Twelfth Night, National Theatre: Cottesloe, London
Thursday 20 January 2011
It's amusingly typical of this workaholic giant of the British theatre that Sir Peter Hall's idea of an 80th-birthday treat is being given the chance to direct his fourth production of Twelfth Night. He mounted what was, by all accounts, a landmark interpretation in Stratford in 1958, some 24 years before his daughter Rebecca emerged from life's wings. Now she stars as Viola in this latest version.
I would love to report that this anniversary Twelfth Night (Sir Peter's birthday was on 22 November) rises to its historic occasion. In truth, though, I found it a bit of a let-down. Its virtues are fine verse-speaking, clarity and luxurious casting. But it is also sluggish and too decorously constrained for a comedy so driven by a mad, topsy-turvy epidemic of misdirected love.
Rebecca Hall's modern-sounding, intriguingly understated heroine retains throughout an amused ironic reserve that lends a different kind of poignancy to the pain of having to express passion obliquely and to the dawning wonder of the recognition scene with Ben Mansfield's Sebastian. But though the productions fields a few nice re-interpretative touches, some excellent actors (such as the normally sparky Amanda Drew) here seem rather subdued by the plainness of the proceedings.
Simon Callow is in his booming, fruity, thinking person's Brian Blessed mode as Sir Toby. You're grateful for his energetic relish, even if the ugly, exploitative side of this sponging drunk is downplayed. Charles Edwards gives the funniest performance of the evening. His Sir Andrew Aguecheek is a deliciously twitchy fop, his eyes forever swivelling insecurely.
But the great comic set-pieces – the gulling of Malvolio (Simon Paisley Day) and his display of the yellow cross-gartered stockings – fall curiously flat.
To 2 March (020 7452 3000).
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