22 October 2010

Adored once too

Neither Megan nor I were in particularly good form to take on an Australian interpretation of a Shakespearean plot in Elizabethan English made more obscure by a limited cast playing multiple roles, but we attended Twelfth Night presented by Bell Shakespeare and enjoyed it well enough. “Adored once too” has little relevance here, other than that I was surprised by some delightful quotes. I shouldn’t have been because the stock quotation books are pretty much just Shakespeare and the Bible. This is comedy, so “But be not afraid of greatness: some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them” was pretty unexpected. It seems too serious for this context, but S littered his plays with changes from light to lofty. Some other clever observations were delightful, like “Love sought is good, but giv'n unsought is better” or the famed “If music be the food of love, play on”, but then this is a romantic comedy so not so out of place. On the other hand “Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage” was dark if revelatory.

We enjoyed the second half better, but then I find I take some time to settle to the language and the plot. The stage was odd, being a pile of clothes and a few cardboard boxes and a tellie that localised the disaster of Twelfth Night’s drownings with the Victorian bushfires. I found that a tad insensitive. The cast of 7 (1 woman, 6 men) seemed to be on stage all the time, although sometimes hiding (or changing) behind that pile of clothes. There were men dressed as women, and of course the confusion of woman for man which is at the heart of the play. Poor Malvolio misses out and is embarrassed in the process, but the brother and sister, and even the maid, get their loves’ contents. I was a bit surprised by the (admittedly delicate) man playing Olivia, but I can see it fits a tale of sexual confusion. I had a problem with his voice which was the weakest of the cast. I liked Andrea Demetriades as Viola, and also Max Cullen as the fool Feste, but his part was pretty minimal while the rest of the cast slaved away as multiple characters. The Canberra Times review commented on the Canberra mentions, like the PM with a hairdresser as consort and a reference to missing Floriade. I was more interested in whether the Elephant pub still trades in London (“In the south suburbs, at the Elephant / Is best to lodge”) and the mention of “midsummer madness” (did this originate here?) and the po-mo self-referencing that shows that there’s nothing new in culture (“If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction”). I’m still pondering this mention of food “I am a great eater of beef, and I believe that does harm to my wit” and giggling at “A plague o' these pickle herring”. The final greeting of brother and sister as they meet was satisfying, even if Orsino’s change of love object was more difficult to accept. And the cast played it all with visual gags and slapstick that I guess would have been in the original. But it’s the forlorn “I was adored once too” that will stick with me. That was touching.

Shakepeare’s Twelfth Night was directed by Lee Lewis for the Bell Shakespeare Company at the Playhouse. The cast was Max Cullen (Feste), Ben Wood (Malvolio), Andrea Demetriades (Viola), Kit Brookman (Olivia), Brent Hill (Maria/Antonio/Valentine), Elan Zavelsky (Orsino/Sir Andrew Aguecheek) and Adam Booth (Sir Toby Belch/Sebastian).

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