Ok, sit down. Take a deep breath, take a Valium and take the day off. The Whingers are about to start chucking a few superlatives around.
You may well think you’ve come to the wrong place (indeed you almost certainly have) as it’s well documented that the Whingers don’t really do Shakespeare, especially the comedies as they’re usually even less comic than My Family.
But director Michael Grandage (named Best Director at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards for Othello / The Chalk Garden / Ivanov) can do little wrong at the moment in the Whingers’ eyes.
And last night he caused the Whingers actually to laugh. Not once, but over and over again. Out loud. At a Shakespeare play.
Now the Whingers aren’t by any means experts on the Bard but this production challenged many of their prejudices:
- Most importantly it came in at a very creditable two and a half hours. Can that be right?
- Second, unlike those pesky histories it contains only a handful of characters so was not too confusing
- Third, the plot bounces merrily along and actually the less you think about it the better, which suits the Whingers very well.
At this point in the review it is customary to throw in a few crumbs about the plot but we’ve checked a few of the critics’ pieces and it seems that it is frightfully infra dig when dealing with a Shakespeare revival.
Just as well, as to be honest, we were struggling even in Act 1 Scene 1: why does the shipwrecked Viola (Victoria Hamilton, already a favourite since her pre-WEW appearance in Suddenly Last Summer) decide to dress as a eunuch to try and get a servant’s job with the “bachelor” Count Orsino (Mark Bonnar)? We suppose the answer is that if she hadn’t there wouldn’t be much of a story.
So, no plot summary for you (but in case you’re wondering it’s basically the gender-bending one with the yellow stockings).
Anyway, after that it all went swimmingly well and the Whingers were laughing heartily along. This is an utterly joyous production in every way – from the quirky staging (we loved the wind-breaker on the beach) to the performances of everyone on the stage.
The star, of course is Sir Derek Jacobi (Malvolio, yellow stockings) who gives some fine comic business with the letter (you know, the letter) and his attempts to smile. Andrew thought he was at times channelling the spirit of Frankie Howerd while Phil was put more in mind of Kenneth Williams, with a touch of the ham actor Jacobi so delightfully played in that excellent Frasier episode. Either way, he is deliciously fruity.
Now if there’s one prejudice that remains unchallenged it is the Shakespearean fool. Here we have Feste whose irritating “clever” word”play” is as tedious as we imagined it would be. But all credit to Zubin Varla who not only flits through these interludes at admirable speed but impresses through his singing, cartwheeling, guitar-playing, tabour (bongos)*-playing and peels an orange on stage – something not seen by the Whingers since Sizwe Banzi at the National last year. Phil was mesmerised.
But the most special mention must be reserved for the delightfully spirited performance of Indira Varma (Olivia) whose instantaneous transformation from woman-in-mourning to panting sex maniac is phenomenal. The look on her face when she sees the object of her desire and “his” twin (Alex Waldmann, excellently cast) speaks volumes for the sexual possibilities she imagines. She also looks very elegant in a thirties bathing outfit.
Oh, but we also loved very much the spunky Samantha Spiro as Maria.
Oh, what the heck, we loved them all.
What more could there be to say? Well, wig maestro Richard Mawbey triumphs again, Neil Austin delivers some very effective Mediterranean lighting, there’s more sparklingly white T-shirts than a Gap ad, some fantastically atmospheric aural assaults from Fergus O’Hare and yet another excellent set from Christopher Oram featuring shutters more distressed than Andrew’s face on being informed of a play’s running time at the National Theatre.
And there were at least three mentions of the word “liver” which amazingly failed to remind the Whingers that they’d rather be in the bar, thus demonstrating the beguiling power of this production.
Bottom line: get a ticket at any cost- disguise yourself as a eunuch if needs be.
*Why was JK inscribed in the inside of Feste’s bongos? Had the Harry Potter author lent them in yet another of her charitable works?