Review of Twelfth Night at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London

How much silliness there is in the Christmas and New Year season. Why, Shakespeare himself gives us in the timely ‘Tweflth Night’ (that is, Epiphany or 6th January to us) the fat, farting Sir Toby Belch and the foppish fool, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. In between their antics we are entertained by the muddled romances of twins Viola and Sebastian, who each believe the other dead in a shipwreck. Viola disguises herself as a man in order to serve a certain Duke Orsino; she apparently looks so much like her brother in this guise that no one can tell them apart. Hmm.

But it’s no use applying modern genetic logic to the Bard’s comedies. Even when we are sure of the outcome, it’s always fun to watch Viola – here played by the pleasingly androgynous Nancy Carroll – fall in love with the Duke, only to be sent by him as a messenger to woo the countess Olivia. The exquisite pain of it all!

But all poignancy is counterbalanced by the mirth of mistaken identity. Olivia promptly falls in love with Viola (how odd) and will be doomed to disappointment unless – could it possibly be? – her twin brother turns up and accedes, all bemused, to her desire to marry him.

This RSC production is headlined, at least in the minds of a local audience, by TV star Richard Wilson, cast as the countess’s steward. This is a man full of pomp and ceremony, so that he inevitably falls prey to a wicked practical joke played by Belch and Aguecheek. Persuaded by a fraudulent letter that Olivia secretly loves and admires only him, he adorns himself with cross gartered yellow stockings (as per her supposed tastes in fashion) and fantasises aloud about his future role as consort instead of servant. The two pranksters, meanwhile, hide in the Cubist-styled foliage of a tree to listen and laugh, their heads popping out like so many tourists posing behind comic beachside boards.

This is quite funny, although it has to be said that Wilson, notwithstanding his cut glass accent, lacks the required diction for Shakespearean verse-speaking, so that you have to strain to understand him.

The rest of the cast are, as you might expect, excellent. The erotic frisson between Nancy Carroll and Jo Stone- Fewings as the Duke sustains us throughout with its titillating prospect of hopeless love which will somehow bear fruit, while Alexandra Gilbreath as Olivia is both pretty and pretty determined to have her man. How modern: we love her.

There is live music, merriment and even sword fighting to point up the Bard’s rapier wit. Enjoy.

SUE WEBSTER. Courtesy of This Is London.

Book tickets to see Twelfth Night att he Duke of York’s Theatre in London