Saturday, 21 April 2012

"Twelfth Night"

Happy 448th birthday, William Shakespeare! To celebrate it, there were madrigals - my photograph shows them being sung by Shakespeare's (decorated) bust at the foot of the RST main stairs, but elsewhere too.

Other Stratford merriment included sonnets on the chain ferry: we crossed over on it, having tickets for Twelfth Night in the main theatre this afternoon. As last week, with The Tempest, David Farr directed, and Jonathan Slinger, Emily Taaffe and Kirsty Bushell led a strong cast.

Row G in the Stalls suited me fine, with a gangway in front for me to stretch out my legs: it's worth the premium you pay to have this degree of comfort, the first time I've experienced it. At one point - from the plume of smoke Caroline pointed out to me, emerging from behind the stage - it looked as if the theatre was about to catch fire; so it's also handy being able to dash for the exit when necessary. (It wasn't.)

I enjoyed, but without going overboard, both performances and production. Just one belly laugh I counted, and the very act of keeping count is an indication of some reserve.

Could it be my favourite Shakespeare play? If so, it's because it was the very first I saw, when that I was and a little tiny boy. Well, an impressionable 12-year-old anyway, whose parents took him, in 1955, to Gielgud's production, also at Stratford: a lisping Olivier ("Thome are born great...") played Malvolio, and his then wife, Viola. In the interval, my mother and I walked to the East end of what was then the narrow riverside balcony, and watched Vivien Leigh standing at her dressing-room French window.

Fast forward nine years, and I saw the play again, this time at the Oxford Playhouse - in Michael Rudman's OUDS production, with Michael York as Orsino: the cast included Oliver Ford Davies, David Aukin (Malvolio) and Annabel Leventon (a well-upholstered Viola). Other memorable Malvolio/Viola couplings were Donald Sinden/Judi Dench (1969) and Nicol Williamson/Jane Lapotaire (1974). The list is incomplete, as are my records, alas.

But no previous Aguecheek, not Michael Denison, nor Michael Elwyn, nor David Warner, nor even my hero Ian Richardson, matches - to my mind - the splendid Bruce MacKinnon in the present production.

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