Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
There are two plots: Orsino, played by Marcus Knight-Adams, bursts on to the scene in full manic flood to introduce the first: the tangled romances of two young rich couples. Knight-Adams’s full-on delivery starts the play with an explosion of energy that is sustained by the whole cast throughout the evening. Joe Peden is a powerhouse of comedy and vitality as Sir Toby Belch; he launches the sub-plot: the hilarious activities of the servants and dependants in Olivia’s household.
The whole cast is superlatively dynamic and their assembly acting in the set pieces is absolutely brilliant. Jonny Wiles as Malvolio, Olivia’s stuffed-shirt equerry, is wonderful: his disdain and disapproval of Sir Toby and his friends, the drunken hangers-on in Olivia’s house, is palpable; as we laugh at their comical roaring and drunken antics, his arrogance and conceit seem to justify the cruel trick they play on him. I loved his attempt to connive with the front row of the audience to interpret the cryptic note that seems to offer him the status he craves.
But nothing is morally clear-cut in “Twelfth Night”. Susanna Townsend plays Feste as a wistful, knowing outsider; part of the conspiracy to humiliate and break Malviolio, Feste brings his ambiguous commentary to this situation: he seems to show pity for the protesting, weeping Malvolio but then reminds him of his arrogance and past insults to Feste himself: “ ’I am not mad’ – but do you remember?” Townsend sings Feste’s songs in sweetly haunting interludes.
The female characters are equally strongly played. Daisy Hayes as Viola has an excellent line in shocked expressions and flinching as she sees herself getting more and more entangled in a situation of identity confusion that she herself has set up. Kate Weir as Olivia’s maid Maria is a kittenish, clever, rather viciously intelligent girl who won’t let anyone get away with dissing her. Olivia, played by Chloē Delanney turns from haughty dismissive object of Orsino’s unwanted attentions into an archetypal sixties chick when she falls in love with “Cesario” (actually Viola). Her flirty, sexually aware persona is put on with the flaming red dress she wears to try to catch “him”!
This is Shakespeare as we want to see it: the well-known lines delivered in natural, joyful realisation of their universal meaning in human relationships, tropes rendered fresh: “Patience on a monument”, “Like a worm i’ the bud” heard as if for the first time. Unmissable!
This review was first published on Essential Surrey online magazine's Arts and Theatre page on 30th August 2018.