Monday, January 20, 2014

Shakespeare WA's Twelfth Night

Our president, Frances Dharmalingam, reviews Perth’s 2014 Shakespeare in the Park – Twelfth Night

This production seemed to be aimed particularly at a young audience, probably unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s works. The comedy was broad, reminiscent of circus and pantomime in delivery and costume, with much ad-libbing and (the most direct way to ensure audience participation) even dragging a hapless young woman from the front stalls on to the stage. I thought this redundant, and the extremely heavy-handed underlining of the more complex plot elements also seemed unnecessary. It could indicate lack of confidence in the performers’ ability to communicate, or lack of trust in the audience’s comprehension. However, I did like Aguecheek’s extra comment when asked his reasons for leaving Olivia’s house: ‘Beside the fact that it’s raining…’ which suited the damp evening very well. This was real ad-lib: spontaneous and appropriate.

Perhaps these introductory remarks are unduly critical, so I should hasten to say that there was much to enjoy.

Gracie Gilbert’s portrayal of Viola/Cesario was a delight. The voices of some in the cast were strained and forced, but hers carried easily in the demanding outdoor setting and every word was intelligible; but more to the point, she spoke the lines truly as if for the very first time with charming spontaneity and complete understanding. She had a deft comic touch and the details of Viola’s secret sorrows were treated with sensitivity. In Cesario, Gracie created a remarkably convincing boy, with subtle and appropriate mannerisms. Having watched this clever performance it was lovely to see Viola dancing with such feminine grace in the finale.

This play has very few ’spear carriers’ and not a very large cast. The characters are sharply differentiated, each quite individual, but together they must create a seamless whole. I was left with a sense of imbalance, with the more tender and romantic passages swamped by the coarser comic scenes, and it seemed to result from an imperfect mingling of two quite different styles of performance. On the one hand we had the twins and their sailor friends, Olivia, Malvolio and Orsino playing straight’, using the text to direct their characterisation, while on the other we had the trio of Belch, Aguecheek and Maria relying as much on quirky movement, odd voices and outlandish costumes as on their lines to create their characters. In style, Feste came somewhere between these two groups, as indeed he does in the script, and made good use of his remarkable voice for the many songs which he performed unaccompanied.

Malvolio, played by Nick Candy, was interesting. He conveyed his sense of moral rectitude with stiff posture, a strange stalking walk, and excessively precise diction and sustained this even as his excitement grew while reading the forged letter. He was certainly a “puritan” but with some kinky little tendencies unmasked with his ambitions. To confine him later in a dungeon was impossible in the park setting, so we have to accept his unusual imprisonment, with his head inside a suitcase. It allowed that episode to be passed over very lightly, with no time to consider the cruelty of his treatment.

The final scene of the play is challenging, requiring the resolution of so many confusions. It worked very well on this occasion with all misunderstandings clearly explained and a happy conclusion for everyone (except for Malvolio, of course). The cheery Jazz-age 1920’s style dance was an attractive end to a thought-provoking version of Twelfth Night.

Twelfth Night
Shakespeare WA
Director: Paige Newmark
Set and Lighting Design: Jake Newby
Costume Design: Ingrid Proos
Choreography: Jessica Waters
Sound: Warren Myers
Stage Manager: Simon Haydock
Cast includes: George Allen, Nick Candy, David Davies, Hannah Day, Gracie Gilbert, James Hagen. Andrew Kocsis, Stephen Lee, Nick Maclaine and Angelique Malcolm

Fraser Ave, Kings Park
Shakespeare in the Park 2014
3 January – 1 February