Sunday, July 31, 2016

Twelfth Night, or What You Will

In rehearsal L to R:
John Howard, Anita Hegh, Peter Carroll, Emele Ugavule, Nikki Shiels, Anthony Phelan, Lucia Mastrantone

Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare.  Belvoir, Sydney, July 27 – September 3, 2016.

Directed by Eamon Flack

Designers: Set by Michael Hankin; Costume by Stephen Curtis; Lighting by Nick Schlieper; Composer – Alan John; Sound by Caitlin Porter; Movement by Scott Witt.

Cast: Peter Carroll; Anita Hegh; John Howard; Lucia Mastrantone; Amber McMahon; Anthony Phelan; Keith Robinson; Damien Ryan; Nikki Shiels; Emele Ugavule.

Photography by Brett Boardman

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 31

For the first time, I feel I now understand Twelfth Night as a unified work.  I’ve tended before to think of the twins, disguises and love story as one element alongside the story of the drunkards and their malicious treatment of Malvolio.  Eamon Flack explains in his Director’s Note and achieves in action on stage a central focus on the observation that Feste, the professional Fool, discusses directly with us: that ‘what is, is not’.

This philosophical conundrum turns Shakespeare’s play into a mad metaphor for what was going on in his society, as the Puritans began to establish their influence (which later led to violent revolution, and the establishment of our modern representative democracy, no less); while we see the same nonsense happening today, such as having people stand for seats in Parliament or even for the Presidency of the United States while claiming they are not politicians.

Most of the time what Olivia calls ‘midsummer madness’ is tremendously funny to watch, and this production takes every opportunity to make us laugh at the enjoyment of acting the absurdities of the plot.  Yet, as the two look-alike brother and sister are seen by everyone together for the first time, laughter changed in tone as we saw a serious state of confusion take over all rational thought.  What they thought was, was not, and what they thought was not, now was.  Though fortunately quickly resolved by the right people kissing each other, the happy ending still had an edge – just a touch of insecurity about the nature of the human condition.

Theatrically this took the play to a higher level of excitement and satisfaction which grabbed the audience who clapped and cheered in sincere appreciation for a job enormously well done.

So having gone to the theatre with some doubts about watching just another Twelfth Night, I left with a joyful feeling and no doubts about this production.  Even any little worries about my human condition have faded into the mental background for now.  That’s the power of good quality art, which certainly is, rather than is not.