I had not been to Stratford Upon Avon to watch a Shakespeare play for over ten years, so I was simply `blown away` when I recently visited the new Theatre to watch, what is considered by many to be the Bards most musical play, Twelfth Night, an hilarious yet heart – breaking comedy of unrequited love, cross – dressing, mistaken identity, musical interludes and enthusiastic speeches!
If music be the food of love, play on.
(Orsino, Act 1 Scene 1)
The original Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, which opened in 1879, was partially destroyed by fire in 1926 and after several years of fundraising, a new Memorial Theatre was built in 1932. It was this theatre, designed by Elisabeth Scott, that I had last visited on several occasions.
At the beginning of the 21st century it was decided that the old Memorial Theatre was no longer `fit for purpose`, so the theatre was demolished and a three – year building plan began, during 2007-2010. The Royal Shakespeare Company left the Barbican to make Stratford Upon Avon their permanent home and The Courtyard Theatre opened as a temporary 1,000-seat theatre. With much celebration, The Queen officially opened the new 1,018-seat Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 2011.
Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.
(Feste, Act 1 Scene 5)
Situated on Waterside, nestled alongside the beautiful River Avon, the Grade II listed building still retains many original art deco features of the 1932 Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. The main theatre is stunning; a main thrust – stage envelopes the stalls and a steep, almost vertical wall of circle seats, completes a spectacular looking auditorium.
This performance of Twelfth Night is set in the 1890`s, when the Dukedom of Illyria becomes Victorian London, the stage sets are impressive and opulent, reminiscent of the excesses and lavish extravagance of the Raj. The sometimes confusing plot, concerns a pair of separated identical twins, whose lives become caught in a tangled web of courtship, romance and calamitous episodes, before the story unfolds to a satisfying conclusion through a series of comic twists and turns.
One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons,
A natural perspective that is and is not!
(Orsino, Act 5 Scene 1)
The not so identical twins, Viola (Dinita Gohil) and Sebastian (Esh Alladi) are Indians in a Victorian landscape flitting from house to house, town to country and occasionally down to the railway station, complete with Underground map and a pointed reference to finding lodgings at the Elephant (& Castle?)
Quickly absorbed, establishing which character was associated with who, I almost missed the appearance of one Adrian Edmondson, making his RSC debut as Malvolio, Olivia`s arrogant, snobbish, sneering and puritanical steward. I never got to grips with his portrayal as the outrageous forehead-studded punk Vyvyan in The Young Ones alongside his long-term comedy partner Rik Mayall but I loved his appearances in Blackadder and The Comic Strip.
He arrived on stage looking every bit the twin brother of Abraham Lincoln, complete with starched black suit and long black beard. Never smiling, always poker faced, Edmondson got better and better as the play progressed.
After being tricked into believing his mistress the Countess Olivia has feelings for him, we get to see the comic genius that Edmondson is. When he first reappears peering behind a door, having slipped into yellow stockings, green and yellow velvet jacket and cap, we are then treated to a frenzied, hysteric and highly amusing performance of Malvolio singing and playing a mandolin badly, encouraged by the applause and cheering of an appreciative audience.
Meanwhile, unknown to him, the whole of the household staff stand watching from behind a doorway, shocked and amused at his uncharacteristic and crazy behaviour.
Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?
(Sir Toby, Act 2, Scene 3)
The coupling of the tall, untidy and flatulent Sir Toby Belch (John Hodgkinson) with the small, skinny and frail Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Michael Cochrane) who was also making his RSC debut at the age of just 70, was a huge success. The two actors were perfectly suited for one of Shakespeare`s best comic double acts.
It took me a long time to return to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre but based on this performance I shall be returning very soon to enjoy and be entertained by a hugely talent group of actors and musicians.
Twelfth Night is an enjoyable and entertaining experience, one that can be enjoyed by all, whether you love Shakespeare or not, it is a brilliant comedy with original musical compositions and it will make you laugh a lot!
I would recommend you check it out.
Twelfth Night runs at the Royal Shakespeare theatre until 24 February 2018.
There will be a one-off Valentine’s Day screening of the production across UK cinemas on Wednesday 14 February.
Royal Shakespeare Company
Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Box Office call 01789 403493
As someone who was never turned onto Shakespeare through school, I have to say this was a magnificent performance.
Ade Edmondson, Kara Tointon and Michael Cochrane were fabulous.