The capital’s theatregoers will be able to enjoy Richard Wilson’s Royal Shakespeare Company debut when Twelfth Night, which opens in Stratford in October, transfers to the Duke of York’s theatre for a Christmas season.
The Bard’s popular comedy of confused identity and entangled love lives runs in London from 19 December until 27 February and also stars James Fleet, Nancy Carroll, Jo Stone-Fewings, Sam Alexander, Alexandra Gilbreath, Richard McCabe, Pamela Nomvete, Simeon Moore and Miltos Yerolemou.
Wilson, most famous for his long-running role as the curmudgeonly Victor Meldrew in BBC sitcom One Foot In The Grave, is to play tormented steward Malvolio in the Gregory Doran-directed production. Also prolific as a director and supporter of new writing, Wilson’s casting comes as something of a shock as he has, in the past, expressed a dislike of Shakespeare, claiming in an interview with The Independent that: “I just don’t have the intellectual capacity for Shakespeare… So I would rather not bother.”
Another performer easily recognisable to sitcom fans, Fleet, who played the dappy Hugo in The Vicar Of Dibley, returns to the RSC, for whom he has worked extensively, to play the foolish Sir Andrew Aguecheek. The piece also marks returns for Carroll and Gilbreath, who played opposite each other in Doran’s 2000 production of As You Like It.
The tale of Twelfth Night follows twins separated by a shipwreck who find themselves caught up in a web of love. Viola (Carroll) disguises herself as a boy to enter the service of Orsino (Stone-Fewings), whom she loves, but soon finds herself taking his words of affection to Olivia (Gilbreath), who has no time for Orsino, but falls, instead, for the disguised Viola. Meanwhile Olivia’s puritanical steward Malvolio finds himself persecuted by a band of drunken revellers.
Twelfth Night has been one of London’s most revived Shakespearean plays in recent years, with three productions since the summer of 2008, when Janie Dee and Clive Rowe starred at the Open Air theatre. In September 2008, Filter staged a version, which had previously been seen as part of the RSC’s Complete Works Festival, at the Tricycle theatre, while last Christmas Michael Grandage directed the Donmar West End production at the Wyndham’s theatre. The Donmar production starred Derek Jacobi in the role of Malvolio, for which he won the 2009 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor.