Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Jonathan Munby
Music: Grant Olding
Reviewer: May Mellstrom
Music becomes truly integral to director Jonathan Munby’s beguiling production of Twelfth Night, building upon Shakespeare’s oft quoted line ‘If music be the food of love, play on’ and framed by the fool Feste’s haunting renditions of Shakespeare’s songs. Grant Olding’s compositions are performed by Brian Protheroe as Feste, on piano and acoustic guitar, and set an enchanting tone from the opening bars.
Twelfth Night may be one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, but Munby clearly had a strong vision that remained clear throughout and successfully sets his production apart. As Feste sings his opening lines, each character appears through windows, shutters or doors on Colin Richmond’s imposing set, effectively becoming the players in Feste’s story.
Twins Viola (Rose Reynolds) and Sebastian are shipwrecked and separated on the unknown isle of Illyria, unaware of each other’s fate. Viola disguises herself as a male, Cesario, and becomes a member of the Duke Orsino’s (Jake Fairbrother’s) court. Viola falls for the Duke but disguised as a man and unable to declare her true feelings, ‘Cesario’ is sent to profess the Duke’s love for Olivia, a Countess with no shortage of suitors. With disguises, mistaken identities and unrequited love, Twelfth Night has all the ingredients of a classic romantic comedy and is an accessible play for newcomers to the Bard.
There are no weak leaks in an excellent cast; Reynolds is likeable and convincing as both Viola and Cesario; David Fielder masterfully wrings every moment of comedy from his drunken Sir Toby Belch and Hugh Ross is a commanding Malvolio, speaking Shakespeare’s verse with precision and clarity. Protheroe holds everything together expertly, equally adept at performing Feste’s quips as he is at the melodic folk songs that encapsulate the mood of the characters throughout.
Additionally there is atmospheric lighting from Chris Davey and some striking visual imagery. Red rose petals burst from characters clothes or flutter to the ground, revealing their romantic yearnings. It is at times visually beautiful, culminating in a memorable and vivid final scene.
In this production the emphasis is on characterisation rather than merely getting laughs therefore the comedic moments are amusing rather than hilarious. However the comedy feels more natural as a result, whether it be the wit of Feste or the slapstick antics of Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Nonetheless the slightly more serious tone does mean that the revenge taken against Malvolio ends up feeling particularly cruel.
Overall this is a superbly performed co-production from English Touring Theatre and Sheffield Theatres. The complexities of the tale unfold with perfect clarity for newcomers to the play or Shakespeare’s work but it also offers a bold and interesting perspective for those more familiar.
Runs until 25th October