Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
It’s the start of a new season and the Lyceum launches with this groovy co-production with Bristol Old Vic. Twelfth Night, written late in Shakespeare’s career, is surely one of his finest comedies, featuring as it does some very memorable (and genuinely amusing) characters. But of course, there’s no point in doing Shakesy-P (as he’s indelibly known around B & B Towers after listening to the Six soundtrack) if you’ve nothing new to add to the formula.
The conceit here is that we’re at a debauched bacchanalian party in a run down country house. It’s somewhere in the late sixties or early seventies and the guests, having been roistering and jamming for several days, are still reluctant to call an end to the proceedings. One of them happens to be reading a copy of the play, so it is decided they’ll give an impromptu performance of it. Suitable costumes are quickly improvised and, voila! We’re off.
Actually, the very start of proceedings feels a little er… forced and I start to suspect that I’m not going to enjoy this all that much, but happily, that feeling is spectacularly short-lived. The look and morals of the era actually lend themselves very well to this surreal gender-bending comedy of mistaken identities – and, just a few lines into Dawn Stevewright’s spirited performance as Lady Tobi Belch, I am fully on side.
I also love Guy Hughes’ performance as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. He’s dressed like a full glam Elton John, and even blessed with a thoughtful Your Song-style ballad about his former days as a knight-errant. It’s decidedly odd, but it really works.
But it’s the role of Malvolio that is the real gift to any actor. Is there a more heart-rending character in all of the bard’s canon? I suspect not. Christopher Green makes an absolute feast of the role, all buttoned-up and controlled in his earlier manifestation, and then quite spectacular when transported by the power of love. The moment when he prances onstage in yellow cross-gartered stockings and (quite literally) lets his hair down is perhaps the production’s most memorable moment, one that earns an ovation all of its own.
I should also add that musical director Aly Macrae’s turn as a kind of groovy priest, shuffling into view and blessing everything in sight, is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in ages, and that’s without him uttering so much as a word.
Wils Wilson directs with aplomb, the costumes, designed by Ana Ines Jabares-Pita, are delightfully bohemian and, as for the original songs by Meilyr Jones, I think it’s safe to say that Will would have heartily approved of them. Shakespeare haters – and they do exist, I’ve met them – will surely find much here to convert them.
What a brilliant start to the new season!