“Foolery . . . does walk about the orb like the sun; it shines everywhere” Twelfth Night, 3. 1
The second production in the Open Air Theatres summer season (following on from their Romeo and Juliet), floats on to the stage with whimsy, gentle fun and the madness of love in full force.
The plot, as in much Shakespearean comedy, is a cocktail of confusion, cross-dressing and mistaken identity. A twin brother and sister, Sebastian and Viola, are washed up in a shipwreck both thinking the other has drowned. Viola dresses as a boy called Cesario and gains employment at Count Orsino’s with whom she promptly falls in love. Orsino is in love with Olivia and sends Cesario to woo her. Unfortunately Olivia falls in love with the messenger; Sebastian then turns up and falls in love with Olivia.
Edward Dicks production transplants the action to the 1940′s and many of the characters take on the modes and mannerisms of the time. So Olivia, played with wide-eyed wonder by Janie Dee, has a straight out of Hollywood feel, with an air of Jean Harlow about her; she seems amazed by her own changes of heart. Natalie Dew makes a satisfying Viola and, in a very physical performance, she is such a convincing Cesario that it is something of surprise to see her back in her ‘maiden weeds’ at the end.
The plays sub-plot, which can often feel like passing time before the lovers come back, is performed with mischief, slapstick and a little malice. Clive Hayward’s Sir Andrew is a kind of City Banker type all bouncing enthusiasm, stupidity and vanity but with a childlike quality. He is well matched by Tim Woodwards Sir Toby Belch.
Feste the Fool, played by Clive Rowe, is able to put his wonderful voice to good use. The songs in Twelfth Night often seem problematic with some productions missing them out altogether or fudging them. Not here. Rowe delivers them sublimely, often as pastiche, in keeping with 1940′s theme. He is that rare thing, a fool who is funny, mimicking Tommy Cooper and the great musical hall comedians, but every now and then he makes you startling aware of the maliciousness behind the cheery faade.
The rest of the cast do a decent job. Richard O’Callaghan’s Malvolio, his mouth full of upper-class marbles, his back poker-straight, exudes a dreadful vanity that makes the trick played on him by Sir Toby seem fair game and, yet, in the end you feel genuinely sorry for him. Oscar Pearce is a dashing Orsino and yet he also has something of the spoiled child about him, taking the sickness of love to its extremes with very funny effect.
Obviously the enchantment of the venue plays a large part in things: as you enter the gates with lights and greenery everywhere and jazz music playing, you feel uplifted, excited, childlike. But for all its charm, its whats on stage that counts, and this production just adds to the magic.