LEO PARKER REES finds himself washed up on a shore of mediocrity. Pleasingly, his brother was there too.
Howard Theatre, 7.30pm, 6th – 9th October, £5/£7
Directed by Chloe Mashiter
A shaky few opening scenes, following a late start (admittedly, this did give my stupid plus one time to arrive), made for a disappointing beginning to a production that has had a tour of Japan to hone itself. And Twelfth Night wasn’t honed.
Lines were delivered clumsily and were frequently accompanied by some of the most awkwardly semaphorical hand gestures ever to have caused distraction in theatre – particularly noticeable in Max Levine’s Orsino, but common enough to seem almost like a deliberate, weirdly misjudged, directorial decision. The cast’s overall energy seemed low, and aside from a great performance from Sam Sloman (whose Feste was as funny as I’ve ever seen a man with a ukulele be) things didn’t look promising.
The evening was brought to life, however, with the entrance of Sir Toby Belch, played with a wonderful campness by Andrew Brock. Like a Disney Uncle Monty, he (like Feste) showed a great combination of acting talent and demonstrated the production’s overall directorial creativity.
Joshua Stamp-Simon’s Andrew Aguecheek, while less originally imagined, was brilliantly performed, and their scenes together were consistently entertaining. My only criticism would be that Sir Toby in particular seemed to lack a character arc. The only noticeable change in his drunkenness was that signposted by a costume change, and by the end of the play his character hadn’t progressed to anything new. Brock gave the impression of a man who had stolen the show on better nights, and his ability was obvious, but I suspect that the repetitive nature of the Japan tour may have led to him losing some of the complexity that the character should involve.
Genevieve Gaunt deserves special mention for a very impressive performance as Olivia. She brought out the humour of the role, and her status was clear in a way that Orsino’s sadly was not. The pair were a microcosm of the evening as a whole; a classic ‘mixed bag’, but one where the acting pros more than made up for the various cons.
The set somehow managed, in spite of its sparseness, to become a clumsy intrusion, but the cast worked well together, their energy improving as the show went on. The brightness of the stage was unfortunate, slightly detracting from the overall aesthetic, but the 40’s style was nonetheless effective, and the song-changes well-judged.
Malvolio, it must be said, made fairly little impression. For a character so full of potential he seemed a little flat, and while Danny Rhodes’ performance was solid, he was never captivating in the way that he could have been. With Sir Toby and Feste so interestingly interpreted, it is perhaps a little disappointing that the same creativity was not so apparent in the steward. Both his finding the letter and later imprisonment were pretty prosaic, but this wasn’t much of a problem for the show.
Not every decision needs to be ground-breaking, and not every character needs to be show-stealing, for a play to entertain. Enough had been done by cast and director both to ensure that this was a good performance, from a group I’m sure did us proud in Japan. Go and see it while you can, it’s for charity and everything.