Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Theatre: Twelfth Night

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Paige Newmark
Designed by Jake Newby and Ingrid Proos
Featuring Nick Candy, James Hagan, Stephen Lee, David Davies, George Allen, Hannah Day, Gracie Gilbert, Andrew Kocsis, Nick Maclaine and Angelique Malcolm
King’s Park
Until February 1

King’s Park on a starlit January night, in the still hours between the sea breeze and the easterly. So motionless the leaves hang helpless like sleeping bats and even our bloodthirsty mossies seem to swoon, drunk, like us, on the perfume of gums.
If Shakespeare ever wrote a play for this time and place, it’s Twelfth Night. Not as free as A Midsummer Night’s Dream or as perfect as As You Like It, perhaps, but funnier than both of them.

Like those other great comedies, it’s an outdoor play, set on terraces and in gardens, perfect under an open sky between curious trees.
(So unlike Romeo and Juliet, that most indoor and claustrophobic of stories, which was marooned in the park in Shakespeare WA’s awful staging a few years back.)
Twelfth Night is also a play of revels, suggested by both its title – the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany that riotously ended the Elizabethan Christmas season – and its subtitle, What You Will, an open invitation to licence and ambiguity.
It’s more than a party piece, though, because of its scintillating and exquisite language, its music and its memorable characters.
For scholars like Harold Bloom, it “expands upon any rereading, or even in a less than brilliant performance”, and this production proved it.
Jake Newby’s set, a precarious concoction of dusty old suitcases, has no point of reference to either the text or director Paige Newmark’s wafer-thin jazz-age setting. Newby is a heroic figure in the honourable smell-of-an-oily-rag tradition of Perth theatre, and I can only guess he came across all these conveyances abandoned somewhere and let economic necessity be the mother of his considerable invention.
Once James Hagan, as the wonderful clown, Feste, arrived on Newby’s set in a well-past-it tux and crimson cheeks, you had to wonder whether you’d stumbled into a production of Beckett in the Park.
Hagan, whose performance is the best thing here, does quite a bit of singing – often from the Great American Songbook – in his decidedly approximate comic baritone. The play’s motley gang, Sir Toby Belch (Stephen Lee, complete with a profoundly off-putting leather turtle shell for a gut), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (David Davies) and Maria (Angelique Malcolm) cook up their sadistic plot against the deluded Malvolio (not a bad tilt at the part by Nick Candy) with more energy than easy humour.
Nick Maclaine is handsome as Orsino; Hannah Day has good moments as the erratic Olivia, as does Gracie Gilbert as Viola, but none of them really commands their character’s psychology.
Despite this production’s shortcomings, Bloom was right. Whether it was the glory of Shakespeare’s words, or the glory of a still summer evening in the park, I found myself in no hurry for this Night to end.

This review appeared in The West Australian 13.1.14  

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