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Sunday, December 16, 2018

An Arvo In The Theatre With The Bard!

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! 


Cathy Kennedy said...


I haven't been a to a play outside of a school auditorium. I remember when acting companies would travel around rural communities in West Virginia. It was a special treat for us to see budding actors/actresses entertain my very impressionable mind. I have no clue if any of these people went on to make it big in showbiz but it certainly was a lot of fun to watch. Sounds like you and your sister enjoyed a good performance. Have a very Merry Christmas!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks, Cashy! I am lucky, having always lived in the big city. When I was in my teens I used to go to the Australian ballet youth nights, where all the lead dancers were recently promoted out of the corps de ballet. Then they would be promoted again and we didn’t see them any more on those nights - many of them DID go on to become stars! Nothing wrong with amateur drama, either. There are some very good amateur companies and many professional actors perform in them in between paid gigs. I once saw a performance of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum that was better than the professional one I had seen, and the guy playing Jud Fry in an amateur Oklahoma! I saw was on his way to the professional stage(he was about to be an understudy in a tour of Porgy And Bess).

Brian Joseph said...

I love Twelfth Night. I have seen it several times live myself and I do not think that I have seen a bad production. I like the way that you ran through the characters. You mentioned some things that I never realized and that I will watch out for when I read it or see it again.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Glad I was able to mention some things you hadn’t thought of, Brian! A delightful play! I bet you haven’t seen it in a different language, though. I once saw it in Hebrew, in the Habimah theatre in Tel Aviv. Before the show, I got a cuppa and sat outside in Tel Aviv’s Main Street, Duzengoff, to refresh my memory of the play. A passing Israeli, who must have known some English, saw me and stopped to chat about it in Hebrew. It was in modern dress, as I recall, and Feste did a one man band thing. Olivia was playing tennis in her first scene, wearing a black tennis drss(mourning).