The Attic Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Sunday 2nd April 2023
When Viola washes up from a shipwreck, she believes her twin brother to have perished and so she dons male clothing and finds work running errands for the local duke. Director John Robert Partridge gives his Illyria and Oirish setting, bejabbers, a world of greenery and pub furniture. For the most part, it works very well, with the vocal cadences suiting the text. Some cast members handle the accent and the verse better than others but on the whole this is a clear and accessible version of Shakespeare’s most bittersweet rom-com.
Partridge casts himself in the role of Sir Toby Belch, resplendent in an emerald green suit and ruddy face. Belch’s drunken excesses never seem forced or false; it must have been great fun researching for the role. Partridge also surrounds himself with a fine ensemble of character actors, among them Freya Cooper’s feisty and heartfelt Viola, Sarah Feltham’s brassy Maria, and Ciara Lane’s wildly passionate Olivia (or should that be O’Livia?). While Olivia indulges in prolonged mourning for her late brother, her would-be suitor Orsino indulges in soppiness – Joshua Chandos is in good form as the lovestruck duke, and shares a lovely scene and a portion of chips with the disguised Viola when their bonding goes beyond mateship. Dominic Selvey is opportunistically bisexual as Viola’s brother Sebastian. Selvey makes the character likable and not merely selfish, and you get the idea that he would stay with Antonio (Wilson McDowell) if Olivia doesn’t hand herself to him on a plate. Come to think of it, there’s a lot of repressed bisexuality going on in this play. Perhaps old Will was going through a phase.
Lucas Albion’s Feste, presented here as a busker, is charming and funny with a twinkle in his eye, his guitar-playing adding emotional depth to comic scenes. Edward Manning’s Malvolio is wonderfully pompous and beautifully well-spoken. We enjoy seeing his comeuppance but we also feel for him, such is the power of Manning’s portrayal and the genius of Shakespeare’s writing.
Yes, it’s a fine cast indeed but for me, man of the match is Daniel Grooms, who treats us to a superbly comic characterisation of upper class twit Sir Andrew Aguecheek. No detail escapes him, and there is splendid physical comedy to accompany the portrayal. An absolute delight. Special mention, too, of the versatile Sean MacGregor as Fabian the bartender and other roles, an object lesson in how to have great stage presence no matter the size of the part.
The comedy is well-handled: the raucous late-night drinking, the cowardly confrontation, and the sheer silliness of the box-tree scene where Toby et al spy on Malvolio in the garden is marvellously realised. And the climactic reunion of the twins delivers the emotional kick in the feels I expect. There are a few details I’d quibble with but on the whole this is a marvellous production, hilarious and touching in all the right places.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Cheers! Sir Toby and Sir Andrew (John-Robert Partridge and Daniel Grooms) Phoro: Andrew Maguire Photography