Twelfth Night is the last of Shakespeare's romantic comedies. It encompasses and refines many of the themes and elements explored in earlier works. We have a shipwreck and identical twins. However against a romantic idyll we witness the cruel prank played on the ‘geck and gull' Malvolio. It is a tale says Feste the Clown that were it 'played upon a stage now' would be condemned 'as an improbable fiction'.
As the 'notoriously abused’ Malvolio Adam Napier drew out all the complexities of the character and quivered with rage and later madness as he slowly crumbled. Although exploited by the malicious triumvirate of Maria, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek his dreams mark him out as a socially ambitious man rather than a domestic tyrant. It is quite touching and his key speeches met with audience approval.
Unfortunately Joe Marsh as the intemperate parasite and exploiter Sir Toby does not elicit the same understanding. He has a casual sense of malevolence despite his waggish nature. As Director Hal Charles says we are in 'uncomfortable territory'.
However although bitter and cruel it is in a dramatic sense fun to watch. It offers a much-needed contrast to the cross dressing nonsense and the courtly moping lovers that fill the rest of the story.
In terms of staging, the Reading Minster was exploited to the full – the beautifully lit nave, aisle and even pulpit were used to great effect, coolly representing all locations. Entrances could be made effortlessly and dramatically helping the action to move at a cracking pace. To the delight of the audience Aguecheek arrived by bike cycling the length of the nave to arrive at the basic stage – a carpet and an abandoned dinghy. The production team are all to be commended however Composer and Musical Director Rosalinde Steel is singled out for her terrific direction. Music flowed seamlessly whether in scenes of contemplative reflection or rousing late night revelry. Acoustics as one would expect from a church were excellent.
RBL is a professional theatre company in Reading sourcing local talent and serving the community. They launched earlier in the year with "Off the Block” that commissioned four new works. This was the first step in their aim to deliver a mix of new writing, classical and modern theatre to Reading.
They have now ticked the classical box with this production, a production that was both exciting and moreover accessible. It is a rare opportunity for a local audience to see a professional Shakespeare production.
This first appeared in Newbury Weekly News.
Reading Between the Lines
Reading Between the Lines