by William Shakespeare in a shorter version by Carl Heap.

National Theatre Tour to 7 May 2010.
Runs 1ht 15min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 April at Royal and Derngate (Royal auditorium) Northampton.

Reduced in more than just length.
Years ago a Shared Experience production of The Merchant of Venice showed that using commedia dell’ arte-type masks doesn’t work with Shakespeare, where individual humanity is all-important. And despite the convenience when a cast of seven doubles all the roles in Twelfth Night, masks are no more helpful in Carl Heap’s cut-down production for 8+.

Like the masks, the production’s too heavy and lacks a sense of place or people. Some modernised wording and cutting of obscurities is understandable, but where’s the gain in inserting lines insisting ‘Sezahrio’ is pronounced ‘Chezahrio’ in Illyria?

Why would Samantha Pearl’s sensibly purposeful Viola be attracted to an Orsino who flops incessantly around? And the Feste/Malvolio hostility is not developed; Malvolio’s not even there when Feste first wins Olivia over with his Take Away the Fool gag.

This is a dash round the plot, without much regard for why the plot’s there. Character and poetry are lost. What’s left is a Shakespeare story without Shakespearean qualities.

Something might still have come through with more exciting acting. There’s no sense any of the actors have been encouraged to invest much in their main roles. A few moments emerge strongly: the hitherto uninterested Viola suddenly attentive at the name ‘Sebastian’, or the staging when brother and sister finally meet, Orsino and Olivia circling back-to-back between the twins.

Even the general laughter at Malvolio as his useless yellow stockings are trashed underfoot is undermined when his final cry of vengeance comes too late, from offstage.

It might be argued this asks too much of a version for the young. But they deserve at least as much clarity and detail as anyone, and as high-quality verse-speaking. I doubt any self-respecting young people’s company would have thought to mount a piece which condescends like this to both author and audience.

If it has a saving grace, it’s the inventive physical business of the more purely comic scenes. In particular, Edward Evans’ Sir Andrew, sliding off or over a bench, or trying to hide in the letter scene behind a single leaf, connects with the audience as does little else.

Olivia/Valentine/Officer 1: Jessie Burton.
Orsino/Sir Toby Belch: Nicholas Clayton.
Fests/Antonio: Ross Devlin.
Sir Andrew Aguecheek/Sailor/Priest: Edward Evans.
Sebastian/Malvolio/Captain/Fabian: Asif Khan.
Maria/Curio: Niamh McCann.
Viola: Samantha Pearl.
Officer 2: Patrick Birch.

Director: Carl Heap.
Designer/Masks: Miriam Nabarro.
Music: Joe Townsend.
Mask/Movement coach: Marcello Magni.
Costume: Mila Sanders.

2010-04-21 01:31:49

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