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Theatre Review

Mischief and Misrule at the RSC’s Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night makes everyone as tipsy on laughter as the actors

Twelfth Night

Whilst Twelfth Night, produced by the RSC, was made easily accessible by its screenings in local cinemas on Valentine’s day, I was lucky to experience the show live, in ye olde land of Shakespeare, Stratford-Upon-Avon. However, being accessible to watch seems an easy feat when compared with the tome-like text, when even the shape of Shakespeare’s words reminds every used-to-be schoolchild of musty books and sweaty classrooms. The RSC managed this once again, making Shakespeare understandable and even modern. Its playful dick jokes and physical, almost slapstick humour meant that even my Shakespearian-loathing mother chuckled.

 “A whirlwind of song, dance and the vibrant vision of the company took place”. 

The sumptuous production sparked the imagination, with its mixture of bright gardens and blue-lit bedrooms that made it difficult not to nap. Amid this world of changing backdrops and vibrant costumes- and yes, Malvolio’s yellow stockings were the hilarious front-piece- a whirlwind of song, dance and the vibrant vision of the company took place, one which made you look around awkwardly as a belt of laughter burst from your throat, yet was filled with poignancy as it drew you into its romantic flounders. This intimacy was heightened by the short distance between the stage and the seating. This creates a closer attachment with the play because it almost seems as if you are inside the scene, and the actors sound as if they are talking to you.

Credit: Manuel Harlan

It was not tragedy that was the purpose of this ridiculous drama, however. Instead, one of Shakespeare’s best-known comedies, Twelfth Night’s buoyant cast were built for comedy. The rapport between Michael Cochrane’s Andrew Aguecheek and John Hodgkinson’s Toby Belch was brilliantly well-timed and made the audience drunk with laughter to match their on-stage tipsy antics. This was intensified when Malvolio discovers a letter written by the tricksters in the hand of Lady Olivia, who he thinks is in love with him. The courtyard humour, full of puns, mime and some excellent statue mimicry had the audience bouncing in their seats for the next punch line. No review would be complete without mentioning the work of Adrian Edmundson as Malvolio, the severe servant on the receiving end of a humiliating revenge involving yellow stockings and cross-garters. From his ironic singing to his zealous and unashamed portrayal of Malvolio’s set up, the scene, as the funniest set-piece of the play, made for guffawing, both from the other characters, and from the audience too.

The rest of the cast cannot go without mention. From the terrific Kara Tointon, whose glorious reactions to the drama were mingled with her flouncing portrayal of the beautiful and much-desired Olivia, who was not without charm in the quieter romance scenes, to the strong and graceful performance of the lead- Dinita Gohil’s Viola- whose powerful presence was both riveting and heart-breaking.

Twelfth Night was a wonderful ensemble piece, with a lavish and intimate production and outrageously funny performances, one that boasted the festivities of twelfth night, and completely consumed the audience in the court of misrule.

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