Review: Twelfth Night at the RSC | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: Twelfth Night at the RSC

Culture critic Holly Reaney spent a delightful evening watching Christopher Luscombe's latest production at the RSC

With words like ‘marvellous’ ‘magnificent’ and ‘genius’ still buzzing around his name in the wake of his 2014 RSC directorial debut, Christopher Luscombe returns with a stellar cast to take on Shakespeare most revered comedy.  A comeback is never easy, particularly since it has been a relatively short time since the critical acclaim of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won, so does Luscombe manage to reignite his comic flame in the RSC’s latest production of Twelfth Night? Most certainly.

Taking the classic tale of mistaken identity, unrequited love, and yellow stockings to a Victorian India, Luscombe highlights the challenges of the Raj with Beruce Khan’s Feste being reimagined as Olivia’s Munshi (or secretary), a racial element is added to the tensions between Malvolio and Feste. This bitterness adds a complexity to both roles, functioning as a microcosm of some of the era’s less performed politics. With the recent release of the film Victoria and Abdul, parallels with Olivia and Feste can’t help but be drawn. Furthermore, the addition of creative decisions of cast, costume and race serves to reflect the historical unity of Britain and India in the year of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Raj.

Taking the classic tale of mistaken identity, unrequited love, and yellow stockings to a Victorian India, Luscombe highlights the challenges of the Raj...

Luscombe adopts a slight variation on the play’s original structure, reversing the order of the first two acts. Opening with Viola (Dinita Gohil) beginning to explore the new world she finds herself in, the shifting of scenes leaves you hanging, desperately longing for those universally famous and beautiful opening lines of the play. So, in the theme of the production, I too shall make you wait…

Dinita Gohil’s portrayal of Olivia was one of the stand out performances of the play. Her enthusiasm, wit and vivacious performance, perfectly encapsulated Viola’s charming playfulness. Often in productions where large names take the leading roles, in this case Ade Edmondson and Kara Tointon, the other cast members are perhaps overlooked. This was not the case for Twelfth Night where each actor so perfectly suited their character that no figure was lost.

This was no clearer than in the play’s marvellous subplot, which was as riveting as its romantic counterpart. Sir Aguecheek (Michael Cochrane) and Toby Belch (John Hodgkinson) were the perfect comedic double act, fuelling each other’s performances. Vivien Parry created a zealous Maria whose manipulative plotting propelled the action forwards with exceptional ease. In addition, the gender-swap of Fabian to Fabia, played by Sarah Twomey, was well suited and created a nice doubling of characters in the subplot scenes.

Nigel Hess’ music score gave the play a vibrant energy which punctuated the highs and lows of emotion that ripple throughout the play.

Luscombe’s production does not shy away from the questions of gender and gender identity that Twelfth Night implicitly raises. Giles Taylor’s Antonio is involved in an additional plot layer of unrequited love, as he falls for Sebastian after rescuing him. Instead of being arrested for thievery, it is assumed that his arrest is more likely based on his sexuality, giving Antonio a Wildean quality which evokes a tragic sympathy lacking in the original.

A further mention must go to Nicholas Bishop’s Orsino, whose bisexual character further plays into the exploration of sexual politics. He’s a colourful character with many layers of complexity, who famously marked the beginning of the action of the play with the line ‘If music be the food of love, play on!’

And play on it did. Nigel Hess’ music score gave the play a vibrant energy which punctuated the highs and lows of emotion that ripple throughout the play, both in evocative interludes and bright Elizabethan ditties. It is not in the habit of the English theatre audience to erupt in rapturous applause midway through a performance, however, the musical numbers, particularly Ade Edmondson’s ‘Please One and So Please All’, was fuelled by the audience’s enthusiasm and encouragement as each pause brought a sea of laughter and applause.

The two big names of the production were perfectly suited to their characters. Ade Edmondson, best known for his 1980s role as psychotic punk Vyvyan in The Young Ones, might not be so recognisable as the suave, straight backed butler of Olivia’s house. However, very quickly, this stern Puritan exterior unravels to reveal one of Britain’s best comic actors, equiped with the signature cross-gartered yellow stockings. Kara Tointon’s delicate elegance delightfully encapsulated the mourning Olivia, though at times her performance did seem a little flat: particularly in the play’s more passionate climactic scenes.

One of the stand out elements of the already spectacular production was Simon Higlet’s staging. The immensely versatile staging immerses and takes you through a fully formed world, reflecting a romanticised India under the British Raj. The hustle and bustle of a railway station is magically summoned in a few moments, whole gardens and hallways are risen from the ground, and a rotating backdrop of a glass orangery creates a quintessentially Victorian backdrop to the performance.

It’s entertaining, witty and an excellent reinvention of the Shakespearean classic

This production has already received a lot of hype both critically and online, and it is the talk of the English department (then again, when is Shakespeare not the talk of the English department!). With this excitement comes the question of actual value - is it as good as everyone is saying? My answer, yes. It’s entertaining, witty and an excellent reinvention of the Shakespearean classic. A favourite play for many, and the name Ade Edmondson will definitely put bums on seats, but this adaptation really is an beautiful rendition of the play.

Twelfth Night runs until 24th February 2018 at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon, and will be broadcast live to cinemas across the country on 14th February 2018.



Published

14th November 2017 at 9:00 am



Images from

Manuel Harlan



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