Posts Tagged ‘Twelfth Night’

Review – Twelfth Night – Propeller at Hampstead Theater

July 14, 2013

As mentioned in my review for Taming of the Shrew, I will book for anything that Propellor puts on, because I think they are the best Shakespearean theater company in Great Britain. The combination of original staging, impeccable acting, and transfiguration of the gender expectations puts me into an entirely more receptive state of mind than the “let’s do it all in the most authentic/detailed fashion possible” style I feel is very popular.

And … well, once again I booked for a play I don’t enjoy because of the company. The Twelfth Night subplot of the humiliation of Malvolio doesn’t sit well with me and goes on far too long. The scenes with Viola all sit well with me – I love watching her discomfort both at Olivia’s flirtations and Duke Orsinio’s too-well-received affections – but there’s too much in this play that feels like padding. Maybe a version in which all scenes with Sir Toby Belch were cut out would suit me better; but this is the third time I’ve seen this play in three years and really, it gets boring. If neither Simon Russell-Beale or Mark Rylance can make this show work for me, it just isn’t going to happen.

Except, well, Mark Rylance did make the show work for me: his Olivia was like cut glass, so full of self-importance and yet dragged down by mourning that her sudden change into chickenhawk worked for me. And the Olivia of Propellor’s production wasn’t able to get to that level of comedy, which meant we were reduced to looking to Sir Andrew Auguecheek for laughs (not that he wasn’t very well played but the character frustrates me).

For original staging, we had the duel between Viola and Auguecheek staged in a boxing ring, and the truly lovely shipwreck sequence, done with a ship in the bottle (I love how Propeller really makes less count for more). And Malvolio was truly pathetic and broken, and it was great to see the heavily abused Katherine (of Shrew) returned as a rather swaggering, sexy Sebastian … but … I probably could have passed on this one. I’d just seen in in November and its shortcomings were too fresh for me to overcome my dislike for them, and it’s not like anyone is going to do a version of this in which all of the things I don’t enjoy are cut. So: a good production, a very good Twelfth Night, but on a lovely summer evening I’d probably just as soon have sat outside and had a nice picnic with the actors instead.

(This review is for a performance that took place on July 10th, 2013. It continues through July 20th at the Hampstead Theater. They’ll be back next year for Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Comedy of Errors, so keep it in mind and remember to book early.)

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Mini-review – Twelfth Night (with Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry) – Apollo Theater

December 1, 2012

As this show is a transfer from this fall’s production at the Globe, it seems a bit late to be getting in a review of Twelfth Night – it’s already transferred to the Apollo and opening night has come and gone. But I hadn’t seen it yet … well, okay, I saw a production of it a few years back, and to be honest I’m not much for this play. I don’t like seeing Malvolio abused and the central story is not really compelling. But, well, there was Mark Rylance to consider … he is truly an amazing actor. That said, I wasn’t willing to play groundling to see this show at the Globe, and the Apollo transfer is mostly sold out and unaffordable. But then a friend really wanted to go (he liked another actor in the production), and he didn’t care about the price, and so I went and wheedled the people at the box office for returns and suddenly there I was with a pair of tickets in “row O (extra legroom, amazing)” with ace views … and my friend was stuck at the airport due to a royal cock-up with Iberia and missing the show.

Now, really, I have written more than I have to say in the review. ARGH. It’s because I’ve been sick lately and my energy levels have been crap. I’ve managed to keep seeing shows but it’s basically like I’m propped up with a stick and I fall over afterwards. Bonus: I am fully open to being emotionally receptive to a show. Negative: writing is very, very hard.

The Twelfth Night seems to be the first Shakespeare I’ve ever seen that’s been fully, 100% period, bringing me back to the days when I was poring over my husband’s costume history books while he was in graduate school and I was learning about how sleeves could be tied on and slashed to show the wearer’s wealth. As a bonus to the delicious costuming, the whole thing was accompanied by proper period music. My god, what a treat! Sackbuts, archlutes, and shawms ahoy! And for fun, there were two little split-level buildings on the side of the stage where audience members were packed in eyeball to eyeball with the actors. What fun! If those are the day seats, I’ll warn that the view will be very odd and you will miss some stuff, but the opportunity to have Viola launch herself at you or hold Sir Toby Belch’s bottle of booze is not to be sniffed at.

Despite the high attention to period detail, this felt like a stripped down production, with sets mostly consisting of a table and benches with one rotating shrubbery. The focus is meant to be the play, and it felt a bit like the all-male cast was meant to further keep your attention on the words and less on the stage dressing. However, having a man in the role of Viola (Johnny Flynn, ever so yummy) made the complexity of a character that is a woman pretending to be a man … while _played_ by a man … just a tiny bit more brain bending than it would have been otherwise. One of the very best scenes in this production is where Orsino encourages Viola-disguised-as-Cesario to sympathetically mope about love unrequited … while Viola all but pants with desire. In this case, Orsino (Liam Brennan) most intriguedly checks Viola out, as if to say, “Is there something here I’m not getting?” And we’re of course wanting to shout, “For God’s sake, she’s really a girl! Only … it’s a guy! But she’s still really hot!” And the whole thing about collapsed into Victor/Victoria all over again.

Meanwhile, Rylance was, er, fine as Olivia, moving around like he was wearing rollerskates, absolutely as buried in the role as he was in Rooster, with not a bit of Rylance visible, really, through the black gown and veil. But oddly, amongst these many fine actors, it was Olivia’s maid Maria (Paul Chahidi) I loved the most, charming and hammy and giggle-making. Chahidi was no longer a man in a dress but just a funny, funny actor with a role that let him/her fill the stage with personality. It just was not what I expected, that this lesser character in the side plot would be the one that had me sitting in my (very comfy) seat and just basking in her glow: but so it was. Overall: a well-executed production, but not an unmissable one, though this will be the Maria by which I shall judge all others. And Flynn: well, if I figure out what bar the cast hangs out at after the show, as soon as I’ve shaken off this damned illness I’ll be having a pint there regularly, say around 11 PM.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, November 27th, 2012. It continues through February 9th, 2013.)

Review – Twelfth Night -Shochiku Grand Kabuki at the Barbican

March 30, 2009

On Saturday night J and I went to the Barbican to see the Shochiku Grand Kabuki’s production of Twelfth Night. I hadn’t been to a Shakespearean play in such proximity to having viewed a different version before, but it meant I was very much on top of the story of Viola, Olivia, Orsino, and Maria. (My usual limit is about once per year per play, so no “two Hamlets in six months” no matter who the star is.)

The reason why I broke this guideline was because of my overwhelming interest in seeing a professional, top level Kabuki company without travelling to Japan. I went in 2001 to the Kabuki-za in Tokyo and fell in love with the performance style as well as the whole atmosphere of the Kabuki experience. I loved the fun snacks that you could sit and eat during the show (salted soybeans! Yum!) and the way the audience members would shout out the name of a favored actor at just the perfect moment, when it was completely silent, and yet somehow at a point where they were not interrupting the dramatic action. It was like being at a sports match, somehow, much more informal and fan-based than English language theater. Thus when I heard there would be an opportunity to see Real Live Kabuki in London I jumped on it – but not nearly soon enough as I was only able to get tickets in the third balcony, rather claustrophobically squeezed under the oppressive overhang of the Barbican Theatre’s upper level of sound proofing.

Still (as I stumbled across the legs of about twenty people on my way in), the sightlines from our center seats were quite good, and thankfully the show started a little bit late (as shows at the Barbican often will), so we were just settled in our seats as the first CLICK! of the orchestra marked the start of the production.

The curtain rose on a gorgeous, simple scene of three small children singing (atrociously, who thought this was a good idea?) between a harpsichord and a platform with a few Japanese musicians on it. Behind them a huge weeping cherry tree gently shed petals on the ground – so appropriate for Orsino (Nakamura Kinnosuke II)’s speech about Olivia (Nakamura Tokizo V) wasting her youth in mourning for her father and her brother!

Then came the moment I had been waiting for: the storm scene! Not only was I expecting this to be the most exciting stagecraft, it was when I first got an eyeful of Onoe Kikunosuke V, playing both Viola and Sebastian. A full-sized ship (well, a bit small, but still, it was quite large, at least the size of a canal barge) rolled onto stage, the cloth waves rushing ahead of it, like real waves will, our hero as Sebastian in the prow. Kikunosuke then called his sister, ran into the hold, and returned in about one minute completely outfitted as a woman! The switches were amazingly fast, and I kept thinking of Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap – how did he do it! When the storm broke and high waves (cloth, again) started breaking, it all just got wilder and wilder, with Viola looking piteously out of a window in the hold. Eventually the mast of the ship broke, and we got to see Sebastian pulled beneath the waves. It was even more fun than Le Corsaire and made me wonder how anyone could get so excited about Miss Saigon‘s silly helicopter when you could see this instead. I was in love!

After this we had rather a lot of scenes that all seemed quite familiar, most of them set on one side or another of a gorgeous Japanese country house, with wooden platforms out front (perfect for receiving messengers) and large rooms in back (as the set revolved). Mirrors painted with flowers at the rear of the homes served to mark the homes of Orsino (lotus) and Olivia (iris) quite nicely. Of course, there were lots of cultural differences – Olivia’s veil covered her entire upper body, and Maria (Ichikawa Kamerjiro II, perfectly hysterical) veiled herself at well; and when Olivia went outside, two maids preceeded her and set up the platform with a headrest for her to use. However, “cultural differences” did not change the ultimate flavor of any of it, and made the drunken party scene (with Feste, who along with Malvolio was played by Onoe Kikugoro VII, Maria, Belch and Aguecheek – Nakamura Kanjaku) even more fun, with sake drinking all around and some quite hysterical drunken Japanese-style dancing (which seemed both extremely formal and just utterly over the top). Watching Maria crawl across the stage on her belly while Malvolio chewed Belch and Aguecheek out was great – upstaging epitomized! – and made me completely fail to pay attention to the dialogue (not that Malvolio had much to say until this point anyway). It was a great lead-in to the “let’s avenge ourselves against him” plotting and left me pretty psyched about the second half of the show. And, somehow, they managed to get the obligatory graphical illustration of Elizebethan humor thanks to a well-placed sake jug. (I suppose this is just too juicy to pass on even in Japan, but still, one hopes.)

This, however, was not to be, as, after an hour and a half, my companion declared himself too worn out to continue unless I was really, really determined to stay. And … well … I did actually know how it ended … and I’d just seen it a month ago … and we had seen an hour and a half’s worth of it even though I thought it went pretty fast … so I agreed to leave. He wasn’t hating it but it was my treat to him and if he wanted to get home earlier, well, it was only fair to concede as it wouldn’t cost me too much, especially since I felt like I’d already got back the price of my ticket.

I only really had two complaints about the show. First, too much of the text wasn’t translated, leaving us with long spaces where the actors nattered on and we English-speakers stared blankly at the supertitles, wondering what all we were missing out on. Second, while Olivia conducted herself perfectly as a noblewoman (as near as I could tell), Nakamura Tokizo just sounded so very elderly it made it difficult for me to buy Olivia as a being of outstanding beauty wasting away her youth. These were mostly small complaints, though. What I did not have to complain about was the heavily Japanese audience, which meant we had genuine shout-outs to the actors happening during the show and the pleasure of a hall full of women in kimono and obi during the interval. Truly, on this evening, it felt like spring had come to London, both on stage and off.

(This review is for the final performance of this show, which took place on Saturday, September 28th, 2009. Other reviews: The Independent, The Guardian (not much of a review, really), The Telegraph, ThisIsLondon (with a great picture of Malvolio in his “yellow garters”), and Phillip Fisher’s review in The British Theatre Guide.)

Review – Twelfth Night – Donmar at Wyndham’s Theatre

February 22, 2009

I admit, I was slow on the uptake with the Donmar Warehouse’s Twelfth Night (part of their season at Wyndham’s). It opened December 5th, and the WestEnd Whingers saw it not more than a week later. And here it is February, and the show closes March 7th … and I only bought my tickets in January to see it February, despite the Whingers’ effusive praise (key elements of their review for me: actually funny; not overly long running time – vital for a possible weeknight trip to the West End). And yet … well, finances, you know.

And a review. I feel … hesitant. The show’s got two more weeks, and if I’m not mistaken it’s about sold out for the run. So what is there to say, really, and who will it influence? The ten or so people behind me who had standing seats (way up in the balcony behind me – what were they thinking?) and the 20 or so folks who’d been standing in line waiting for returns could clearly never be swayed by anything I have to say here. So it seems a bit pointless to add my comments to what must be the great heaps of praise this production has been wallowing in.

Except … I’m not going to. And you know why? Because the Midsummer Night’s Dream I saw last week at the Southwark Playhouse smoked this production’s ass. Maybe it’s because Derek Jacobi (as Malvolio) and company have been doing this show for so many weeks that they’ve just lost their excitement. I can’t really fault the production values: the costumes were lovely (Indira Varma as Olivia was especially ravishing) and I liked the simple set (nice work on both, Christopher Oram), but I can say that this script just isn’t of the quality that Midsummer is, and there’s not much you can do with that. And yet a tale of lovers split by warring fairies is surely no more ridiculous than that a brother and sister can so successfully pass for each other that they woo each other’s lovers?

No, no, that’s not it. What it comes down to is that Southwark Playhouse made theatrical magic happen, and the crew at Wyndham’s only put on a play – they provided an evening’s forgettable (if quality) entertainment. I suppose this is what happens when you see a show so late, when the actors are less excited about doing the show – maybe even now Imelda Staunton’s Kath is no longer making the punters howl in their seats, but I’m convinced the final weekend of Midsummer will be so much more exciting that 12th Night was at this point in time. So cry not if you haven’t got seats for the Wyndham’s Twelfth Night and take yourself instead to the south side of the river, where I promise you that the folks at the Southwark will deliver a memorable theatrical experience that will leave you enthused about the bard.

My other complaint about this show: can we please do a Shakespearean comedy where people don’t have to illustrate sexual humor by making crude fucking gestures? I’m able to work it out from the words alone, thanks, I don’t need to see characters mock-humping the air and pretending to fondle themselves.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, February 21st, 2008. It’s nice to know that since this is a review about a professional company that for once the miffed actors and incensed relatives will not be slagging me off for not forcing a bunch of ass kissing in my writeup.)