Review: Twelfth Night – National ***

Peter Hall celebrates his 80th birthday with a return to the theatre he used to run, so it is fitting that his Twelfth Night is a reflective affair. In fact it is so reflective if it were a record it would be turning at least 4 speeds too slow. For whilst this is an undoubtedly elegant production, you leave with the sneaking suspicion that Twelfth Night should be lighter of foot than this.

It is a visual feast however with the modern setting clashing beautifully with the strict period dress that the poised cast wear it with graceful aplomb. And calm it may be but it isn’t dull, seeped as it is in the wealth of knowledge and experience that Hall’s ‘friends and family’ cast bring to the text.

It is the work of an old giant of theatrical history, performed with reverence by an estimable cast.

Shakespeare enthusiast Simon Callow as Sir Toby Belch is surely the male star turn here (the female being of course a doe eyed, silken Rebecca Hall) but it is the lesser known Charles Edwards as a delightfully cheeky Sir Andrew Aguecheek who steals their mischievous scenes. Simon Paisley Day is a wonderfully wounded Malvolio whose torment reaches a genuinely disturbing climax and David Ryall makes a gently charismatic Feste, singing us out with heart rendering delicacy.

In keeping with Hall’s great age this feels a very wise production and the storytelling is faultless. It is the work of an old giant of theatrical history, performed with reverence by an estimable cast. But where is the raucous celebration? Parties in the Hall household clearly take a much more sedate form. Although this refined experience is enjoyable, sometimes you need to let your hair down and one can’t help but think that Shakespeare’s celebratory play is one of those times.

*** (3 stars)
Runs until March 2nd
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1 Comment

  1. I had no problems with the traditional production but that leaves the actors completely exposed. Simon Callow great but over the top. The “fool” lacked in energy and with some of the best songs from Shakespere. Unfortunately, Viola lacked any charisma or sensuality which was vital to the plot. Malvolio OK. I enjoyed the production but it was slow on timing and a bit dull. If you are going to go minimal, you better make sure your actors are firing on all cylinders!

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