English Touring Theatre has come up with a deeply romantic production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
It opened at Watford Palace Theatre last night and, while it’s not one of the Bard’s more hysterical comedies, it does feature his stock characters – a drunken reprobate, feckless noblemen, a wise and erudite jester and, of course, young lovers.
Twelfth Night also offers a serious case of mistaken identity and sexual confusion as our heroine, Viola, disguised as a man, causes a lovesick lord to question his own sexuality.
Jonathan Munby’s vision is actually quite sombre. The laughs come intermittently and the romance is brought to the fore.
Colin Richmond’s set, muted tones of a once grand palace, are frequently awash with the brilliance of scarlet rose petals. The whole production is a palate of greys and blues with a slash of red.
Into this shabby grandeur comes Brian Protheroe’s Feste, more a strolling player than a jester, who plays Grant Olding’s original and haunting songs, both on guitar and piano, throughout the performance.
At the centre of the stage is a double wardrobe which cleverly doubles as a portal into the kingdom of Illyria.
Viola, and her brother, Sebastian, are separated and both fear the other drowned, after a shipwreck.
Pitched up in a strange land Viola disguises herself as a boy, Cesario, and manages to get work in Count Orsino’s household.
But the disguise throws up all sorts of unseen problems. She falls in love, but can’t reveal it, while another woman is smitten with her.
As with all Shakespeare’s plays it is the secondary characters that give audiences the most fun.
Drunken reprobate Sir Toby Belch (another Falstaff) makes merry, causing mayhem between the ambitious and controlling advisor, Malvolio (a wonderfully dry performance by Hugh Ross), and his mistress, Olivia (Rebecca Johnson).
And as fast as Olivia pursues Cesario, she is wooed by Orsino and the wastrel Sir Andrew Aguecheek, not to mention the elderly Malvolio.
There’s some fine performances principally from Rose Reynolds as Viola/Cesario and Jake Fairbrother playing Orsino.
David Fielder overdoes the drunk act as Belch as does his cohort Milo Twomey as Aguecheek but they just about get away with it.
Protheroe, sporting what sounds like an Ulster accent and an unattractive straggly long-haired wig, is a competent balladeer more than a clown (he doesn’t get many laughs though he does, at times, pop on a red nose).
It’s an atmospheric and sparkling production that is brightened by a beautiful story lovingly told.
Twelfth Night runs at Watford Palace Theatre until Saturday.
November 4 – 8, Cambridge Arts Theatre November 11 – 15, Hall for Cornwall, Truro November 18 – 22, Richmond Theatre November 25 – 29, Theatre Royal, Brighton.