Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Hal Chambers
Reviewer: Tom Finch
Reading is abuzz with theatre at the moment and Reading Between The Lines’ latest offering is sure to cement their place in the heart of the cultural scene. Set in the stunning surroundings of the Grade 1 listed Reading Minster of St Mary the Virgin Church this production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night explodes into life in a haunting, beautiful opening.
The story is a daft one; Viola, shipwrecked on the island of Illyria disguises herself as a man to protect herself and becomes a servant to the duke Orsino, who quickly instructs her to woo the lady Olivia on his behalf. Throw in an identical twin brother, two grotesque layabout noblemen and a manservant with ideas above his station and you have the perfect recipe for an evening of hijinks, laughter and a surprising amount of pathos.
Music plays an important part of the story and the company have not shied away from this aspect. From the powerful, choreographed opening involving the entire cast right through to the cold, dark songs the court jester Feste sings as the uglier sides of the show unfold the score (written by Rosalind Steele) is flawless. The small live band perform with gusto and personality which shines through.
The large company all give solid performances and work hard to ensure their voices carry in the cavernous space. Dani McCallum is a joy to watch as the sulking, spoilt Olivia. Her first scene with the cross dressing Viola, played with panache by Amy McGavin, is a masterclass in flirting and sets the tone tremendously for the strange, love triangle that will evolve.
There are ample laughs to be had from Joe Marsh and Alexander McWilliam as Sir Toby &Sir Andrew respectively. McWilliam in particular captures a real and inspired sense of isolation, he gradually paints the picture of a man out of his depth with no one cherish.
If there is a star of this show it must be Adam Napier whose performance as Malvolio is both hilarious and ultimately tragic. The famous ‘letter’ scene where he is tricked into believing that his mistress is in love with him was comic gold, which earned him an enthusiastic round of applause from the appreciative audience. His turn as a man in cross gartered yellow stockings is equally hilarious. What is delicious though is how far he falls and his ultimate vow of revenge is a chilling moment born from utter humiliation.
Harriet De Winton ‘s effective set embraces the challenges of performing in a church and works well with clever lighting designed by Oliver Welsh. We are transported from beaches to palaces to dungeons quickly and smartly.
Hal Chambers’ direction ensures that the pace doesn’t dawdle and there are some nice touches which allow the moments of pathos to come to the surface. In particular a tableau of the characters who do not find love, left dejected against the backdrop of several weddings is a neat idea which cleverly wraps up the bizarre and often beautiful production.