NT: Peter Hall, you’re 80th birthday is coming up and we wondered if you had any thoughts about a gift?
PH: I’d like to give you another Twelfth Night.
NT: We-ell, it’s traditional for the birthday boy to be the recipient really. Go on. We’ve had a whip-round. What would you like?
PH: Yes, Twelfth Night I think.
NT: How about a nice foot spa?
PH: My daughter can be Viola.
NT: *Sigh*. Oh, all right then.
PH: A nice, slow version I think.
NT: Both of our big auditoriums appear to be booked up. I’m afraid it will have to be the Cottesloe.
In which the Whingers ponder on the 80 year old Sir Peter Hall’s will.
The Whingers make no secret of the fact that they have more than a few birthdays between them and under their expanding belts. Phil, of course, has so many candles on his birthday cakes that he saves a fortune on his heating bills and like his hero Peter Stringfellow is intent on making a song and dance about sending back his winter fuel allowance.
Thankfully as there are only two Whingers there is little room for a Country File-style “social engineering” project and the Whingers do have a degree of sympathy for the newly octogenarianated Sir Peter Hall. The prolific director apparently started rehearsals for Twelfth Night on the big day itself. People in the theatre never really retire unless they have to, do they? The rest of us won’t be able to afford to. Who’d have thought theatricals were such trendsetters?
Anyway, Shakespeare‘s daffy tale of mistaken identity and cross-dressing takes an awful lot of swallowing. And it’s a bitter pill (that bullying sub-plot is quite ghastly). Only a spot of gavage can really get this one down the Whingers’ gullets. Michael Grandage managed to make some decent Whinger foie gras with his zippy production a couple of years ago at which we laughed. Out loud! For the right reasons! At at a Shakespeare “comedy”!
Could Peter Hall possibly do it again?
It’s difficult to say. For reasons too dull to outline here this was absolutely the first preview so we might put the sluggishness down to that. Nothing could have plodded more ploddingly than the first couple of scenes. Orsino’s opening speeches were delivered in such a langourously bizarre way by New Zealander Márton Csókás that it seemed he might be parodying a Great Shakesperean actor. Did he study under Edmund Kean? He made Brian Sewell’s mannered speech patterns seem normal. Why was he acting in the slow-lane?
It seemed contagious. Tony Haygarth‘s Sea Captain appeared to have caught a touch of Orsinoitis. His brief appearance seemed to go on forever. Would we ever get to downtown Illyria?
Well, yes, we did eventually as we reached the first “comedy” scene featuring Maria (Finty Williams – rather good), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Charles Edwards – enjoyably foppish) and Simon Callow giving his Belch. We weren’t laughing. And apart from a few titters in the audience it seemed few others were either. Thank God for Callow, presumably voice-coached by an uncredited Brian Blessed. Andrew, who was already suffering drooping eyelids, came to with a start. At least Callow is is loud and clear, he could take on the Roundhouse’s acoustics and win. In fact they could probably hear him from the Roundhouse anyway.
Things did pick up, but only by chance, thanks to a scene between Viola (Rebecca Hall) and Malvolio (Whinger favourite Simon Paisley Day) in which a ring thrown to the floor. It bounced off the stage and into the front row and got the biggest laugh of the evening, and a round of applause when a punter returned it to the stage. Full marks to SPD for keeping in character. A smile at this point would have ruined the inane grin he affects when he attempts to woo Olivia. How he must have struggled as he faced Hall who was corpsing away. What a pro.
The production is traditionally and attractively costumed in full Elizabethan garb (Anthony Ward is the designer) and if nothing else was, these seemed sparklingly fresh at this first performance, no sign of rings around these collars which were starchier and higher than anything Harry Hill’s ever sported. The musicians had been forced into period drag too. Yes, even the orchestra is beautiful.
That aside, there wasn’t much to look at. The set is fairly minimal and wasn’t much help in giving a real sense of location although Andrew liked the window ledge at the back of the stage with a line of small model houses on it. Phil didn’t. It reminded him of those little model houses you see in seaside gift shop windows or advertised in the back of You magazine.
That’s about all we can say. It was almost a week ago. Maybe it’s brilliantly snappy by now.
But Hall’s programme notes (from his foreword to the 1960 Folio Society edition of Twelfth Night) begin ominously: “It is impossible to cut a word of Twelfth Night.” Where there’s a will, Peter, where there’s a will…