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Review: Twelfth Night

RSC’s new production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, starring Ade Edmondson, is wowing audiences up in Stratford-on-Avon and will be broadcast live to cinemas around the UK on Valentine’s Day Weds 14 Feb. Being a local gal an’ all,  Muddy Warwickshire’s Catherine has already seen it, so here’s her review…

Already this year we’ve seen Emma Rice’s flamboyant high energy Twelfth Night at The Globe – where Shakespeare met Studio 54; and The National’s gender-fluid version with Tamsin Greig’s uptight female Malvolia. So, what will the RSC pull out of the bag in Stratford?

Mirror image: L-R: Twins Sebastian (Esh Alladi) andViola (Dinita Gohil). Production photos by Manuel Harlan (c) RSC

Christopher Luscombe follows his superb RSC double-bill Much Ado About Nothing and Love Labour’s Lost with a sumptuous Raj era Twelfth Night where Illyria is set in Victorian London. It has echoes of Victoria and Abdul with Olivia, herself in mourning, kept entertained by Beruce Khan – excellent as intelligent, witty and musical fool, Feste – played here as her Indian attendant or ‘munshi’.

Beruce Khan’s Feste. Photo: Manuel Harlan (c) RSC

The first two scenes in Act I are switched around. Petite Dinita Gohil, a luminous shipwrecked Viola, opens the play in vibrant blue sari and lovely rich vocals. As the captain tells her about Olivia and Orsino, they appear on stage. Dainty and elegant, Kara Tointon makes a silent entrance across the stage in a black lace bustle and veil. Nicholas Bishop’s bohemian Orsino is in a gold domed art studio painting a male muse in red loin cloth shooting a bow-and-arrow. All very homo-erotic.

Designer Simon Higlett’s stunning styling is based on London’s Leighton House – the former home and studio of leading Victorian painter and sculptor Frederic Leighton; while Wightwick Manor near Wolverhampton was the inspiration for Olivia’s home.

Fun and games in Malvolio’s famous gulling scene. Adrian Edmondson in foregound. Background L-R Michael Cochrane, Sarah Twomey, John Hodgkinson. Photo by Manuel Harlan (c) RSC

Adrian Edmondson in his stiff black suit and Lincoln Abraham beard is outstanding as Olivia’s buttoned up steward Malvolio forever spoiling everyone’s fun. Edmondson brings down the house with his hysterical all-singing, all- dancing mandolin-playing yellow stocking scene breaking into ever more extravagant jigs egged on by the audience’s reaction.

Jumping for joy – Adrian Edmondson as Malvolio. Photo by Manuel Harlan (c) RSC

Shakespeare’s brilliant comedy pairing of Sir Toby Belch and his drinking partner Sir Andrew Aguecheek is devoured with great relish by the wonderful John Hodgkinson and Michael Cochrane. A proper pair of Victorian eccentrics – Hodgkinson, tall, gangly and dishevelled, Sir Andrew slight, frail and doddery – making way for some very funny physical comedy.

Orsino (Nicholas Bishop) and Viola (Dinita Gohil), Photo by Manuel Harlan (c) RSC

L-R: Viola (Dinita Gohil), Olivia (Kara Tointon). Photo by Manuel Harlan (c) RSC

The Victorian period details are lovely – the train station with its map of London; a Victorian Polyphone – disc-playing mechanical music box – and exquisite costumes. It really does look beautiful.

Kara Tointon’s Olivia. Photo by Manuel Harlan (c) RSC

There’s enjoyable performances all-round from a super-talented cast who after taking their bows return onstage to perform an exhilarating original number by composer Nigel Hess inspired by Gilbert and Sullivan and other contemporaries. As the lights go up I notice Jennifer Saunders sat in the row in front and nearly faint with shock and excitement!

Twelfth Night at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon will be broadcast live from Stratford on Valentine’s Day, Wed Feb 14.  Screenings in Somerset include The Brewhouse in Taunton, Wells Film CentreThe McMillan Theatre in Bridgwater and the Little Cinema in Bath. Find your nearest cinema here 

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