Twelfth Night


St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden

I like seeing plays I know done by troupes I respect. It’s like coming home. This is one play where you aren’t going to get a plot recap – if I studied it at school, and can remember I did, I’m assuming basic knowledge in the rest of you. If you don’t know it, it’s the one with a shipwreck, twins, and a fool. That’ll narrow it down for you…


Though there may not be too many similarities between Twelfth Night and last year’s Richard III, what I have come to recognise as the Iris Theatre’s strengths of setting, characterisation and musicality were strongly in evidence. There was little cast overlap, but that might be to the good – I can’t quite imagine Richard re-forming himself into Orsino!

The stand-outs for me were Nick Howard-Brown, seen last year as a perfectly demented Margaret, this year being the flash and fooling Feste with an unmistakeable intelligence and glee in stirring up trouble of all kinds. Henry Wyrley-Birch did well to play two such disparate characters as Aguecheek and Sebastian, and make the one so choleric and the other so sanguine in the face of Shakespeare’s lunacy. I’ve spoken before of the fun of doubling up – alas Henry’s fight with himself happened off-stage…

Anne-Marie Piazza’s Maria shone a little less brightly than her Elizabeth last year – but since the maid has the emotional range of a teaspoon, she could have done nothing more. Julian Moore-Cook’s Orsino seemed a touch young to be the noble Duke of repute suggested by the play – he was set off well by a Viola (Pepter Lunkuse) who came across as out of her depth, still drowning metaphorically as she had nearly literally drowned at the play’s start. In contrast Olivia (Olivia Onyehara) was the assured elder woman, which made her loss of control over Viola that much harder to watch.

But the show belonged, in my opinion, to Tony Bell’s Malvolio. It can be very hard to find the balance between unpleasant steward and wretched victim, and Tony walked that tightrope in truly hideous yellow stockings and a dirty vest which somehow stripped him of neither dignity nor humour.

The Belch-Aguecheek scenes were an absolute pleasure to linger in, helped by a few toe-tapping tunes (I was humming them most of the next day). The Olivia-Viola scenes managed to wring plenty of humour, and not a little pathos, out of the dramatic irony, and overall the production maintain’d so politic a state of fun that it is very hard to single out my favourite parts.

The setting used the gardens well – even if the movements round seemed a little less slick than last year (I think they may have been a victim of their own success there – the crowds felt larger so it may have taken longer to get us all moved/made it more likely that your view would be a bit obscured). I was a fan of the shipwrecks and nets which formed the backdrop to most scenes, even if they were at times completely irrelevant to the plot. The final scenes, inside St Paul’s Church, were decorated with cherry blossom trees which I failed to see had any relevance to the plot at all, but they did look good…

We escaped being spattered with fake blood (it isn’t that kind of play, and certainly not that kind of production), but I did find myself unable to escape from predatory (and possibly ambulatory) rose bushes and with a numb arse from sitting on a stone wall did result. They still couldn’t detract from the magic.

5 thoughts on “Twelfth Night

  1. Sounds like a great production, though the play itself is not one of my favourites and I put that down to Malvolio. As you say, it’s a fine line between being irritated by his stupidity and feeling the unfairness of his humiliation – it seems in the Bard’s day it was okay to be that cruel to someone if they were a bit daft.
    I like a good tragedy, though and have fond memories of watching a young Stephen Dillane as the man himself. He was a dab hand at a sword fight and looked great in hose – it was enough to turn my 13 year old head, I can tell you 🙂


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