Twelfth Night (The Donmar in the West End, Saturday 14th February 2009)

It was Valentine’s day when we went to see Twelfth Night at the Wyndham’s Theatre, and we’d spent the day in London, which had been decked out with red hearts, so it was a very appropriate day to go and watch a love story. Though Twelfth Night explores different relationships and different forms of love.

So Orsino is in love with Olivia or so he thinks, but he is more in love with the idea of being in love. Olivia is in mourning and at first is refusing to fall in love… until she meets Viola dressed as a boy (Cesario) and falls in love with Cesario. Then Sir Toby sets Sir Andrew up to think that Olivia will marry him and Malvolio is duped into thinking Olivia is in love with him. Sir Toby falls in love with Maria and we think that Antonio, the sailor, may have a thing about Sebastian and .. yes it is all complex and muddled and this is why Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s mature comedies.

The stage floor is like the deck of the ship and the nautical theme runs throughout the production and not just in the shipwreck scene. We are always reminded that we are by the sea, and we hear the seagulls flying above and the lapping of the sea at points, The overhearing scene is on a beach and Sir Toby, Maria and Sir Andrew observe Malvolio from behind a windbreak. Viola and and Sebastian wear sailor attire and when Viola is shipwrecked she wears a stunning green dress reminiscent of the sea with the suggestion of a mermaid’s tail.

The play starts as a dark play. We are in a world where siblings have died and characters are in mourning, but the play lightens up and this was reflected in this production in several ways. Olivia changed from her black mourning suite into a very elegant light beige outfit and as the play progressed sunlight started to flicker through the shutters until these were opened up and in the end moved to reveal a blue background.

The strom starts the production and there is a flash of light as Orsino enters through the curtain front of stage. The background storm clearly reflecting Orsino’s mood.

Victoria Hamilton played Cesario very naturally and didn’t act masculinity as Imogen Stubbs does in the Trevor Nunn film version. There are real tears when she speaks the ‘patience on a monument’ speech. She is clearly uncomfortable delivering Orsino’s speech to Viola because these are not her words.

Malvolio is not a clown. It is because he is so serious that he is funny and that we find ourselves caught out laughing at a character that is actually treated very badly at the end of the play. Derek Jacobi’s timing was wonderful. He appeared as if he would never rush anywhere and when he dresses in his yellow stockings, he does it in such a way that it isn’t over the top, but just so out of character.

Samantha Spiro was fantastic as Maria and worked with the lines in such away she made their meaning very clear and we could laugh at jokes that may have become obscure through the years.

Orsino proposes to Viola as she is still dressed as a boy and Orsino still confuses Viola and Sebastian at the end of the play. Same sex desire is not overplayed but it is clearly an important element of this production and we are left to wonder what happens to certain characters. Did Orsino really fall in love with Cesario? Did Antonio love Sebastian? As the happy couples leave the stage together, other characters leave alone and we realise that even though there is a happy ending all is not necessarily well in Illyria.

Reviews and Previews

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Derek Jacobi Donmar Twelfth Night

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