Review – Twelfth Night, Cottesloe Theatre

Monday 17 January 2011

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…


15 Responses to “Review – Twelfth Night, Cottesloe Theatre”

  1. A Clown Says:

    You can rest assured that it is still far from brilliantly snappy! We even had a number of walkouts at the interval on Saturday. Such a disappointingly lifeless production with very little to recommend it in the end, not that that will stop it getting 4 star reviews across the board (with maybe one 3 star, I have a fiver riding on this)

  2. webcowgirl Says:

    I figured one 12th Night every 5 years is about right and I’m thinking that doubling up on puppet shows and investing in a full February at Sadler’s Wells was probably the right choice here …

  3. pb Says:

    I really don’t understand why everyone was getting so excited about this. Peter Hall is perfectly decent, but it’s a much less interesting prospect than pretty much all of the major Shakespeare productions in London over the last twelve months.

    • liana Says:

      Yes lifeless is the key word here. Never could imagine that all these disguise games – a girl dresses as a boy to get close to her fantasy man but seduces the woman he loves- could appear so boring and prude. Dont cut any word of this play M Hall but at least read them ! and read also between the lines……

  4. beach bunny Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. My further problem with this production was that a very erotic, sensual play had been visually sanitised. By all means, Mr.Hall, cast your own daughter, but don’t go on to make the audience put on ‘virgin glasses’ before they enter the auditorium…

  5. Rev Stan Says:

    Completely agree it was dull and flat and I’m almost starting to think my three stars was generous. It’s already become a benchmark against which other plays are judged coining the phrase: ‘certainly no Twelfth Night’.

  6. Mrs _Gaskett Says:

    My own verdict on seeing it last week was 3***. It was too long, it needed abit of sparkle. Made me decide to stick to the tragedies in future.

  7. Lita Says:

    Love this show! First time twelfth night made any sense to me. Bravo! Three cheers for diction so clear that the jokes worked a treat.

  8. The Omnivore Says:

    […] Hall’s production of TWELFTH NIGHT has been slightly geriatric.  Bevvy-loving luvvies, the West End Whingers were not convinced: Shakespeare‘s daffy tale of mistaken identity and cross-dressing takes an […]

  9. Ann Says:

    I love Twelfth Night, one of my favs and was so looking forward to this one. Sadly, I agree with everyone on this one. It is a very elegiac production without making any concessions re the comedic bits at all…of if he does, it’s way over the top. And poor Rebecca Hall, who did stand around ‘like patience on a monument’ with her arms at her sides! To life from something else: ‘send in the clowns, there ought to be clowns’…but sadly, they’re not here.

  10. A former Cesario Says:

    As someone who has once been Viola/Cesario, I have a tremendous love for, and attachment to this play and have seen numerous productions. I totally agree that this one was, in the main, sadly pedestrian. Apart from Sir Andrew (the best Sir Andrew I’ve ever seen) and Maria, nobody else seemed to have any *life* in them at all.

    There did not seem to have been any attempt made to convey any attraction between Orsino & Cesario. That spark of attraction needs to be at least hinted at from the very beginning and we need to see that grow (and see it being inwardly fought against by both of them) as the scenes develop.

    Some of the newspaper reviews I have read have praised the verse-speaking. This is just my view, but I think it is actually the *poor* delivery of the text which is one of the main reasons why this production seems so slow and lack-lustre. Time and again, I was astonished at the mid-line and end-line pauses that were made. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but those beautiful words have a cadence to them and really should come out “trippingly on the tongue”, cascading like a sparkling stream, not stop-and-start as if there is a blockage in the pipes. To me, that felt the same as seeing someone scribbling over a painting by Monet.

    Perhaps the cast were directed to deliver in this way to convey that they were conceiving the thoughts for the first time. That is all well and good if done sparingly and not all the time – but such long gaps are not necessary, especially when they spoil the natural, beautiful rhythm of the text.

    By contrast, Rory Kinnear did this magnificently in “Hamlet” at the National.

    I think I’d better stop now….. 🙂

  11. maggiemobbs Says:

    Yep! well I was already predisappointed (sic) cos of the critics reviews – how I hate them to be right – so thought well you booked so long ago you won’t even miss the dosh and perhaps they’ve heeded the reviews and perked it before you go! Went Tuesday evening and from the get go could see it was a lack lustre, starck production, with the only light coming from what the Clown described as a golden retriever, namely the actor who played Andrew Aguecheek. He was brilliant and reminded me why I thought I liked this play…having seen a Marvellous Malvolio years back played by Sir Don Sinden, I was unmoved by this one. Simon Callow always gives good value with a flawless rendition of the Bard, but I fear for him going the way of 4 Weddings & a……….so rubicond was his head and neck at times! The Duke kept reminding me of his portrayal of Guy de Lusigan in Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven and Sir Pete’s dear daughter, who I love on screen, just didn’t do the Shakespeare well, although I remember thinking she was good as Hermione in The Winter’s Tale at The Old Vic’s Bridge project. But then she did spend most of her stage time standing on a plinth with her lovely back to the audience! I haven’t even started on the stage settings and the lighting…I liked the musicians who I sat next to, albeit through a black curtain…they looked and sounded the part at least!

  12. Simone Says:

    I thought you guys didnt like Shakespeare, what brought this on?

  13. ja Says:

    The ring got stuck under Malvolio’s feet last night. What a dull production, the diction seemed like the chiming of an 8 day clockwork clock on seventh night. Like Maggie above, got my ticket last autumn, forgot I had paid £32 for it! Left at interval.

  14. Hedgie Says:

    It may be very bigoted of me, but I’ve avoided anything by Peter Hall since I caught his Lear at the NT about 25 years ago.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: