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A CurtainUp Review
Twelfth Night

Cheek by Jowl's All Male Twelfth Night Comes to Brooklyn

As if it weren't enough to present Shakespeare's popular play as an all male production, theater goers now have a chance to see how Shakespeare— the linguist of linguists— plays in Russian with super titles. In 2004 British theater goers, including our London critic, Charlotte Loveridge, heartily endorsed the attempt by director Declan Donnellan to give theater goers a reason to see Twelfth Night yet another time. For just a few more days, New York audiences will have a chance to see this fresh approach to Shakespeare's bittersweet comedy. Audiences so far seem to share the Londoners' enthusiasm. So get thee to Brooklyn before the production moves on.

Here are the production notes for the traveling production, followed by the original review.

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Declan Donnellan
Performed in Russian with English titles
Cast: Vladimir Vdovichenkov (Orsino), Sergey Mukhin (Sebastian), Mikhail Zhigalov (Antonio), Vsevolod Boldin (a sea captain), Yury Makeev (Valentine), Mikhail Dementiev (Curio), Alexander Feklistov (Sir Toby Belch), Dmitry Dyuzhev (Sir Andrew Aguecheek), Dmitry Shcherbina (Malvolio), Igor Yasulovich (Feste), Alexey Dadonov (Olivia), Andrey Kuzichev (Viola) and Ilia Ilyin (Maria).
Designed by Nick Ormerod
Lighting by Judith Greenwood
Assistant director, Evgeny Pisarev
Choreographer and movement consultant: Jane Gibson
Music by Vladimir Pankov and Alexander Gusev
A Chekhov International Theater Festival of Moscow production, presented by the 2006 Next Wave Festival, Brooklyn Academy of Music at the BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, Fort Greene, (718) 636-4100. Through November 12, 2006
Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes plus an intermission.

—The Original review

Youth's a stuff will not endure.
---- Feste
Twelfth Night
from bottom, Dmitry Dyuzhev as Aguecheek, Sergey Mukhin as Sebastian, Alexander Feklistov as Sir Toby, Igor Yasuovich as Feste and in the background, Alexey Dadanov as Olivia
(Photo: Keith Pattison)
Cheek by Jowl's all-male production of Twelfth Night first opened in Moscow in 2003. Produced in association with The Chekhov Festival Theatre, this is Shakespeare in Russian, albeit with surtitles. Cheek by Jowl's trademark concentration on the actor's craft is in evidence here, with a minimalist set and strong performances from the Russian cast. The Barbican's cropped auditorium is perfect for this production, creating a blank, anonymised space for the dreamlike Illyria. Within this void, the cast bring to life a strongly impressionistic recreation of Shakespeare. Scenes overlap each other and male actors plays female parts with their acting skills only and no help from wigs or elaborate disguises.

Every director of Twelfth Night must decide how to navigate the play's fine line between tragedy and comedy. Declan Donnellan establishes this as an integral dialectic in his production and shifts between light and dark with originality and sincerity. The design echoes this, with an entirely black and white colour-scheme. The normally hilarious dupe played upon Malvolio (Dmitry Shcherbina) is here turned into an agonisingly cruel trick as the solemn steward reads Maria's letter in tears, in the excruciating belief that his fondest fantasies are to be fulfilled. Sir Toby's comment (as translated by the surtitles): "Thou hast put him in such a dream that he must run mad" aptly captures Malvolio's painfully intense delusion. However, Donnellan then subverts Malvolio's final sour line into a comic coup. As the united lovers dance and accept glasses of champagne from the steward, he whispers his vindictive "I'll be reveng'd on the whole pack of you" in an aside.

The cast are excellent and Cheek by Jowl must be delighted to demonstrate this exemplary acting on an international tour. In particular, Andry Kuzichev is an endearing Viola, who assumes a haphazard masculine swagger as Cesario and has continual difficulty buttoning up her male jacket. Alexey Dadanov plays Olivia with immaculate poise yet genuine feeling. The relative reasonableness of Malvolio gives the vodka-quaffing Sir Toby (Alexander Feklistov) and his set an extra edge of malice. This undercurrent of sinister violence in the comedy is very effective, such as when Sir Toby shockingly hits Maria (Ilia Ilyin) to the floor for chiding him and then plies her with alcohol and cigarettes in recompense. Feste (Igor Yasuovich) is rather hapless and has none of the insight into Cesario's ambiguity which he is sometimes played with. However, when given a microphone, this Feste is a truly charismatic singer-performer. The unfortunately patchy surtitles sacrifice some of the verbal wit of Feste's scenes but the physical comedy more than makes up for this. Antonio (Mikhail Zhigalov) is given more prominence here and is emphatically excluded from the happy ending. This harsh division of the loved and unloved fits nicely into the play which portrays the ephemerality of life and beauty and the fleeting chance for love. Within this wistful framework of emotion, this production is as dynamic and vital as you would expect from Cheek by Jowl.

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Declan Donnellan

With: Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Evgeny Tsyganov, Mikhail Zhigalov, Vsevolod Boldin, Sergey Mukhin, Mikhail Dementiev, Alexander Feklistov, Dmitry Dyuzhev, Dmitry Shcherbina, Igor Yasulovich, Alexei Dadonov, Andrei Kuzitchev, Ilia Ilyin
Design: Nick Ormerod
Lighting: Judith Greenwood
Movement: Albert Alberts
Music: Vladimir Pankov, Alexander Gusev
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7638 8891
Booking at the Barbican to 17th June 2006
RSC Stratford: 28th February to 3rd March 2007
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge on 13th June 2006 performance at the Barbican Theatre, Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS (Tube: Barbican
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