Sunday, 10 January 2010

Twelfth Night

The Royal Shakespeare Company are currently presenting Gregory Doran's production of Twelfth Night at the Duke of York's Theatre in London. We caught the play on Friday 10th Jan. Perhaps the most talked about feature of the production is Richard Wilson playing his first Shakespeare play at the age of 73. Wilson plays Malvolio, but is best known for playing the character of Victor Meldrew in One Foot in The Grave.

Doran sets the play firmly in Illyria, which became the Balkans, in the early 19th Century (i.e. the period when Byron was visiting the area). The leading players wear early 19th century costume and the others all wear local, traditional costumes. These looked authentic, the sort of clothing and accoutrements that you could buy from Joss Graham. To increase the authentic feel of the locale, Paul Englishby's music had a strong ethnic feel to it. I am not sure that Englishby got the sound quite right, I rather suspect that the Clarino would have been used; at least the instrument is prevalent in Greek folk musik. But that is a minor point, Englishby's music both played live on stage and behind the scenes went a long way towards establishing the correct atmosphere. The Duke (Jo Stone-Fewings) had a band of musician's at his disposal on stage, all gorgeously clad and Ashley Taylor-Rhys (who played Curio) also doubled as an instrumentalist.

Of course the play is most famous for the songs, written for the jester Feste (Miltos Yerolemou). Here I was not quite as impressed. Yerolemou's voice seemed to have just two settings, either a West End Musical bark (which he used sparingly) or a rather weak, husky tone. It was this latter which he used for most of the songs and this came over as rather unfocussed. At least one of the songs seemed to have a vocal line which was too elaborate for Yerolemou's comfort, which rather marred the performance, especially as it was doubled by an instrument. Yerolemou was however performing the songs in the character of Feste, so there is also the element of whether Doran and Englishby wanted the sound to be casual and less than perfect.

What I really want is a counter-tenor or high tenor singing with just a lute accompaniment in these songs. But I suspect that few actors capable of playing Feste have the requisite voice and that few counter-tenors or high tenor's would be interested in playing Feste in a long run of a play. It has to be said that Yerolemou made a strong and touching Feste, part of a brilliant ensemble cast.

Reviews rather tended to concentrate on Richard Wilson, but in fact it was the ensemble nature of the playing which impressed and the way Wilson did not really dominate. Though he did bring elements of Victor Meldrew with him. The comic sections with Sir Toby Belch (Richard McCabe) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (James Fleet) were rather less annoying than usual.

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