Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 22nd November, 2015
There is much to admire and enjoy in Colin Judges’s modern-day production with a distinct Mediterranean vibe. The set denotes grandeur and climate: a sturdy gated backdrop of stone walls abuts onto a patio of decorative flagstones on which the drama will be played out. A band of musicians in casual beach-bar wear warms us up with some sweet and melodious music by Sheila Amman, which is both of the moment and has hints of Tudor tunes. The costumes (by Stewart Snape) are colourful and in keeping with the setting. Adam Lovelock’s sound design is especially effective at depicting different locations and Pete Laver’s lighting sets both mood and time and day beautifully. There is an artistic integrity to the production that works very well, including why men in this day and age are walking around tooled up with swords!
Sadly, Jordan Chilvers’s does not convince as the lovesick Orsino, needing to highlight his mood swings a touch more. Similarly, Rachel Cooper’s thoughtful but rather passive Viola could do with a bit more swagger when in Cesario guise, in order to knock Olivia out of her proposed seven years of mourning and headlong into distraction and infatuation.
As soon as Sir Toby Belch (Crescent stalwart Les Stringer) comes on, the energy levels rocket and the show recovers from its languid start to become a highly enjoyable event. Stringer brings detail and nuance to Sir Toby, as well as delivering the broader aspects of this hedonistic old sot. As Sir Toby’s sidekick and drinking buddy, Paul Brotherton almost steals the show with his consistently hilarious characterisation. His Sir Andrew Aguecheek is camper than Christmas but is served up with a good deal of inner truth and tenderness. It’s a fabulous and endearing creation.
Elli Holden makes for a coolly calculating Olivia, who wears her status as lady of the house as easily as her veil. Sophie Gray is good fun as a cheekily calculating and spirited Maria, while Hugh Blackwood’s monumental Malvolio is an absolute hoot. Lugubrious and measured at first, his manic episodes later on are all the more of a contrast – and yet he manages to make us love him, well before the end when his abuse is brought to light. A joy.
I have a particular fondness for Feste the fool, here appealingly played by Mark Payne, lively and witty and warm, with a pleasant singing voice to boot. Director Colin Judge hits most of the high spots, wringing out the comedy of set pieces like the late-night boozed-up sing-song, and the letter scene. Most of the cast deliver Shakespeare’s blank verse and prose with clarity and understanding, bringing out not only the humour but the melancholy of this ancient rom-com.
If you’re in Birmingham next week, give the Christmas markets a swerve and treat yourself to a night out at the Crescent. This Twelfth Night is a bittersweet confection well worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time.