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Twelfth Night – Theatre Royal, Plymouth

Writer: William Shakespeare (adapted by Edward Hall &Roger Warren)

Director: Edward Hall

Reviewer : Joan Phillips

[Rating:3.5]

Twelfth Night is the second of this season’s Shakespeare adaptations from the Propeller Theatre Company running alongside The Taming of the Shrew.

This play was originally written to celebrate the twelfth night after Christmas which, prior to Shakespeare’s time, was a day of celebration and revelry. The history of this festive day involved rôle reversal themes – so masters became servants, men became women, tricks could be played and love could be declared and scorned.

This play maximises every opportunity to create humour from the chaos and disorder. Thus we have a girl, playing a boy, falling in love with a man, who loves a woman, who loves the girl, who thinks the girl is a man, who reveals she is a girl, and then wins the man. And in Propeller’s all male adaptation, all the parts are played by men anyway. Get it? Don’t worry, you don’t need to.

Propeller’s production is full of laughs as this famously farcical tale should be. The confusion, disorder and concealed identities create situations ripe for misunderstanding and humour. The major characters are so flawed that the opportunity for comedy and farce are never far away. We are invited to question Orsino’s love for Olivia as he seems to enjoy the thought of being in love rather than actually being in love. Olivia falls in love with the servant sent to deliver messages from her suitor Orsino, rather than the man himself. Malvolio, the servant, is duped into believing his mistress, Olivia, loves him and Sir Andrew Aguecheek dupes himself into believing he loves Olivia.

There are many moments and performances to look out for. Gary Shelford is hilarious as Maria and delivers a fabulous tap dancing display. John Dougall is fantastic as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and his performance in the boxing ring to settle scores is a riot. Liam O’Brien is a brilliant Feste, keeping the story and characters in check and watching everything. It is a tremendous ensemble production with all the cast members producing great performances and some very gifted singing and musical performances too.

The play opens on a fantastic set showing the shipwreck which establishes the story. Michael Pavelka’s set is stark and foreboding. The dark, stormy sky provides a dramatic backdrop throughout. The colours, mostly washed-away shades of grey, have a heavy ominous presence. This, plus the muted, anonymous suits and masks of the zanies who morph in and out of the scenery, casts a dark shadow throughout the play. This sinister atmosphere is magnified in the shocking mistreatment of Malvolio. He may be haughty but it seems excessive of his tormentors to have him locked up in a dark chamber and try to convince him he is insane.

The overall impression in this production is deeply ambiguous. The humour is tremendous but the images from the vicious mistreatment of Malvolio combined with the dark malevolent atmosphere throughout are hard to cast off. The otherwise happy ending to a terrific romp and a farce is overshadowed by this feeling leaving an uncomfortable, confused message. But this is a good evening nevertheless and always worth coming out to see Propeller.

Runs until February 16th 2013.

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