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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Twelfth Night
by Lizzie Loveridge

O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou,
That notwithstanding thy capacity,
Receiveth as the sea. (I i)
--- Orsino
 Twelfth Night
Zoë Waites as Viola and Jo Stone-Fewings as Orsino
(Photo: Manuel Harlan)
Twelfth Night, Shakespeare's comedy of love, twins and sexual ambiguity is a regular part of the Royal Shakespeare Company's repertoire and Lindsay Posner, as director, has tried for a new slant. Posner has set his production in the Edwardian era, that period of transition between the Victorian age and the changes wrought by the First World War.

The ambivalence of that age resonates with the ambivalence of the feelings Viola (Zoe Waites), disguised as the boy, Cesario, has for her friend and employer, Orsino (Joe Stone-Fewings) and for Olivia (Matilda Ziegler). Posner has chosen to explore the homo-erotic possibilities of this play, accentuating the relationships between the female Viola and Olivia and between Cesario, the male Viola and Orsino and between the sea captain Antonio (Joseph Mydell) and Sebastian (Ben Meyjes). The combinations are interesting. Olivia thinks Cesario is a boy but it may be Cesario's feminine qualities that attract her. Orsino thinks Viola is a male, Cesario, but finds an understanding companion in the pretty boy. Viola's role is pivotal.

I thought Joe Stone-Fewing's delivery of the opening speech, "If music be the food of love" was masterly as he totally indulged himself in this parody of the swooning lover. His switches of mood and volatility are a bench mark for how that speech should be delivered. Zoë Waites is enthusiastic in her Shakespearean roles. I have seen her as Juliet, as Ophelia, as Desdemona and now as Viola. She speaks with animation and intelligence but I did not feel involved in her predicament. Neither did I think she conveyed the love for Orsino well, but that may be the price paid for developing her relationship with Olivia. Posner makes Olivia and Viola exit together, hand in hand and Viola never changes out of her male uniform. I did like Matilda Ziegler's approachable Olivia.

The sub plot of Twelfth Night is a darker comedy. Toby Belch (Barry Stanton) is deliberately vulgar and unpleasant, vomiting onstage. Sir Andrew Aguecheek's (Christopher Good) comedy is played down to allow Malvolio to be funny. Alison Fiske is an excellent Maria setting up Malvolio (Guy Henry) the haughty steward for his come-uppance. Guy Henry's own brand of lanky, physical comedy gives us a Malvolio in tail coat, at least part based on John Cleese's Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers. Henry's Malvolio has all the pretension, ambition and posturing but his downfall is very painful, not just for him but for the audience. In a piece of clever direction we do not see Malvolio imprisoned in the scene with Feste (Mark Hadfield) as the priest, just his hand through a paving grate, so that the first time the audience sees him reduced is in his parting scene. It is shocking to see the man we laughed at, bitter and hurt. Feste is slightly out of period, dressed as Buster Keaton with a pork pie hat and cuffs with no sleeves, always carrying his suitcase as if passing through, with a Yiddish delivery to his humour and songs which are both baleful and insightful.

There were points when the production seemed to slow, but never when Guy Henry was onstage. Twelfth Night is a wonderful play for spotting lines taken to be titles of other people's novels or plays in the slow moments. Velvet smoking jackets, long dressing gowns, braided military uniforms, dark green louvred doors, sofas and plush carpets complete the Edwardian design.

Twelfth Night
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Lindsay Posner

Starring: Guy Henry, Zoë Waites
With: Jo Stone-Fewings, Joseph England, Giles Fagan, David Hinton, Matilda Ziegler, Barry Stanton, Alison Fiske, Christopher Good, Mark Hadfield, Wayne Cater, Victoria Duarri, Penelope Woodman, James Telfer, Ben Meyjes, Joseph Mydell, David Hinton, David Hinton,
Design: Ashley Martin-Davis
Lighting Design: Pat Collins
Movement Director: Jane Gibson
Fights: Renny Krupinski
Sound: Mic Pool
Music: Gary Yershorn
Music Director: Michael Tubbs
Running time: Three hours with one interval
Box Office: 020 7638 8891
Booking to 9th March 2002
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 3rd January 2002 performance at The Barbican Theatre, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London EC2
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