Friday, 30 December 2005

Twelfth Night, Botanical Gardens, Dec 30, 2005

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
The Australian Shakespeare Company
 Botanical Gardens, Melbourne, Dec 30, 2005 to Feb 24, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Glenn Elston’s outdoor production of Shakespeare’s comic-romance, Twelfth Night, returns to the Botanical Gardens this year with some new cast and a different location.

Yet again, the Gardens provide a beautiful backdrop for the play that is set on the twelfth night after Christmas, the eve of Epiphany, January 5.

Twelfth Night is a raunchy Shakespeare play for those who avoid the wordier tragedies. Shakespeare’s script has a dark and sometimes vengeful edge to it that Elston omits from this entertaining summer production.

In the style of Shakespeare’s other comedies, the play incorporates mistaken identity, cross-dressing, separated identical twins, a lovelorn master, a grieving mistress and plenty of bawdy, naughty servants.

A peppering of modern colloquialisms, (OK) musical references and jokes makes it accessible to all.

Count Orsino (Hugh Sexton) pines and persists with his unrequited love for the unresponsive Lady Olivia (Shireen Morris) who grieves for her dead brother.

The twins, Viola (Gemma Bishop) and Sebastian (Tony Rive), are shipwrecked on the shores of Orsino’s court, both believing the other drowned.

 For some reason never specified, Viola dresses as Cesario, a boy, and takes a position as servant to Orsino. She becomes his confidante and conveyor of his love missives to Olivia who mistakenly falls in love with the boy-girl.

The dense poetic language is made comprehensible and fun for an audience unused to Shakespeare.

There is much marvellous clowning and bawdiness on the part of Brendan O’Connor as Sir Toby Belch, the drunken lord, with Adrian Dart as the foppish wimp, Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

This duo is a highlight of the production. Their goofy slapstick antics are hilarious when they secrete themselves to observe the effect of their practical joke upon Olivia’s pompous servant, Malvolio. (Ross Williams)

Williams, as Malvolio is suitably mordant and self-important, hilarious in his yellow stockings and sympathetic when incarcerated by the fools.

Morris has an exotic and regal quality as Olivia and Peter Hosking as Feste the grim jester, makes a strong MC for the show.

Gemma Bishop is competent as Viola, playing a girl dressed as a boy falling in love with a man. Terri Braban, as her servant Maria, is lively.

Phil Cameron-Smith’s great skill with language and powerful, understated stage presence brings great dignity to the small role of Antonio.

By Kate Herbert

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