You better believe it, Richard Wilson is appearing onstage as Malvolio in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Twelfth Night. Wilson triumphs, despite being terrified at the age of 72 having never tackled Shakespeare before. Malvolio has attracted top actors like Patrick Stewart, Simon Russell Beale, and more recently Derek Jabobi; oddly for Wilson it is the tragedy of a duped Malvolio, who is left walking alone in the dark at the end onstage, that he is better at than the hilarity of the yellow stockinged one. There has never been a more sympathetic Malvolio.
As the opening lines representing excess, “if music be the food of love, play on” are spoken, director Gregory Doran takes us into an exotic world of violins, hookahs, fine mats, and silken cushions. The play tells the story of twins Viola and Sebastian who have been shipwrecked and lose each other, as Viola finds herself swept ashore and alone she disguises herself as a man and takes a job working for the Duke Orsino. What ensues is mourning, madness, and love triangles.
Doran’s production is sensitive, perhaps from having been a twin himself, which makes moments like the twin’s eventual reunion incredibly touching. What the play gains in empathy it loses in comedy, and this is meant to be a Shakespearean Comedy. It does not have enough laughs or sex appeal like most Twelfth Nights, instead quick laughs come from having Sir Toby Belch break wind rather than from Shakespeare’s funny lines.
It is refreshing to see an alternative Feste, this all-singing all-dancing Feste is playful making music from rubbish bin lids and spinning through clothing lines. He is Puck-like rather than elusive like Ben Kingsley’s famous portrayal in Trevor Nunn’s version that many Festes follow. Stand out performances come from Milton Yereolmeou’s Feste, Wilson’s perfectly cast Malvolio, and Alexandra Gilbreath’s Olivia. As Feste ends the play singing “we’ll strive to please you everyday” though, this production does just that, it pleases rather than impresses.
Runs till 21 November, and moves to the Duke of York’s Theatre from 19 December till 27 February 2010.
To see or not to see: * * *