On Saturday afternoon, I finished my year in theatre with a wonderful performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I went with my sister to the Melbourne Theatre Company’s Sumner Theatre, which I have to say I don’t like much, as the seats are cramped with only a few inches between you and the person in front. However, I soon forgot when the play started.
My sister admitted to being unfamiliar with this play, much to my surprise. It meant I couldn’t talk about the ending, for fear of spoilers. So we just sat down and enjoyed.
I have seen this play several times, including a Botanical Gardens production, plus the 1996 film with Toby Stephens as Orsino, Nigel Hawthorne(Yes, Minister) as Malvolio and several other big names.
So far, as a stage show, this is my favourite. The thing about Shakespeare’s comedies is that they always have several things going on, to confuse you, and then everything comes together in the last scene or two. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has two sets of young lovers, a royal wedding, a quarreling married couple(fairies), a bunch of tradies getting together to perform a very silly play for the royal wedding and finding themselves getting mixed up with the quarreling fairy couple... The Comedy Of Errors takes you all over Ephesus with two sets of twins being confused for each other, a missing mother, a father looking for his sons and being arrested... As You Like It has a lot of storylines and characters and a girl disguised as a boy, who would have been played by a boy who was playing as a girl disguised as a boy...
There is a set of twins in this play and a girl, one of the twins, disguised as a boy. I think the author forgets very quickly that Viola has decided to present herself at Orsino’s court as a eunuch! Anyway, there is a lot of running around for Viola, who has to woo Olivia for Orsino while being in love with him herself and finding herself having to escape Olivia, who has fallen in love with “Cesario”, her boy identity!
This production started with the funeral of Olivia’s brother, using that song from Cymbeline, the one with “golden lads and girls all must/As chimney sweepers come to dust.” It goes immediately to the shipwrecked Viola, mourning for her brother, then the scene with Orsino’s, “If music be the food of love, play on” speech.
I have to say, these actors were multi-talented. They could sing, they could play musical instruments. The role of Feste, the jester, was played by Colin Hay of the rock band Men At Work. Feste has to do a lot of songs - the play is the closest Shakespeare gets to musical comedy. But all of them had to sing at some stage, and some of the lesser roles were filled by musicians, who popped up from under the stage every other scene with a piano, guitars, tambourine, penny whistle(the show ended with a mass performance of “Hey, Ho, The Wind And The Rain”, in which even Malvolio(Russell Dykstra)got to join in, playing the kazoo!)
I hadn’t realised how hilarious Olivia could be till I saw Christie Whelan Brown playing the role, but the other women, Esther Hannaford(Viola) and Tamsin Carroll(Maria) were also very funny. And Lachlan Woods also had a lot of fun with the pompous, pretentious Orsino.
Even the originally minor character, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, was played by Frank Woodley, of the comedy team Lano and Woodley, and the director gave him plenty of hysterical business to perform.
Malvolio and Sir Toby Belch are plum roles for veterans and I was very pleased to see that old hand Richard Piper playing Sir Toby.
Sir Toby is basically the embarrassing old uncle who gets drunk at the family barbecue and gropes the female guests, and who is - let’s face it - a parasite, both on his niece and his friend Andrew, but he does have that wonderful line, “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” which is a great comeback to the wet blankets of this world.
And Richard Piper played it very well indeed!
Anyway, a wonderful afternoon in the theatre, and if you live in Melbourne it’s on till about January 9. If you don’t, and haven’t read or seen the play, please do!