Thursday 18 January 2018

Review - Theatre: Twelfth Night, Abbey Theatre, Dublin

Twelfth Night
Twelfth Night

John McKeown

It's arguably Shakespeare's richest and most subtle comedy, its contrasting elements of sweet and sour, laughter and tears notoriously difficult to balance, the overall mood elusive. But the difficulty only arises when a director puts the play first. In Wayne Jordan's production, design is the priority, and in this respect balance is easily achieved. I can't recall a more colour-coordinated Shakespeare production. A massive gold curtain, Viola's gold shoulder bag, the gold clock clutched in a literal reference to time by Olivia.

Then there's Orsino's blue suit and Olivia's dark blue dress, both echoed by Viola and Sebastian's blue canvas deck-shoes. The sand-coloured, gymnasium-like stage floor is matched by the five giant amplifiers wheeled around with menacing intent as stage furniture.

Those giant amps? This is Shakespeare's most musical play, and any opportunity to go completely overboard is leapt upon in this 'modern and provocative' production.

Orsino opens, bare-chested, in gold trousers and a gold guitar, cavorting with hammy ironicism to "If music be the food of love..." I was provoked to recall that Pan Pan Theatre was doing this kind of thing almost a decade ago.

Fortunately, Shakespeare's songs survive unmolested. Ger Kelly, as Feste, sings 'O mistress mine' and 'Come away death' with beautiful simplicity. It's only in Kelly's singing and in some of Orsino's and Olivia's speeches that a little of the play's magic breaks through. Barry John O'Connor, explaining with pained earnestness to Viola disguised as Cesario the difference between a man's and a woman's love, is one such moment, while Natalie Radmill-Quirke effectively conveys her wonderment at how easily she falls in love with Cesario.

The cast are all effective enough, and there'd be much more magic if they were allowed to engage with each other at close quarters. When Olivia admires "the contempt and anger" of Cesario's lip, she's around 30 intimacy-killing feet away from the fine detail of the object of her admiration.

Perhaps the distance is an attempt to enhance the shock value when they do come together. Malvolio, fooled by Maria's letter into thinking Olivia loves him, jumps her, clad in a bright yellow body-suit with hood, which, at this point, is a leap too far.

More questionable is making Sebastian – Olivia's eventual husband – and Antonio lovers. It works to increase the sense of love's insecurity but detracts from the restored harmony at the play's end. Still, having the cast running round together in matching underwear takes care of that.

Irish Independent

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