"Disappointing, but moments of inspiration"
by Thomas Larque for remotegoat on 29/01/11

Shakespeare's tale of shipwrecked twins, cross-dressing disguise, mistaken identity, love and folly should have been an ideal choice for Practical Productions - who specialise in comedy as well as theatre - but despite moments of inspiration, this was a slightly disappointing Twelfth Night.

The first and most obvious problem was with the lines. Either the play had been under-rehearsed or some of the actors were not comfortable with Shakespearean verse, as there were repeated errors. Some of these were minor - the transposition of a few words, so that the verse stumbled - but sometimes whole lines were fluffed or repeated, and it became obvious that some of the actors were speaking very slowly in order to remember their lines.

Olivia was cartoonish, repeatedly striking poses at the end of each line, which worked to good comic effect with her "Most wonderful!" upon seeing her husband in duplicate, but it meant that she was unable to show the depth of emotion required in earlier scenes. The rather unfunny Malvolio also had his best moments in the final scenes, when his torment at the hands of Sir Toby and the lighter folk was interpreted as the most brutal torture, but the production struggled to combine the very dark tone this gave the subplot with the happy ending of the romances. Sebastian gave a generally clear and competent performance, marred only by some scenery-chewing overacting of his sorrow at his first entrance. Some of the editing of the script also seemed unsuccessful, particularly during the fights between Viola, Andrew, Belch, and Sebastian where references to swords and daggers were sometimes retained (although nobody was armed) and sometimes transformed into odd-sounding references to fists.

There were some good things about this production. The highlight of the evening was a dexterous and very funny Bollywood-style dance routine between Feste and Orsino's belly-dancer that restarted the play after the interval. Feste was also the company's best comedian, bringing an air of streetwise shrewdness to the character. The Ken-Doddish Sir Andrew was an amiable dolt, and it was a nice touch to dress him in yellow outfit and ("cross-gartered") striped socks, the fashion and colours that Olivia detests; rather cleverly, Malvolio - by contrast - entered in his "mad" scene unexpectedly wearing the same black steward's outfit that he had worn throughout, and then revealed his own yellow stockings by rolling up his trousers and leering at Olivia. Viola was well and seriously acted, giving the production some of the psychological depth that it lacked at times.

This was a reasonably enjoyable production, but it was let down by the various problems. Some of these will surely disappear as the run continues; others seemed more intractable. Not a production to avoid, therefore, but it needs work to reach the top of its game.

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