters. Having said this, the farcical moments were executed extremely well: Act 2.3 was a highlight of the production with the revels of Sir Toby Belch (Phillipe Bosher), Aguecheek (Alex Prescot), Feste (David Knowles) and Maria (Ellis-Anne Dunmall) cut off by the pompous Malvolio, played with éclat by Mike Bedigan. The scene began with Knowles performing a tender love song - delivered to an audience member to great comic effect. This then morphed into the raucous harmonies of the three revellers and the energy, playfulness and sound of the scene was a joy to behold. This playfulness was unfortunately missing from the second half, and perhaps attests to a certain time pressures on the rehearsals of the production.

Viola, played by Jenny Walser, had an endearing quality. Her air of vulnerability coupled with a hard nerve complemented the more forceful but emotionally volatile Olivia, played excellently by Daisy Cummins. The duo worked well together, exploiting dynamics in their characters of youth and maturity, which was a pleasing touch. Walser succeeding in portraying the androgyny of Viola/ Cesario which worked well against Cummins's overt femininity.  Both mined comedy and more sincere moments from their relationship with the lovelorn but interestingly varied Duke Orsino, played convincingly by Alex Morgan.

Inevitably a significant part of the play had to be cut to give this play the running time of roughly two and a quarter hours. This was for the most part a wise decision and kept the play moving along with alacrity and purpose. However, we lost an entire scene in which Feste taunts Malvolio, disguised as the priest Sir Topas. This meant that both Feste and Malvolio were notably absent from the last quarter of the play, and that we lost a great deal from both characters. This scene brings out a more sinister, vengeful side of Feste and is an opportunity to turn the sympathy towards Malvolio or at least complicate the audience's response to this character and their own mockery of him. The loss of this scene also meant that Feste's line 'And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges' was also cut. This removes a sinister element of the play and its particular Shakespearian flavour; this element confuses the audience's response and makes it difficult to take definitive sides. Cutting these elements depleted the characters. In discussing the choice with the directors it became apparent that this was an intentional choice made to make the play lighter and more easily digestible as a piece of summer evening entertainment.

Perhaps with a little more rehearsal time some of these more sinister elements, which give the play its depth and complexity, could have been further exploited. However, the light and jovial tone generally worked well and suited the laid back feel of the event and the mood of the audience. Ultimately the play was engaging, accessible and a highly enjoyable way to spend an evening.

19 June 2014

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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