Theatre review: Twelfth Night in the Botanical Gardens

Last night, we went to Shakespeare in the Gardens, where they were doing Twelfth Night.  They are doing this all season, but naturally, we had to go on Twelfth Night itself.  It was a good production – very strong on clowning, as this company always is, though Sebastian was a little weak, I thought.  He was having trouble with his lines, which is unfortunate, given how few of them he has.

For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, they decided to dress both Viola and Sebastian as David Bowie, Aladdin Sane vintage – red, spiky hair, a silver diamond of makeup over one eye, and lots of black leather, which must have been oppressive in that heat (I did feel for Orsino, in his furry red cloak.  This was not the weather for a furry cloak.).  Fun and I suppose emphasising the gender-bendy thing, but a little random.  It was also odd recognising in Feste John the Baptist from Godspell, and I rather think that Mistress Fabian was also in that production.  Andrew Aguecheek was particularly adept at clowning, and his business with the aquarium managed to upstage poor Malvolio’s soliloquy about the letter.  He also played the role beautifully – this production made no bones about the fact that Toby is exploiting him and treating him rather cruelly from start to finish, and while Maria (and she was an excellent Maria) clearly has adored Sir Toby from the start, one does worry a little about her future with him.

The cast was mostly female, and so as well as having Mistress Fabian, they also made Antonio into Antonia, and made her unrequited love for Sebastian much more explicit than it is usually played.  I’d love to see someone play Antonio that way, but it did not reflect well on Sebastian’s character.  Olivia, on the other hand, was excellent, and hilarious, and DEFINITELY liked the idea of having two Caesarios, one male and one female, for her very own self (in my view, there is only one way to speak the line ‘most wonderful!’, and she nailed it).  She kept casting Viola speculative looks even after her gender was revealed.  Viola seemed rather perturbed by this; the men were all entirely oblivious.  This was quite amusing.

I also liked the way the people with smaller, non-speaking roles were played – they had a lot of unspoken ‘business’ on stage, and one got a sense of their character through this – Fabian, in particular, was present in all the scenes with Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, and while she didn’t speak much, she certainly did plenty.  They changed the order of the scenes at the start, which I think worked quite well, interspersing Viola’s shipwreck scene with Orsino’s first scene, which worked well to introduce the story and the characters.  And there was the usual audience participation – we all had to sing the ‘Hold thy peace’ song, and several audience members were dragged up on stage, first to dance, and then to be blamed for the racket when Malvolio turned up.

All in all, a good production, and definitely one I would recommend to you, if you like your Shakespeare well-played but very bawdy.

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