Twelfth Night, Swan Theatre, Yeovil

Twelfth Night 248YEOVIL’s versatile and accomplished Swan Theatre Company has gone back to Shakespeare for the first time in 33 years – a long gap, but worth the wait, for this well-directed and often hilarious production of one of the Bard’s most accessible and popular comedies.

Twelfth Night, directed by the experienced Ian White, brings some new young talent to the Swan stage alongside seasoned older actors – just the right balance for a play which has a complicated love triangle at its heart, and a group of slightly older characters whose general merrymaking and mayhem drive the plot.

It is a play full of strong and colourful personalities – virtually every speaking part offers something for the actor to get his or her teeth into – with some of Shakespeare’s best-known roles. There is pompous Malvolio at whose mocking we all laugh, drunken but endearing Toby Belch, cowardly and gangling Sir Andrew Aguecheek, sparky Viola, who believes her brother Sebastian died in the shipwreck from which she was rescued, and the mismatched Illyrian aristocrats, Count Orsino, who uses Viola/Cesario to woo the unwilling and grieving Olivia.

Ami Ioannou was a slip of a thing as Viola – convincing as a charming boy, and well-matched by Liam Beard as her twin Sebastian (it’s a small part but he made his mark with an energetic and engaging performance). There was a palpable sexual tension between Viola/Cesario and Orsino that made sense of the final scene, an excellent touch from the director.

Twelfth Night 146Kit Stickland as Orsino – who has one of Shakespeare’s best-known opening lines – brought youthful dignity to a difficult role (Orsino is important, but he has little to do, other than look handsome and love-lorn for most of the play). Kira Brown’s Olivia grew in confidence as she moved through the character’s transformation  – we have to believe this young woman, who has lost both father and brother in less than a year, suddenly loses her mourning gloom to the burst of love when she sets eyes on young Cesario.

Alan Morris was unctuousness personified as Malvolio – the gulling scene, when he finds and reads the letter penned by the lively Maria (Stella Davies) in the hand of Olivia, was quite hilarious, and his final anger was convincing. We didn’t feel sorry for him – he had it coming!

John Crabtree played Sir Toby as a feisty and gleeful trouble-maker while Peter Morris, as the clumsy and feckless Sir Andrew, gave one of the funniest performances of this comic role I have seen on the amateur stage. His Boris Johnson mop added a blonde bounce to everything he did and his endless legs seemed sometimes to get in his way – cowardice embodied in buckling knees!

Sarah Easterbrook brought musical skill to Feste – Shakespeare’s clowns are often difficult, but this was a clear reading of the part, making the most of the verbal and physical humour of the character.

In his notes, the director writes about the difficulties that the audience can encounter in the language of the Elizabethan dramatist. He explains the need for the actors to understand the text and he certainly succeeded. We don’t have to know about Greek myths or obscure biblical characters or to understand archaic words or words that have changed their meaning. We have to understand what the character is about and what is happening. And we did, in this delightful, funny and lucid production.


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