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Kelly steals the show in an interesting Twelfth Night

Review by David Munro

I DON'T care whether Twelfth Night was written by Sir John Phillips, Francis Bacon, Lord Oxford or whomsoever, it is a very amusing and entertaining play and with the right cast proves itself to be a sparkling comedy.

I am sure most people know the plot but for those who don’t, it concerns a Duke, Orsino, in love with a neighbouring rich lady, Olivia, and twins, Viola and Sebastian, who are shipwrecked and divided.

Viola cross-dresses as a boy, Cesario, and falls in love with Orsino; Olivia falls in love with Viola /Cesario and everyone gets very confused until the sexes are finally sorted out and paired off.

Whilst all this is going on, Olivia’s uncle, Toby, his friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and a maid, Maria, deceive her steward, Malvolio, into believing that his mistress is in love with him, which creates more confusion. It is all very light-hearted and apart from Malvolio no one is really hurt.

Although the play is ostensibly about the Orsino, Olivia, Viola, Sebastian and their romantic entanglements, the Malvolio subplot is what most people remember about the play and Malvolio is usually treated as the star part.

In this production, he is played by Mathew Kelly whom I last remember as the shambling, pathetic Lenny in Of Mice And Men; a brilliant performance I shall never forget.

Although Malvolio does not give him the same dramatic opportunities, those that it does give him he seizes and makes it again a memorable performance.

His Malvolio is a self-deluding, self-righteous pedant sitting on the pinnacle of his self-esteem from which he falls with a dramatic thud.

Nonetheless, even in his most ludicrous moments Mr Kelly still manages to display some dignity and makes Malvolio although unlikeable, still a believable character. He also extracts the humour from the part albeit that it is against rather than with him.

The rest of the cast, although good, are not really in the same class. That is not to say that there are not some very good performances. Hilton McRae’s clown, Feste, is one outstanding example but when he is on stage Mr Kelly dominates it and when he is off you wait for his return.

As I have indicated, Hilton McRae is a superb Feste; he has the right wry humour for the part and he throws away his lines when required with the maximum effect.

It is a very 'modern' performance which is in keeping with the style of the production which was fashionably modern; Sir Toby Belch wears a clubman’s suit and, in the finale, the cast were dressed as though for an Edwardian Drawing Room.

Whether or not this helps Shakespeare I am not sure. In this production, it was helped by Mike Britton’s set which was a series of shutters round the edge of the stage leaving the stage itself bare other than for a few transparent plastic chairs which gave an air of timelessness to the proceedings.

Patrick Mason directed the piece as though it was a Twenties Coward comedy. The cast rushed in and out, spoke very fast (and it was a credit to them that they were audible) and were generally very busy.

Honeysuckle Weeks’ Viola/Cesario was a very bright young thing and lost a lot of the poetry of the part in the process, as did Rebecca Egan’s Olivia’s neurotic society hostess.

The style of production worked better for the comedians and Christopher Benjamin’s bluff Sir Toby and Roger Barclay’s effete Andrew Aguecheek were effective in playing their parts as though they had strayed in from some lesser Wodehouse novel.

They were at least amusing which was a relief, as in lesser actors hands these parts can be very forced and unfunny.

All in all, it was an interesting production made worthwhile by Mathew Kelly. If you like your Shakespeare all ruffs and farthingales then this is not for you.

If you want to find out whether Shakespeare is more than a set subject for an exam, then this is the production you will enjoy and remember. At least it is something different and I leave it to you to decide whether Shakespeare (or Phillips) is the better for it or not.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare.
Director – Patrick Mason.
Designer – Mike Britton.
Lighting – Howard Harrison.
Sound – Richard Price.
Music - Conor Linehan.
CAST: Mathew Kelly; Hilton McRae; Honeysuckle Weeks; Rebecca Egan; Christopher Benjamin; Anita Booth; Paul Benzing; Suzanne Marston; Rebecca Pownall; Bob Cryer; Ben Crysal; Christopher Logan; Neil Jones; Roger Barclay; Paul Stewart; Christopher Harper.
Presented by Theatre Royal Plymouth and Thelma Holt.
New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 1QG.
Tues, Oct 11 – Sat, Oct 15, 2005
Evenings – 7.30 pm
Matinees – Thurs & Sat 2.30pm.
Box Office: 0870 060 6646.

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