Review: Twelfth Night, Donmar West End

Thursday 11 December 2008

twelfth_nightOk, 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.

Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Guy Henry) has a touch of Peter O’Toole as Jeffrey Bernard and Ron Cook is a rascally Sir Toby Belch.

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?


13 Responses to “Review: Twelfth Night, Donmar West End”

  1. Waldorf Says:

    I stopped reading half way down as we’re seeing this on Sunday. However, once again, you’ve provided the information that theatregoers actually need – the run time.

    Oh and your snowflakes make my eyes go funny – almost like I’ve been drinking…

  2. “it came in at a very creditable two and a half hours. Can that be right?” – there are a number of cuts, including…

    “it contains only a handful of characters” – and at least one less than usual, though it’s never been entirely clear why the character of Fabian was written in halfway through the play in the first place (or rather, in about the eleventh).

    “tabour (bongos)*-playing” – I think it was a djembe, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

    “The look on her [Olivia’s] when she sees the object of her desire and “his” twin speaks volumes for the sexual possibilities she imagines” – that’s kind of becoming standard now in productions of Twelfth Night, like the shift in meaning of Prospero’s words in The Tempest to Ferdinand and Miranda: “No tongue” was written to mean, “Shut up and watch this masque”, now it usually means, “Enough with the tonsil-hockey, already!”

    “wig maestro Richard Mawbey triumphs again” – for limited values of “triumphs”: Viola’s “masculine” rug looked to me more like a 1930s perm than the unruly thatch sported by her stage brother.

    “Christopher Oram featuring shutters” – well, a girl can dream 🙂

  3. @ Shutters:

    Re: “wig maestro Richard Mawbey triumphs again” – for limited values of “triumphs”: Viola’s “masculine” rug looked to me more like a 1930s perm than the unruly thatch sported by her stage brother.

    Had you been sitting outside Koha with us (and how we wish you had been) watching the cast tumbling out of the stage door after the show and had you seen them in mufti-hair without their wigs you too would have marvelled at the transformational quality of Mr Mawbey’s wigs.

  4. If you’re saying Alex Waldmann was in a syrup as well, then one would think that the triumphant Mr Mawbey would be able to find a match for his own perruquier’s work. (Note the casual way I worked in the proper term for a wig-maker.)

  5. Mark I Says:

    Cheer Shutters – I’l try and use it in a sentence today – I hope not sporadically!

  6. In that case, and even though it has precious little to do with this production, have my favourite obscure word, and one that I’m sure the Whingers will treasure:

    Beau-trap. It’s one of those words for things you think really ought to have a word and it’s a pity they don’t, but then they turn out to after all. A beau-trap is a badly laid paving-stone that lets rainwater collect beneath it, so that when a dapper beau treads on it, it tilts and skooshes muddy water all over his nice clean spats. Wonderful, no?

  7. Is it my imagination or has my screen gone up the swanee? I could swear it’s snowing here in Whinger land…can we expect flashing Christmas lights any day?

  8. Devon Says:

    The Globe has been doing a good job with the comedies in the past couple of years, too. Could it be that you’re now converted and willing to check out some more Shakespeare next summer?

  9. Rev Stan Says:

    Saw this on Tuesday and thoroughly enjoyed it, although the idea that Victoria Hamilton and Alex Waldmann were supposed to be ‘twins’ did bother me a little. It is going to sound ageist but mother and son would have been more believable. Maybe it was the lighting.

  10. crustygit Says:

    Sorry to whinge at the whingers but I thought some of the acting in this was truly terrible. And why does everyone stand about on a massive set in tight little groups all the time? Waiting for the three-shot? I won’t name names but some of it was amateur.

  11. […] is, to quote the West End Whingers, the gender bending one with yellow socks.  If you’re not familiar with the plot, the […]

  12. there were quite a lot of cut lines throughout the entire production – mostly stuff that isnt necessary to the plot or which requires extensive footnotes – Mistress Mall’s picture, youngest wren of nine and metal of india where three lines i remember not hearing (i was in this once so know it very well). Most of Fabian’s lines were given to Sir Toby or dropped altogether. Mind you, nobody on stage was hanging about over their dialogue; in fact, I sat there thinking that if you didnt know the story already, it would be very easy to miss lots of the plot in the rush.

  13. […] Twelfth Night (part of their season at Wyndham’s). It opened December 5th, and the WestEnd Whingers saw it not more than a week later. And here it is February, and the show closes March 7th … […]

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