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Home arrow Archive: Earlier Fringes arrow Archive: Brighton 2012 arrow Twelfth Night or What You Will
Twelfth Night or What You Will
Published on Tuesday, 22 May 2012

4 stars

St Ann's Well Gardens
10-13, 16-18, 20, 23-27 May, 7:00pm-9:30pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 2-for-1 tickets for Friends of the Fringe members.

Twelfth Night!  Surely one of Shakespeare’s more improbable storylines, with its tale of shipwreck and gender confusion in faraway Illyria.  But Peta Taylor’s well-conceived adaptation moves the action closer to home – setting the tale in a no-less-mythical, misty-eyed version of Scotland.  It’s a world filled with tartan, tweeds and Whisky Galore; I was in love with the idea from the moment the minstrel struck up Loch Lomond, and the relocation proved every bit as inspired as I hoped it would be.

Together with director Nicholas Quirke, Taylor has conjured her vision perfectly, eschewing heavy-handed accents yet filling the play with subtle reminders that we’re not in Illyria any more.  The court jester’s a seafarer in sweater and wellies, and even the lairds and ladies dress with comparative modesty – the first among equals rather than a class apart.  The inspired milieu lends an earthy, rough-and-ready feel to the whole production, fitting for an outdoor performance on an improvised stage.  Maybe more surprisingly, it also proves an ideal match to Shakespeare’s romantic flights of fancy; when you think about it, it’s preposterous for a duchess to pursue a servant, but it seems entirely credible here.

It also offers comedic contrast for Simon Helyer’s Malvolio, the pompous and self-aggrandising steward who underpins much of the first acts’ wit.  There’s a little of Basil Fawlty around Helyer’s ramrod-backed, shrill-voiced persona, and he builds his role towards a satisfying dénouement centred on a fashion faux pas and misplaced affection for his lady.  I’m almost ashamed to admit how childishly I looked forward to seeing his yellow stockings – though in the event, I was somewhat distracted from the big reveal by a disorganised end to the interval.

If Helyer is John Cleese, then Doug Devaney is plainly Brian Blessed, delivering a booming and buffoonish interpretation of Sir Toby Belch.  If ever an actor was born for a role, Devaney was born for this one – and his comic misdeeds do much to hold the side-stories together.  Matt Carrington’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek is less of a caricature, and he fades into the background more than he should; a shame, since he could be the ideal foil to Devaney’s mischief.  Among the female leads, meanwhile, Joanna Rosenfeld has Olivia just right, very slightly sex-crazed and yet so terribly posh.  Her wide-eyed enthusiasm is a true delight, never more than when she practically rugby-tackles the hapless Cesario.

While we can’t blame the players for Shakespeare’s harebrained plot, the confusing final acts felt a little less successful to me – and if you’re not up to speed on this lesser-known of the Bard’s works, you may be glad of the comprehensive bluffer’s guide you’ll find inside the programme.  But, even if a few of the plot points get lost, there’s certainly no shortage of animated comic tableaux to enjoy.  What’s more, the play is filled with home-spun musical interludes (see if you can spot the sea-captain playing the drum with his pipe!), and every so often the cast break into song – much of it the rough chanting of the tavern, but some of it surprisingly tender.

It all adds up to a relaxing, comforting evening’s entertainment, true to Shakespeare’s script yet approachable enough for non-scholars to enjoy.  What it doesn’t quite have is that indefinable stamp of unmissability – those special moments of magic which leave you imploring your friends to see it, even in the pouring rain.  Happily though, that doesn’t matter: as I write, the forecast for Brighton’s set fair.  So bring your family, bring a picnic, and bring a sweater – ideally Fair Isle – for the evening chill.  The banks of Illyria are bonnie indeed.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.