Twelfth Night, Lowry, Salford
Antony and Cleopatra, Swan, Stratford
Much Ado about Nothing, Swan, Stratford

Who needs women anyway?

Fifteen years ago, Cheek By Jowl staged an unforgettable all-male As You Like It with the young Adrian Lester as Rosalind and the Forest of Arden evoked by just strips of green silk streaming down into a bare space. Now on tour, the company's boys-only Twelfth Night beautifully echoes that earlier Shakespearean romcom of sexual confusions, though this time the cast is additionally all-Russian (with English surtitles) - a world-class product of director Declan Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod's years abroad.

At first, when Olivia is still in mourning, black banners hang in a near-empty space. Her home is a dark house where her maid, Maria, whispers anxiously to keep the noise down. In the second half, when new loves supplant grief, everything becomes creamy with hints of a Chekhovian orchard (linen suits, panama hats), albeit Illyria has a dreamy quality of any time (1920s, 1930s, post-Communist) and anywhere you fancy. Donnellan's ensemble make some characters amusingly Russian: a terrific slurring Sir Toby tussling with a bulk-buy of vodka bottles. At the same time, Feste has a very English-going-on-early Hollywood look about him, like an extremely camp Buster Keaton who also sings jazz.

This is a production imbued with charm, a gentle intensity, delightful flurries of farce (including judo) and fresh interpretations. To take a few examples, when Viola (disguised as the manservant Cesario) comes to woo on Duke Orsino's behalf, Olivia and Maria and Feste (all veiled) truly confound this suitor by circling around and actually sharing Olivia's replies: an extraordinary image of multiple identities dancing before your eyes.

Donnellan's interspliced scenes also create a haunting sense of simultaneous lives and paths soon destined to meet. At the close, while light question marks hang over the twins' marriages, new-forged out of previous confusions, there's a wonderfully droll happy ending for the problematically jilted Antonio. He hooks up with Feste on the wedding-party dance floor. Olivia's steward, Malvolio - having fallen in love with far more desperate eagerness than pomposity - is also reintegrated after his humiliations. He is back in his tail coat impeccably serving champagne but then steps forward, right at the end, to snarl, "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you." Donnellan's reshuffling of speeches is cheeky but also sensitive, actually bringing out how the play lives in your mind (where Malvolio does, surely, have the last memorable word).

As for the all-male issue, I've seen actresses bring more subtle complexities to Viola/ Cesario's pained love scenes with Olivia and Orsino. I suspect it might be very different again - though potentially near-taboo? - if the women were played in authentic Elizabethan style by pre-pubescent boys rather than grown men. That said, an intricate weave of gay male desires springs into focus here. Ilia Ilyin's sturdy, sweetly nervous Maria does seem intrinsically female and adorable, and the twins are such look-alikes that you think you're in a hall of mirrors. This should also make a fascinating comparison with Edward Hall's all-male company, Propeller, who will tackle the same play at the Old Vic next year.

Meanwhile, in Stratford, Gregory Doran's staging of Antony and Cleopatra - starring Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter - is far and away the best production that I've seen to date in the RSC's Complete Works Festival. It is plain good. By that I mean there are virtually no obtrusive gimmicks. It's in Ancient Roman and Egyptian period costume with only a few cloaks in camouflage fabric nudging you to see modern parallels in this story of conflict - or rather, in Antony's case, of split loyalties - between East and West. Actually, Doran essentially makes it a split between two cultures of leisure and hard slog, with Cleopatra's giggly entourage idling in white silk robes while Antony's impatient soldiers kick around in war-battered breastplates. Stewart's Antony, having gone native, is evidently torn between amorous lounging and professional duties: that Monday morning feeling of having to get out of bed and fight the Battle of Actium. This production is also sharp on macho competitiveness and political manoeuvres, with John Hopkins as a feverishly insecure and ambitious Octavius Caesar.

A few of the cast bellow their lines and, on the night I attended, Walter didn't quite capture the poignant delicacy of Cleopatra's death scene. But essentially, she and Stewart are both superlatively natural: full of laughter and loving warmth; never striking exotic or heroic poses; ultimately devastated and seeming to age before your eyes.

Much Ado about Nothing is less impressive. Marianne Elliot's production takes a while to warm up with Tamsin Greig (from Green Wing) and Joseph Millson as the comically resistant lovers, Beatrice and Benedick. Greig often seems slightly too sour, however she does get sparkier. Millson is deliciously funny when in denial and breathtaking in his passionate tenderness at the end. The setting of 1950's Cuba is also an excuse for some sizzling jazz.

k.bassett@independent.co.uk

'Twelfth Night': touring to 17 June, 020 7382 7281; 'Antony and Cleopatra' and 'Much Ado': to 14 and 12 October respectively, 0870 609 1110

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee