Monday, 16 January 2017
Twelfth Night, ASC, Dec 2016 to March 4 2017 ****
By William Shakespeare, by Australian Shakespeare Company
Botanical Gardens Melbourne, Observatory Gate, until March 4, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun after Jan 13 2017 & in print (& online thereafter.) KH
It’s difficult to beat a picnic under the stars on a balmy night in the Botanical Gardens while watching a lively and colourful production of one of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies.
For this summer season, Glenn Elston directs a vivacious cast in a cheeky version of Twelfth Night on an outdoor stage, with plenty of family-friendly slapstick, live music, Shakespearean song and a touch of philosophy, all set during the twelve days of the traditional Christmas period.
All the elements of Shakespeare’s play are present: mistaken identities, cross-dressing, practical jokes, wicked humour, interrupted romance and happy endings.
However, Elston takes some licence with Shakespeare’s dialogue and characters, peppering the show with topical gags, swapping the gender of two characters and opening the play with a merry, rewritten festive song that starts, ‘On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me – a shipwreck on the high seas.’
After the aforementioned wreck separates Viola (Elizabeth Brennan) from her twin brother, Sebastian (James Coley), she disguises herself as Cesario, boy-servant to Duke Orsino (Charlie Sturgeon). Viola then falls in love with Orsino who adores the grieving Countess Olivia (Syd Zigier) who, in turn, falls head over heels for Cesario, the boy-girl. Get it?
The real hilarity in this production comes from the madcap antics of Kevin Hopkins as the boozing, partying, wild-haired Sir Toby Belch, and the dotty Anthony Rive as his foppish, idiotic but moneyed comrade in drunken debauchery, Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
Their clownish routine that includes ducking and diving (literally, in Rive’s case) and bobbing up and down like sideshow clown-heads, is a fine example of classic physical comedy, and Claire Nicholls as feisty Maria, and Louisa Fitzhardinge as Fabian, complete the comic quartet.
A show highlight is Mark Dickinson as Feste, Olivia’s jester, who comments on the chaotic, comic action and love triangles with glib and witty jests, riddles and songs (music by Paul Norton).
Dickinson captures Feste’s wry, melancholy wisdom and, with his rich voice, fine guitar playing and compelling presence, delivers Shakespeare’s famous songs that include a country music influenced version of O Mistress Mine and the romantic lament, Feste’s Song (‘With a hey, ho, the wind and the rain’).
Hugh Sexton is suitably pompous, sneering and posturing as Olivia’s ambitious steward, Malvolio, who is the butt of a cruel practical joke by Maria, Sir Toby and their cronies.
Elston’s effervescent, outdoor production contains all the requisite romantic and comic chaos, musical diversions, celebratory drunkenness, mischievous humour and outrageous revelry expected of the festive season – and you get to eat snacks and sip wine!
By Kate Herbert
Elizabeth Brennan - Viola
Hugh Sexton - Malvolio
Claire Nicholls - Maria
Syd Zigier - Olivia
Charlie Sturgeon -Duke Orsino
Mark Dickinson- Feste
Kevin Hopkins - Sir Toby Belch
Si Andrew Aguecheek - Anthony Rive
James Coley Sebastian (twin)
Louisa Fitzhardinge - Fabian
Bryony Hindley - Antonia (sailor was Antonio)