A chill breeze swept through the Open Air theatre during Friday’s press night; not quite the shipwreck-inducing howling gale of Twelfth Night’s opening, but enough to encourage tightening of coats, writes Matthew Amer.
“If music be the food of love, play on”, is surely the most famous line of Twelfth Night’s text. If it is true, then this production is a feast, as it is packed with Dominic Muldowney’s tunes, from the mournful saxophone lament that accompanies Orsino’s opening pining for the widowed Olivia, to Clive Rowe’s Feste crooning for both the Count and the audience.
Shakespeare’s comedy is less star-crossed lovers and more crossed wires, as shipwreck survivor Viola dresses as a boy to work for Count Orsino, who is in love with Olivia. Viola falls for her boss, while Olivia falls for Viola, thinking she is a man. Then Viola’s twin arrives.
As the lovelorn count, Oscar Pearce is surprisingly in touch with his emotions for a man who hangs out smoking cigars and drinking the finest brandy, to the point whereby you fear the site of a small kitten might bring him to tears. Janie Dee’s Olivia is in touch with much baser instincts once she has thrown off the trappings of grief. She has strength of mind and passion where Orsino has poetry. Natalie Dew as Viola summons all manner of swagger and self-confidence bordering on arrogance to play the young messenger boy.
Away from the love story is the sub-plot of servants and drunks, and the misuse of Malvolio, which often leaves a bad taste in my mouth, bordering, as it does, on the realms of bullying for fun, and inviting us to join in the bullies’ laughter. Here, the venom of the schemers’ actions is played down, while Richard O’Callaghan’s Malvolio, though uppity and self-righteous, never becomes so revolting that his treatment becomes justified.
The revelling and plotting is where much of the comedy in this piece comes from, with memorable set pieces as the drinkers partake in a filthy late night serenade, and as they set Malvolio’s trap hidden behind bush-laden wheelbarrows. Of the party-hounds, Clive Hayward’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek goes through more costume changes than the rest of the cast put together as he presents a foppish fool of the utmost silliness. Rowe’s Feste, Olivia’s employed fool, mixes wit with malevolence and an aching sadness that can be caught at the very back of his eyes when it is least expected.