Twelfth Night (The Courtyard Theatre, w/c 9th November 2009)

Twelfth Night at the Courtyard
The Courtyard before a performance of Twelfth Night. 'For the rain it raineth everyday'.


Outside in the town of Stratford it was raining every day.  Inside, the Courtyard Theatre, there is a promise of sunshine as the sun streams through the doors and windows across a dimmed stage and auditorium.  The play will commence in the dusky light of the moment when the day begins to turn to night and will oscillate through dark and light.   The  audience will be taken through moods of light and shade. 

When we enter the auditorium we are faced with  golden colours – reds, oranges and browns which are contrasted with the beautiful pastel yellow, peach and pink roses in  colours.  High above the worn wall, the blue sky has a splattering of clouds.  Two columns rise at the side of the stage, one broken and another an ionic column.  Slightly menacingly, there is a window high up is grilled as if we might be looking up at a prison window.  This is somewhere exotic, somewhere that is strating to crumble.  Possibly Turkey say some of the reviews.

Musicians come onto the stage for the pre-show and play enchanting music, and strangely, a wave breaks at the back of the stage and we know we are in Illyria.  Between the moments when we visit Orsino’s court for the first time and meet the shipwrecked Viola,  a dumb show is performed as Olivia, Maria, Malvolio and the priest, dressed in black, walk silently across the stage making us realise that death is a visitor in this play as well as the humour and the courtship games.

Greg Doran’s latest RSC production is a strong vibrant interpretation of the text.  Miltos Yerolemou is a marvellous Feste able to move between the two houses and making his living as a ‘corrupter of words’, and this is why he is so hurt, and so desperately pained by Malvolio’s ‘barren rascal’ comment and so shocked clearly put down.  Yerolemou is able to perform one of the most engaging pre shows I’ve seen as the audience return from the interval.  In getting the whole house clapping he lifts the mood and we  move straight into the sparring between the Fool and Viola.   There is another wonderful moment when Feste is able to dim the house lights with a click of his fingers.  In this scene outside the church, we are reminded that both Feste and Viola are both not what they seem and are able to interact with the audience in this way, as if we are now implicated in their different disguises.

Richard McCabe was a totally inebriated Sir Toby Belch, and his only real sober moment is the realisation that the trick on Malvolio has gone too far.  I felt that I became more unsympathetic to him as the play developed, especially as the maliciousness of the character, as well as the comedy, came over in McCabe’s performance.  Sir Toby was very clear to show his dislike of Sir Andrew and this was evident from their entrance, as he pulled faces and gestured behind Sir Andrew’s back.  Even, Maria can’t be in his company at the end of the play.   James Fleet was very funny as Sir Andrew. He was both pompous and sad at the same time, and unaware of his own self mockery.  He is pompous because he happily joined in with the disruption and sad because he was being gulled by Sir Toby and we knew he would never marry Olivia.  The drinking scene is set in a laundry so the three men (Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Feste) manage to find many things to make a noise with.  The overhearing scene is also painfully funny and the box tree, like a balloon basket, is just wonderful.

The two leading women were just superb.  Nancy Carroll was an articulate intelligent Cesario.  She doesn’t overdo the masculinity, but the men who wait on Orsino are clearly jealous of her Cesario.  Alexandra Gilbreath played the comedy in Olivia’s role beautifully.  At one point Olivia was able to shriek at Sir Toby while at the same time turning back to woo Cesario, and we are now watching a woman no longer grieving for her brother, but now sexually aware and in love.  Pamela Nomvete as Maria was also really good managing to get such a lovely balance between the light and dark moments she is involved in.

Richard Wilson was just how I thought he would be as Malvolio. He was really dry and he was funny.  I felt that this was a Malvolio who made me feel ill at ease.  When he wore his  yellow stockings, I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable.   Not because Richard Wilson didn’t portray this well, but I felt that this was one of his strength of his performance that the moments of silence and his physical presence were directed in such a way that they had an impact.  In the Sir Topaz scene he comes up through the trap, beautifully and ironically mirroring the moment that he enters Olivia’s laundry to put an end to the drinking scene.  As he was humiliated  by Sir Toby and co,  I felt the taunting of Malvolio made me uncomfortable as it is supposed to do, but I think this was particularly relevent due to Wilson’s performance. 

As soon as Orsino and Olivia meet they are battling with one and another and at one point, Orsino grabs a knife and threatens to kill Olivia.  This is not a funny moment, but one that is intended to make us realise that these two have never met and that all Orsino’s love was really being in the love with the idea of being in love.  His anger in his meeting with Olivia is actually shocking and unnerving

As it started, the play closes asking us consider the light and dark moments at the end of the play.  Why can Orsino can fall in love so easily with Cesario and mistakes Sebastian for her at the end of the play? The fool is locked out of the house, mirroring the moment Autolycus is locked out of this year’s RSC The Winter’s Tale.  He sings about the rain and I am thinking whether it is still raining outside.  The ones who lose in this play walk across the play.  Air Andrew has packed his bags.  Sir Toby and Maria have fallen out and we feel their’s will be a loveless marriage. Malvolio, mirroring the dumb show at the start, walks slowly across the stage, but this time he is alone, and as he leaves he turns to look at Feste.  It’s a poignant moment and ends the play really well.

The lights dim and yes it is pouring with rain outside the theatre.

Reviews and Previews

RSC Twelfth Night – Michael Billington review
Coventry Telegraph Preview of RSC Twelfth Night
The Stage / News / Wilson to star in RSC’s Twel…
Best of Theatre Autumn 2009 in The Times
RSC Twelfth Night in The Evening Standard
RSC Twelfth Night in The Independent
WOS Review of RSC Twelfth Night
Playbill News: Richard Wilson to Play Malvolio …
Telegraph on RSC Twelfth Night
The Stage / News / Wilson to star in RSC’s Twel…
The Stage review of Twelfth Night at Stratford
The Times review of Twelfth Night
Independent on Sunday RSC Twelfth Night
BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Wilson poised to mak…
Financial Times on the RSC Twelfth Night
Wilson Leads RSC Twelfth, Cooke Revives Arabian…

Peter Kirwin’s blog on RSC’s Twelfth Night

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