Article Title:Stage: Gender bending Twelfth Night, updated
Author or Credit:John Curry
Published on:18th July 2006 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:1343
Text:Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare Directed by Michael Hurst Auckland Theatre Company Maidment Theatre until mid August If you'd like a winter break at a sunny beach crowded with fun people, Twelfth Night at the Maidment is the place to go. Michael Hurst has taken the pruning shears to the vintage comedy, cutting it down to a sleek two hours and making it something of a botrytis production - that is, it's a heady, flavourful treat! After losing her twin brother Sebastian in a shipwreck, Viola dresses up like him and sets off to find him. As 'Sebastian' she gets a job as go-between to the Count Orsino. He sends him/her off to woo the Countess Olivia on his behalf and bingo! Olivia falls in love with Sebastian. Of course, the real Sebastian turns up and this classic comedy of mistaken identity/gender confusion can seem rather predictable... But not here, not with this crowd of crazies. If Tandi Wright hasn't yet found Viola's playful side, she certainly gives us the frustration, the desperation and the sheer spunkiness of the girl. With a fawnlike, Audrey Hepburn-style appearence it's not difficult to believe everyone falls in love with her/him, and her expression while she's listening to Orsino doesn't need words by Mr Shakespeare or anyone else to tell us what she's feeling. It's a heart-stoppingly romantic moment. As Orsino, Andrew Laing breathes life into this usually pompous cardboard cut-out, and for once these two rather serious people who both love talking elaborately about love seem meant for each other. Mr Hurst has updated the production to somewhere in the fifties and this benefits Olivia in particular. Jennifer Ward-Lealand plays her as a fading glamour star cum socialite, and my how that girl can point a line! And, unlike Mr Oliver Driver's, it's all Shakespeare! Nor does she hold back when it's time to tell Sebastian/Viola she loves him! It's a delicious moment (and I think really shocked some of the audience!), topped only by her stalking of the real Sebastian later on in the play. I wasn't always convinced by Mr Driver's modern-day asides but was he or was he not born to play Feste (the jester for those who came in late)! Crooning his songs into one of those huge microphones, in a lounge-lizard jacket to die for, he makes this rather archaic figure completely comprehensible. 'Come away death' is a spellbinder (molto bouquets to Jason Smith, the muso involved), while playing the priest as a revivalist preacher works a treat. (And keep your eyes peeled for the moment Feste gets rid of Malvolio's head. It's a genuine show-stopper.) And as for Malvolio! In a Three Stooges hairdo and somewhat like a rellie of those counter-jumpers from Grace Bros, Paul Barrett makes Malvolio even more of a star turn than usual. Not that there's anything selfish about Mr Barrett's performance, it's just that he (and presumably Mr Hurst) breathe such new life into this rightfully famous character. If the notorious cross-gartering has crept somewhat up Mr Barrett's hilarious body past the legs, oh, what a joy it is to see an actor shall we say expose himself so hugely. Or not so hugely... And there's such satisfying support from George Henare as Sir Toby Belch, Peter McCauley as Andrew Aguecheek and Jacque Drew as a sort of Carol Burnett-style Maria. Paolo Rotondo is a likeable Sebastian (with a genuine Mediterranean accent even!) and Charlie McDermott has some movingly sincere and passionate moments as Antonio, reminding us that beneath all the laughter it's love that makes this world go round. And lastly a word about the true star of the show - David Eversfield's rapturous and myriad-hued lighting. Mr Eversfield paints John Verryt's eye-popping Cinemascope beach and seascape with every effect in the book, from the tasteful to the out and out lurid. What a trip! Don't miss it. John Curry - 18th July 2006    
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