We’d seen Twelfth Night a couple of years ago in the gardens of Wadham College Oxford, performed by the Oxford Shakespeare Company, who we try to see each year. They had an outrageous Malvolio. Very funny, very camp, and when he thought Olivia was in love with him he basically came on cross-gartered and wearing precious little else – a thong maybe.
I wasn’t expecting Richard Wilson’s Malvolio to wear just a thong, and I was right. His Malvolio’s cross-garters are the original yellow tights with garters criss-crossed over them. Very eye catching and unattractive. Along with the rest of his interpretation of the role, it was spot on. This Malvolio was pompous, not because he was sneery, but because he took his role as the head of Olivia’s household seriously. He is a serious, sombre, puritan person. After he has been tricked, he is a completely broken man. This Malvolio is more sinned against than sinning, and you come away from the production sorry for him and realising that the jolly jape against him was really rather cruel.
I particularly enjoyed Olivia’s (Alexandra Gilbreath) transformation from grieving sister to girlish glee as she fancies Cesario (Viola dressed as a boy). When she sees both Viola and Sebastian together, and she’s happy to fancy Sebastian instead, you realise that her ability to transfer her love from one person says something about how deep her love is; or isn’t. Jo Stone-Fewings’ Orsino, however, is perfectly happy to love Viola, even though he’s always thought of her as Cesario. Where he must have loved the personality, Olivia had loved the body. If Orsino and Olivia had got it together they probably would have disappointed each other.
Great production; inventive staging; programme notes affirm that Illyia is modern day Albania, and the set, costumes and scenes are full of Turkish and Central Asian motifs. Miltos Yerolemou as Feste actually makes you laugh – very hard for a Shakespearean clown. Personally I find the character of Sir Toby Belch an irritant; if I’d wanted Shakespearean puns and drunkenness I could have stayed as home. As it is, Richard McCabe made him very watchable; and James Fleet’s Aguecheek was decently ineffectually vain whilst remaining credible. An appreciative and well-behaved audience, they kept their whooping for the curtain call. What is it with whooping in the audience nowadays? If it’s THAT good, you can shout the occasional Bravo. It isn’t bear-baiting, it’s The Theatre.