IF you are following talented young Street actor-singer Toby Turley on I Have a Dream*, the quest for the new Sky and Sophie for the West End’s Mamma Mia, you will know that the ingredients for a perfect theatre on-stage partnership are not only acting (or singing) ability but also that intangible quality, chemistry. If your Romeo and Juliet don’t have perceptible chemistry – eyes locked, emotional sparks almost visible – you won’t believe in their love-at-first-sight.
So it was a delight – and an unusual one – to see the instant stage chemistry between Poppy Vera’s Viola and Richard Jones’ Duke Orsino in this APS production. The evident attraction (voiced by Viola/Cesario, unacknowledged by the Duke) makes Orsino’s turning to her (was that relief?) when he sees Olivia (a feisty and elegant Sheenu Das) with Viola’s twin, Sebastian (Lewis Willis).
It also adds a nice frisson of ambiguity to the relationship from the outset.
This is one of the funniest Twelfth Nights I have seen, thanks in large part to the brilliant double act of Carl Davies as Sir Toby Belch, channelling Gary Oldman’s Jackson Lamb with his belching and farting, and Fred Wopat as the hapless Sir Andrew Aguecheek, with Bev Taylor-Wade’s quick-witted Mary/Maria. The comic quartet is completed by Mary Flanagan as Feste, smart, wise-cracking and musical.
This production, directed by John Crabtree, revolves around the peculiar character of Malvolio – vain, pompous, arrogant, jealous … and ultimately pathetic. Patrick Knox, one of this area’s most talented and versatile actors, has huge fun, using his height, impressive voice and elegance to dominate the stage but also convincing as the whimpering and diminished figure in his dark cell. His final threat to “be revenged on the whole pack of you” echoes around the theatre, an acid note after the happiness of the two couples.
Poppy Vera, making her APS debut, is a delightful and credible Viola/Cesario – she has the slender stature to allow you to believe she is a young man and her intelligent reading of the character ensures that you can readily accept that everyone, from Orsino to Olivia’s rackety household, are taken in.
Lewis Willis – a believable twin to Poppy/Viola – is a bit of a Jack-the-lad. He is attractive and energetic so we readily accept the devotion he inspires in Robert Brydges’ noble and courageous Antonio. But we have no difficulty accepting that he is more than happy to immediately accept Olivia’s unexpected marriage offer. He’s skint, she’s pretty and evidently well-off. It’s a no-brainer.
This Twelfth Night is a delightful curtain-raiser for Christmas – if you braved Monday’s horrible weather and floods, you will know it was worth it. If you are seeing it later in the week – enjoy! It’s definitely a production that will last in the memory way beyond Old Twelfth Night!
* For more on Toby Turley, see the story on Arts News. We wish him lots of luck for Sunday’s final.