Review: Twelfth Night ***

Art & Lit Stage

This is a very fresh and enjoyable production. Duke Orsino’s gluttony for punishment – “If music be the food of love, play on” – is played with great sweetness and sensitivity by Matt Ball, and perhaps the sentiment is made too ‘exquisite’, in that we rarely glimpse that side of the Duke which so affrights his beloved Lady Olivia. We see her striding onto the other side of the stage in a truly frightful mood. Her impatience is directed at Feste, Olivia’s “corrupter of words”, whose riddles infuriate but have pith. Feste is the only character who comfortably crosses the stage, moving as he does between Orsino’s bachelor pad and Olivia’s topsy-turvy world – two worlds, yes, but perhaps not quite as opposite as the transverse stage enforces (or maybe it is meant to hint just that.)  Later, there is a lovely moment when, having been summoned, Feste, all-along playing his guitar on-stage, suddenly appears to Orsino et al from behind his hat (a prop he shares with Viola’s male-symbolic costume – she also has an ostentatiously askew tie – as though to bend genders even more.) Such moments of sensitive direction are skillfully acted-out by a cast who seemed to be in the best of humours – reminding one just how much fun it is to be in a play; and this atmosphere of festival, I think, is entirely appropriate to Twelfth Night.

The set and characterisation come together at their best in another lovely scene between Orsino and the disguised Viola. Play-acting the role of an older, wiser mate, Orsino happily dishes out advice on love. Matt Ball’s performance here smells, as it should, of pretense – his suit is refused by an exasperated Olivia, repeatedly – and the setting and tone – it is the ‘Duke’s Bar’ and they are sharing a few drinks – so well show him up to be the bachelor that he is (a bachelorhood which will be surprisingly brought into question.)

The transition from stroppiness to reluctantly and improbably love-struck devotee (of Viola, as Cesario) is played with great humour by Kate O’Connor. But the extent of Olivia’s complete absurdity – she is in mourning in perpetuity – is not fully realised. Her horror at Malvolio’s, played by Peter Rhodes, creepy advances is very funny – though admittedly this would probably be hilarious however it was done. I don’t see how Alice Fraser might improve upon her portrayal of Maria at all, except that, along with her co-conspirators, she could do more to convey how much the sinisterness of their plan seems to not fit the play’s comic decorum – a highlight of which is the staggering Sir Toby Belch, David Cochrane, and the saucy Sir Andrew Aguecheeck, Alex Pullinger. The funny and the pathetic, though, come together best in Viola, Kate O’Connor, whose fluency has only one possible caveat: at times she speaks too fast. This is a play full of questions – “What are you? What would you?” – which have an urgency beyond the machinery of a comedy of errors, and Viola’s double dilemma makes us feel we agree that “I see now Disguise, thou art a wickedness.”

3 stars

Thomas Hughes

PHOTO/Santhy Balachandran

Click here for the trailer: Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is playing at the Keble O’Reilly Theatre from Thursday to Saturday of 3rd week.