Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Twelfth Night @ Donmar

We spent Valentine's Night at the Wyndham's Theatre watching the second of the "Donmar in the West End" productions: Twelfth Night. It was a wonderful evening. You still have a few evenings left to go to see it - I recommend it highly!

Twelfth Night is the only Shakespeare play I know back-to-front; as it was the one I did for O level. It's an interesting play - at one level it's an out-and-out comedy with mistaken identity, gender swapping, drunkeness and sex. But at another, everyone is really rather cruel, shallow and opportunistic.

The Donmar production is very spartan: I think I only saw a couple of props (a couch and a wind-breaker). Everything else is left to the physicality of the actors. This is very smart as it emphasizes both the comedy and the cruelty in the play. The set is very organic - rugged wooden floorboards sticking out into the front row, and intense lighting suggesting both the sunlight of a coastal city and (at a higher level) drawing you to the cruelty amongst the comedy.

The direction and acting is first rate: Derek Jacobi is clearly revelling in his interpretation of Malvolio. His reading of the fake letter from Olivia is worth the ticket by itself. Ron Cook and Guy Henry as Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek are a great physical comedy team. Indira Varma is wonderfully cast: stunning beautiful and she draws a nice parallel between Olivia and a 20s "flapper".

But for me, the star of the show is Victoria Hamilton as Viola. Hers is the most complex of characters, but she makes it entirely believable. Viola's internal turmoil is beautifully done: clear but not over done. The homo-erotic tension between Viola and Orsino is fantastic. For me, she commanded the stage whenever she was on. Super.

[I also enjoyed talking with James afterwards about the only bit of the play I don't quite understand: the relationship between Sebastian and the Sea Captain. Bisexuality or accident?]

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