Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s classic story of love, loss and mistaken identity is kept in fine form by the RSC, as it is transferred to a Victorian England setting while maintaining the bubbly, enjoyable tone of comedy along with an undeniably enthralling soundtrack.
The story follows Viola as she finds herself shipwrecked on an unknown land of Illyria (now Victorian England) while she is from Elysium which the play interprets as India. Playing on Queen Victoria’s love for having an Indian attendant as Viola finds herself stuck in the romance between the Count Orsino and the Duchess Olivia, disguised as a man in Orsino’s court she is sent to woo Olivia on his behalf. Meanwhile Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s Uncle torments her steward Malvolio for his attempts to deny the fun and games he and his cohorts are having. Twelfth Night is best broken down to these two storylines as one breeds the romance of the play, while the other creates the comedy. The show also does a great job of bringing up the sexuality of the play; it freely shows Orsino’s willingness to admire the male form as he is seen painting Curio in the nude in the opening moments, while later on he almost looks disappointed to realise Viola’s true gender. A number of the other characters have moments of more open sexuality including Feste and Sir Andrew.
The titular role of Viola goes to the relatively fresh face of Dinita Gohil , who puts in an amicable performance despite the incredibly cast surrounding her, meanwhile her twin is played by the equalled fresh faced Esh Alladi who does a superb job in the role of Sebastian as bumbles into the perfect outcome for himself. Nicolas Bishop meanwhile does a superb job in bringing the love torn Orsino to life as he mopes around the stage unable to deal with his love, while his counterpart Olivia played by Kara Tointon plays the complete opposite, sick of love after the loss of her brother and father- the two do a fabulous job of fighting over Viola. Meanwhile John Hodgkinson plays the most detestable version of Sir Toby Belch I’ve ever seen, as he frequently robs money, hurls abuse and concocts the plan to abuse Malvolio with an equally darker than usual Maria (played by Vivien Parry), the two complement each other nicely as the intelligent yet unpleasant pair. Once paired up with the dim witted Sir Andrew (played by Michael Cochraine) they create the perfect comedic pairing as they put their plan against Malvolio into action, not to spoil it but the garden scene where the plan is put into motion is comedic perfection.
The true show stealers are however Beruce Khan’s Feste and Adrian Edmondson’s Malvolio, the two’s first encounter leads to Malvolio hissing at Feste for the snake he believes he is. The finest moments for these two characters are when they descend into the play’s more musical side, after discovering the letter implying that Olivia loves him Malvolio bursts into a Gilbert and Sullivan style rendition of ‘Please One and So Please All’. Meanwhile Feste has a number of songs including ‘Hey Robin, Jolly Robin’ and ‘The Wind and the Rain’ each came across as real crowd pleasers while being appropriately stylised for the Victorian period, make sure you stay past the end bows for the little extra on this front they are easily the highlight of an already thoroughly enjoyable play.
The show is then nicely tied together with some tight and elaborate Victorian sets and costumes for the characters to play in; clearly no pennies have been saved in the broad and elaborate range.
There are a number of other highlights I’d love to mention, but to summarise this is real Twelfth Night adaptation for the modern day bringing in some fresh and socially relevant idea, see it while you can and maybe pick up the CD I know I will be.