Because I saw a dress rehearsal, but more so because I love Twelfth Night, I went in wondering if I could be fair. But the English Touring Theatre definitely did justice to one of Shakespeare’s most diverse and entertaining plays.
The shipwrecked Viola (Rose Reynolds) seems less scheming than the text suggest, rather she is awestruck by the fantastical greenroom of Illyria. An older Sir Toby and Malvolio and an almost predatory Olivia add to director Thomas Munby’s list of unorthodoxy. Though many of these oddities come through in the end – the superficiality of Duke Orsino and Olivia, juxtapose nicely with Viola and Sebastian reunion, tackling problems some have with final act. (Munby is especially apt with the notorious ‘Antonio Problem’).
Although, initially, you’d be forgiven for thinking someone had misread the play – Olivia’s combative attitude towards Feste strikes a flat note and there’s a strange disregard for the metre in ‘If music be the food of love…’. Though Jake Fairbrother is one of the best casting decisions, next to Brian Protheroe’s Irish folksinger Feste. The latter tells of the company’s commitment to the true festival nature of the play; as does the decision to slow down and really make something of Feste’s songs.
A touring company could be forgiven for ignoring the grand proscenium at the back of The Crucible’s thrust stage yet the ETT seems to throw away proxemics altogether – their inventive slapstick is very welcome, but perhaps a lack of inventiveness in the design, overall, is a criticism. Though I do like the way the stage is expanded with a tall regency backdrop and props at every extreme, there remain no levels whatsoever. However lighting designer Chris Davey deserves praise for his work during the more intimate scenes and whoever decided Orsino should prowl around Cesario in Act 2, Scene 4 should know they ruined Chris’ work.
Not that Munby joins the misguided neiche of a darker and cynical Twelfth Night – in fact Malvolio’s spitting promise of revenge on the pack of them is realised in good fun. His production comes full circle and reinforces a ‘All the worlds a stage’ pastiche by having the players arrive and depart in a Bretchtian fashion to ‘Hey ho the wind and the rain’, staring silently at the audience: slightly arbitrary at the start but, like many things in this play, you should be sold on it by the end. One could nit pick it to death but why bother?
Finally, hats off to Milo Twomey for a genuinely stupid Sir Andrew; it’s an odd compliment but so many fail to do homage to his imbecilic nature.
Although bloody hard to get Twelfth Night wrong and the English Touring Theatre will be providing people up and down the country with a special night out. Their tour continues into next year, passing through Cleethorpes, Hull, Cambridge and others, make sure you catch it.