Twelfth Night, Wyndham’s Theatre, 12th Jan 2009
Derek Jacobi’s mincing, malevolent Malvolio was a constant malign presence behind the wooden slats of the set. The bare wooden boards of the stage and dappled lighting gave the place a breezy, summery feel. It put one in the mood for light comedy. While there were plenty of jokes, mainly in the form of Guy Henry and Ron Cook’s superb Little’n’Large pairing as Andrew and Toby (respectively), Grandage’s production had a darker side. Jacobi got perhaps more laughs than he deserved through the audience’s sheer delight at seeing him in the flesh, but it was when he howled like a wounded animal, trapped beneath the suddenly dark and claustrophobic stage that he shone. Credit is due to the Lighting Designer that they managed to make such an airy space shrink to a depressing, tomb-like prison for the beleaguered Malvolio.
Indira Varma was a beautiful, aloof Olivia, whose transformation into a 50s beauty in bathing suit and giant hat, panting with lust for Victoria Hamilton’s luckless Viola, was perhaps a little fast to be believable. But then, this is Shakespeare, where girls disguise themselves boys, the drowned are miraculously saved, and no-one has a clue about realism, anyway. Victoria Hamilton’s metamorphosis from mermaid-like beauty, plucked from the sea, into the neat, boyish page who ingratiates himself into Orsino’s (Mark Bonnar) court was rather more convincing, although still rapid. She beautifully captured Viola’s plight, torn between the difficulty she would face as a lone women if revealed as such and he desperate love for Orsino. Who is, in turn, petulantly in love with Olivia. Sigh. There was a lot of sighing, which made Samantha Spiro’s feisty and witty Maria a breath of fresh air. Using her sexuality and spunk to get ahead in life, and orchestrate the humiliation of Malvolio, she seemed fair too sensible for love, marrying for money instead.
The play tripped along nicely, despite being another 3-hr RSC extravaganza. The plain set never got boring, with an inventive use of the many entrances and exits, and a simple wind-breaker transporting the action from Court to beach was a very nice touch. The music was nicely done, too, and although Zubin Varla’s Feste was unusually melancholy, his singing voice was gorgeous. I was caught up enough in this charming production that I was genuinely pleased that the right couples ended up paired at the end, but found Jacobi’s vows of vengeance lacking in weight. He had perhaps invested too much to being a pantomime villain, which meant that his threats could be easily brushed off by the ‘goodies’. This was good, solid theatre with some bum notes and some flashes of brilliance.