After opening with a dud Romeo and Juliet, the Open Air Theatre gives us another lame Shakespeare. Like the first play, Edward Dick's production has a charmless cast whose verse-speaking is pedestrian and whose emotions are exaggerated and hollow.
The setting, which muddles music, coiffures, and costumes from the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, melts into dreamy languor when Clive Rowe's Feste serenades a ballroom of dancers with beautiful renditions of "Come Away, Death" and "Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain". But otherwise there is none of the melancholy and wistfulness we should see beneath the foolery. The Viola of Natalie Dew, a girl just out of drama school, simply opens her eyes and mouth wide to express sorrow at the loss of her twin brother in a shipwreck, or alarm at being desired by the countess Olivia.
The latter, also mourning a brother, is, like the depressed duke Orsino, attracted to Viola because her underlying sadness calls to theirs. It's a point somewhat lost when both the smitten ones reach for her privates and wrestle her to the floor. Oscar Pearce's babyish duke seems not so much sorrowing as fretful, with a weakness for tantrums.
Clive Hayward's middle-aged Andrew Aguecheek is also infantile, a big, bouncing, boring boy. In fedora and black sunglasses, Tim Woodward's Sir Toby looks like an elderly drug dealer and acts with similar coldness. As Malvolio, Richard O'Callaghan is more of a fussy civil servant than a lordlier-than-thou steward, and merely strenuous rather than gloriously absurd in his misguided declaration of love.
Rowe is slow and overemphatic, but has a few bright spots – pretending to be a priest, he becomes a hell-fire preacher. Janie Dee, as Olivia, is a steady flame of glamorous mischief, but her suavity and ease are at odds with the dreary clowning. Next season, one hopes, the Open Air will get back to basics – they are poetry, poetry, and poetry.
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