Smiling at Grief. Twelfth Night. Donmar West end at the Wyndham Theatre. London January 2009.

Twelfth Night is my theatre going pal’s favourite Shakespeare play. It is not mine. Yes, I know it’s full of some lovely verse and one of the loveliest speeches about unrequited love to grace the stage. Yes, I know, I know. While I have seen some truly delightful productions of this play often I just find I am not wholly convinced.

So why bundle off to the theatre and see it again? Well, I shall admit my shallow nature and confess: I wanted to see Derek Jacobi.

He is one of those actors you just know it is going to be worth seeing, and he made a splendidly pompous and self obsessed Malvolio. His performance roved somewhere from high camp in a decidedly Frankie Howerd kind of way to an almost tragic level of pathos when imprisoned at the end of the play. It was a bravura performance and managed to hit all the points one would want out of a character like Malvolio.

However this was not, pleasingly, the Derek Jacobi show. As with the superb Ivanov which was also part of the Donmar West End season, this was a confident ensemble piece. Victoria Hamilton was an assured and convincing Viola, demonstrating an engaging level of increased anxiety over her burgeoning feelings for Mark Bonnar’s dashing Orsino. Bonnar was a refreshing change, as Orsino is so often (listen to the voice of a Twelfth Night doubter) a smug smarmy smirking duvet of a man. Whilst being pretty self obsessed (He was playing Orsino after all) there was a touch of something rather heart-rending in his open shirted despair which actually made him more sympathetic. He cut quite a dash so Viola’s swooning was (in the opinion of this viewer) quite justified.

Ron Cook who seems to have made a career out of playing unpleasant little men was a moderately likeable Toby Belch (depite his momentary nastiness) but it was Guy Henry as possibly the tallest Sir Andrew in the history of the universe who was a real highlight. Of course Sir Andrew has the immortal lines full of devastating pathos ‘I was adored once, too’. Often these short words are spoken in an incidental tone, but in this production the full weight of these words was given as Sir Andrew summoned all his courage and nearly detailed more about his one true love before Sir Toby ignorantly takes no notice and Andrew musters up a brave, stiff upper lip smile. It was lovely.

Zubin Varla’s Feste was (and I say this as a high accolade indeed) not annoying. Feste quite often is annoying, as are so many Shakespearean clowns and fools, so it was nice to see him played more in the vein of a Wiseman. Dressed in a multicoloured coat that would have made Jason Donovan envious (that shows my age) he sang, swung and danced his way about the stage.

Indira Varma played a feisty Olivia whose mind clearly boggled at the possibilities of meeting Sebastian’s twin – I have never heard Olivia’s lines ‘wonderful’ spoken with such lascivious intent.

The stage was largely set with a giant set of folding louver doors these later gave way to a sunny beachy backdrop, giving the whole play an air of a hazy day in late spring. This may have been the wrong time of year for Twelfth Night; however it fitted with the production’s revelling in youth.

And for my favourite part? As always;
'She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek. She pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat, like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?'


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