Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


The earliest account of Twelfth Night on the stage comes from the diary of the barrister John Manningham who witnessed a performance of a play entitled "Twelve night or what you will" at the Middle Temple on 2 February 1602. Scholars assume that the play was enacted by Shakespeare's company, the LORD CHAMBERLAIN'S MEN. Manningham singled out for particular praise the character of Malvolio, whose deception he described as "a good device," thereby prefiguring the most dominant trend in the staging of Twelfth Night for the next four centuries. In the reign of King James I there were two further presentations of the play, both of them at court. The first was performed by the KING'S MEN on 6 April 1618; when the play was next performed, in 1623, it was known simply by the name of its most popular character, Malvolio. With the reopening of the theaters after the Restoration (1660), an adaptation of Twelfth Night was performed several times by Sir William D'Avenant's company, the Duke of York's Men. The celebrated diarist Samuel Pepys witnessed three different performances of the play between 1661 and 1669, none of which he praised. Scholars suggest that the romantic nature of the comedy failed to suit the tastes of the late seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century, however, Twelfth Night became established as a popular favorite on the London stage. David Garrick presented the play at DRURY LANE in January 1741. The cast included Kitty Clive as Olivia, Hannah Pritchard as Viola, and Charles Macklin as Malvolio, a role which he enacted with acclaim for many years after. Throughout the rest of the century Twelfth Night was performed on a yearly basis at Drury Lane and COVENT GARDEN, where the principal actor invariably took the part of Malvolio.

The early nineteenth century witnessed profound changes in the interpretation of Shakespearean drama by prominent actor-managers. In particular, emphasis was placed on the playwright's fusion of festive, musical, and spectacular elements. This trend was inaugurated by Frederick Reynolds, who in 1820 presented an operatic adaptation of Twelfth Night at Covent Garden. The text was heavily interpolated and embellished with musical interludes derived from The Sonnets, The Tempest, and Venus and Adonis, among other Shakespearean works. The emphasis on pageantry and music in Twelfth Night persisted in the nineteenth century, but was subjected to noteworthy refinements by successive actor-managers. Samuel Phelps, the actor-manager of SADLER'S WELLS, staged noteworthy productions in 1847 and 1858. Presenting Malvolio as a Spanish Golden Age hidalgo, Phelps transformed the steward into what a reviewer in the Weekly Dispatch described as a figure of "frozen calm" and "solidified presumption." In September 1850 Charles Kean presented a scenically lavish revival of the play at the NEW PRINCESS THEATRE, with his wife, Ellen Tree, winning acclaim in the role of Viola. Far more visually stunning, however, was Henry Irving's 1884 production at the LYCEUM THEATRE. Irving cut the music and songs of the play, employing instead spectacular scenery comprised of sixteen different set designs. Irving himself took the role of Malvolio, portraying the character as a Spanish Golden Age figure reminiscent of Don Quixote. He eschewed a comic interpretation of the role, highlighting rather what he perceived to be the character's tragic nuances. Thus, Malvolio's scene in the "dark house" (Act IV), was played, according to William Archer, in a "nerveless state of prostrate dejection." Frank Benson commented that Irving's conception of the role compromised the casting of the other performances: "the ladies were too mature and, what was almost equally disastrous, the comedians were not funny; the sprightly Feste was played as a decrepit old man and Fabian was the brightest spark of the plotters." During the first performance of this production the audience responded with apathy until the finale, when Irving was interrupted by booing and hissing. Although Ellen Terry rendered the role of Viola admirably later in the season, her first night's performance was hampered by illness. Irving later took the production to America, where, despite having replaced half the cast members, the play similarly failed to please audiences.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there were several notable revivals of Twelfth Night on both sides of the Atlantic. Augustin Daly's staging of the play, which opened at Daly's Theatre in New York in 1893, was accounted one of the director's greatest successes. Taking extreme liberties with the text, Daly cut approximately six hundred lines from the play in order to purge it of elements that might compromise its "poetry" and "beauty." He additionally transposed and rearranged the musical scenes in the work, employing as an introduction to the first act a group of fishermen and peasants singing "Come unto these yellow sands." Daly promoted the pageantry of the play by using the elaborate costumes of Graham Robertson and by staging such memorable scenic effects as a violent storm and a moonlit rose garden. The play itself consisted of only four acts, and the character of Malvolio was reduced to the dungeon scene in Act IV. This production was in full sympathy with contemporary taste and was well received both in America and in London the following year. Ada Rehan's Viola was considered a highlight of this staging. William Winter wrote "Viola is a woman of deep sensibility: and that way Miss Rehan has comprehended and reproduced her, permitting a certain wistful sadness to glimmer through the gauze of kindly vivacity." For George Bernard Shaw, who deprecated Daly's handling of the text, Rehan's performance was the sole redeeming feature of the production: "the moment she strikes up the true Shakespearian music, and feels her way to her part altogether by her sense of that music, the play returns to life and all the magic is there." In 1894 the production opened at Daly's Theatre in London, where Rehan played Viola for 119 performances.

In 1897 William Poel presented Twelfth Night at the Middle Temple in a revival that sought to present a faithful Elizabethan version of the play. Influenced by later stage traditions, however, Poel also emphasized the musical nature of Shakespeare's language and cast the principal roles with operatic vocal ranges in mind. Malvolio, for example, was cast as a baritone, Viola as a mezzo-soprano, and Orsino as a tenor. Similarly, the American producer E. H. Sothern attempted an historically accurate presentation of Twelfth Night in productions in New York and London in 1905 and 1907 respectively. By contrast, Herbert Beerbohm Tree's 1901 production at HIS MAJESTY'S THEATRE represented the zenith of the Victorian preoccupation with spectacle. Olivia's garden, for example, was rendered by Hawes Craven to imitate an elaborate picture in Country Life. In his portrayal of Malvolio, Tree departed from tradition by focusing on the farcical nature of the role. Shaw praised Tree's striking appearance as an "intolerably condescending blue-eyed peacock with a red twirl of beard." Another experimental approach to the interpretation of character was inaugurated by Harley GranvilleBarker's 1912 production at the Savoy Theatre. Henry Ainley gave a complex rendering of Malvolio as a simultaneously conceited and pathetic middle-aged figure. Similarly, Hayden Coffin's Feste centered on the role's melancholic undertones, an interpretation that was to become influential in later revivals of the play.

After a period of approximately twenty years during which Twelfth Night was infrequently staged, the play was revived in several notable productions at the OLD VIC THEATRE in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1932 Edith Evans gave a memorable portrayal of Viola in a production directed by Harcourt Williams. Five years later, Tyrone Guthrie staged a presentation of the play that featured a hyperbolic portrayal of Sir Toby Belch by Laurence Olivier; Alec Guinness as Sir Andrew Aguecheek; and Jessica Tandy as both Viola and Sebastian. Guinness revived the play for the 1948-49 season, focusing the drama on a grief-stricken Feste played by Robert Eddison. This staging was additionally considered noteworthy for the use of Michael Warre's revolving stage and the commanding presence of Cedric Hardwicke in the role of Sir Toby Belch. Kenneth Tynan maintained that "for delicacy of insight and shady, cock-eyed charm I have seen no performance in Shakespearian comedy much better than this."

One of the most prominent American productions at this time was the Theatre Guild's presentation at the St. James Theatre, New York, in the 1940-41 season. This production was directed by Margaret Webster and starred Maurice Evans as Malvolio, a performance that departed from tradition in making use of a Cockney accent. Euphemia Van Rensselaer Wyatt commented that "Olivia's majordomo emerges as the correct British butler." Grenville Vernon enthused over this performance, maintaining that "Mr. Evans reaches the peak of his accomplishment in the most subtle, most beautifully articulated performance of the part I have ever seen." Joseph Wood Krutch, however, asserted that Evans's comic portrayal debased the role and was "false to Shakespeare's conception." Another portrayal that received mixed reviews was that of Helen Hayes in the part of Viola. Krutch argued that "so far as she herself is concerned there is in truth, very little left to be desired." Stark Young, by contrast, criticized her delivery of Shakespeare's blank verse, maintaining that she turned "most of all that poetic treasure into mere chirpy prose." Similarly, Rosamond Gilder commented that Hayes's performance lacked spontaneity and that only once or twice did she "release the full lyric loveliness of the part." Critics generally agreed that the production provided a splendid evening's entertainment, while nevertheless judging Webster's direction to have emphasized lively stage business at the expense of poetic interpretation.

In the 1950s several productions attempted to unify the comic and melancholic strains in Twelfth Night. Hugh Hunt's revival at the Old Vic in 1950 avoided traditional approaches to the play's opening by employing mournful music in the first scene and by presenting an Illyria swathed in decayed grandeur. In commenting on the sets of Roger Furse, Richard David noted that "the Illyrian streets had the peeling and water-worn dignity of a side-canal in Venice." Hunt nevertheless infused his staging with a degree of liveliness, especially in the crowd scenes and musical interludes. The focal point of the production's comedy was Roger Livesey's portrayal of Sir Toby Belch, which T. C. Worsley praised as a "rich, bursting Sir Toby, who never misses an opportunity for a bit of business, but never gives us too much." Paul Rogers's Malvolio, which similarly contained an element of buffoonery, was less well received. J. C. Trewin found the performance "strangely out of the picture here." By contrast, Peggy Ashcroft's Viola was accorded general praise, with Trewin maintaining that "it is long since I have seen a Viola so fitted to the play." In judging the production as a whole, critics tended to deprecate Hunt's reliance upon low comedy. John Gielgud's 1955 production at the SHAKESPEARE MEMORIAL THEATRE was likewise received with muted praise, despite the central performances of Laurence Olivier as Malvolio and Vivien Leigh as Viola. This staging also featured a witty, gay Feste, played by Paul Daneman, and a sombre Sir Toby Belch, enacted by Richard Burton. Despite a strong cast, critics charged Gielgud with failing to unify the romantic comedy of the play within his production's espousal of realistic characterization. This was particularly apparent in Olivier's Malvolio, which presented the steward as a self-made man who had carefully studied aristocratic ways and speech. Olivier lent the character a degree of seriousness and dignity that critics found wholly original. The reviewer for The Times nevertheless noted that this interpretation resulted in the miscarriage of Malvolio's comic scenes.

Tyrone Guthrie's production at the STRATFORD FESTIVAL, Ontario, in 1957 succeeded in integrating the romantic and comic plots of the drama. Critics such as Henry Hewes felt this had been achieved by a careful fleshing out of the comic roles. In praising Christopher Plummer's portrayal of Sir Andrew Aguecheek, for example, Hewes commented that "making Shakespeare's clowns into real people instead of mere affectations has the advantage of keeping the audience ready to laugh as they see each new situation approaching." Guthrie further innovated in his handling of Feste, played by Bruno Gerussi, who became, according to Arnold Edinborough, "a sad, ageing fool full of the pathos of his position where he is retained not for his wit but for his length of service." A similar sensitivity to the romantic roles characterized the production. Edin-borough maintained that "as the bright-eyed and shrewdly naive Viola, Siobhan McKenna was entrancing and her swaggering self-importance was beautifully undermined by the sensitive playing of Frances Hyland as Olivia."

In the following year there were two notable revivals of the play. Michael Benthall directed a romantic and bitter-sweet Twelfth Night at the Old Vic that nevertheless provided an element of farce in Judi Dench's portrayal of Maria. Despite praising the sets and costumes, which evoked the early eighteenth century, critics generally felt that the production was poorly paced and unsatisfying. Peter Hall's revival at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was rather more successful. Hall sought to give equal weight to the comic lightness and melancholic heaviness in the drama through a combination of visual effects and innovative characterization. Lila de Nobili's set designs were described by Robert Speaight as "a rich symphony in russet," and the court of Illyria was reminiscent of Charles II's, with costumes patterned after the portraits of Van Dyck and Rubens. Most noteworthy among the principal roles was Geraldine McEwan's Olivia, which portrayed the Countess as a sharply satirical figure incapable of seriousness. While this staging pleased audiences, critics such as Roy Walker voiced certain objections: "This was a Twelfth Night that did not altogether succeed, but a production that continually threw fresh light on a comedy about which most of us have long ceased to think freshly." By contrast, Jack Landau's 1960 AMERICAN SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL production was much less ambitious. Seeking to make Twelfth Night accessible to an audience unfamiliar with seeing Shakespearean plays on the stage, Landau set the play in a Victorian seaside town, thereby eliciting unintended comparisons with the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan.

The latter part of the 1960s witnessed two notable RSC productions, each of which exemplified opposing trends in interpreting the play. Clifford Williams's 1966 revival dispensed with a serious approach to Twelfth Night, "presenting it," wrote the critic for The Times, "as a hard-edged almost Italianate comedy firmly steeled against pathos and poetry." For this very reason, most critics responded without enthusiasm to the production. Hilary Spurling maintained that the set design, which evoked the Italian High Renaissance, lacked the fanciful quality typically associated with Shakespeare's Illyria. Additionally, most critics felt the performances to have been unmemorable. J. C. Trewin asserted that "Mr. Williams has been at pains … to mock the affectation of Orsino (Alan Howard) and of Olivia (Estelle Kohler), the first a near-burlesque of romantic passion, the second a mere kitten." Jeremy Kingston, however, praised the strong performances of Diana Rigg as Viola and Ian Holm as Malvolio, hailing them as the "chief pleasures of the evening." Despite wishing for a tenderer Twelfth Night, Robert Speaight concluded that "it would be priggish not to admit that this production was enormously diverting, even if now and then it won its laughs at rather too high a price." John Barton's 1969-70 production took the very different course of providing what Gareth Lloyd Evans termed a "gravely lyrical interpretation of Shakespeare's work that derived from the text itself." Irving Wardle qualified his praise by stating "this not the funniest or most inventive Twelfth Night I have seen; but I can remember no production that held all the comedy's elements in such harmony." For many critics, the focal point of the production was Emrys James's Feste, which Simon Gray declared "a theatrical triumph." Donald Sinden's Malvolio was similarly praised by the majority of commentators. Speaight noted that Sinden's handling of the role in the vein of high comedy left "the right bitterness in the mouth when the play's flight from realism might have seemed too precipitate." In judging the production as a whole, Benedict Nightingale concluded that it was "Barton's peculiar and perverse achievement to send us out of Shakespeare's 'happiest comedy' feeling that neither [Olivia and Orsino] nor anyone else will live happily ever after."

In the period 1974-75 two productions on either side of the Atlantic offered markedly different interpretations of Twelfth Night. In 1974 Peter Gill's directorial debut with the RSC presented a sexually charged revival of the play that was dominated by the image of Narcissus. A portrait of the self-absorbed youth, gazing at his reflection in a pool of water, was the focus of designer William Dudley's otherwise spare set, and served as a continuous reminder to the audience of the themes of ambiguous sexuality and erotic self-deception. For Michael Billington, this resulted in a production that was "curiously short on social and human detail." This was further accentuated by what critics generally felt were the uncomic performances of Patricia Hayes as Maria, Frank Thornton as Sir Andrew Ague-cheek and Ron Pember as Feste. Additionally, Jane Lapotaire's androgynous rendering of Viola was faulted by Irving Wardle for serving solely as "a blank screen on to which others project their fantasies." At the 1975 Stratford Festival in Ontario David Jones's production was deemed by critics to have steered a moderate course between the excessively romantic stagings of the nineteenth century and the more cynical interpretations of such twentieth-century directors as Tyrone Guthrie. Clive Barnes characterized Jones as "one of the new-style British classics directors who are original without being outlandish and place the simple, yet imaginative interpretation of the playwright's concept as absolutely paramount." This exceptionally successful production of Twelfth Night highlighted the play's themes of love and identity, particularly as expressed through the characters of Malvolio, played by Brian Bedford, and Viola, played by Kathleen Widdoes. Bedford presented Malvolio as a prim, self-righteous puritan and played directly to the audience. Berners W. Jackson likened the actor to a virtuoso musician playing "upon a cacophonous instrument, directly manipulating the responses, not only of the whole group, but also of individuals."

Many revivals of Twelfth Night in recent decades have employed the seasonal setting of the play as a guiding metaphor of the drama's action. Terry Hands's 1979 RSC production, for example, opened with an Illyria shrouded in winter and closed with the arrival of spring. This threw into relief the centrality of the play's romantic relationships, which critics agreed were rendered with energy. Benedict Nightingale commented, "in Illyria love is a sudden and alarming affliction, a variety of glandular fever virulent enough to send the mercury racing up and over the humiliation threshold." In particular, Gareth Thomas's Orsino and Kate Nicholls's Olivia were faulted for indulging in hyperbolic emotion. J. C. Trewin asserted that "we know that Orsino and Olivia are given to excess, but it was long since they had been acted with more resolute and superfluous vigour." Even more contentious was David Mamet's 1980 production of Twelfth Night at the Circle Repertory Theatre, New York, which also made use of a winter setting. This revival engendered heated critical comment for its bold use of costuming. Adopting an anachronistic approach that clothed characters in garb from a variety of centuries, Mamet explained that he allowed the actors themselves to choose the costumes that they felt were appropriate for their characters. Many critics asserted that this directorial choice was nothing more than an irresponsible gimmick. Michael Bertin, however, argued that it was "a fine intuition into the play's heart," explaining that "uniformity in costuming is … a relatively modern innovation." This production further elicited contrary responses regarding Marshall W. Mason's performance as Malvolio. John Simon described Mason's Malvolio as "a prissy antiques salesman trying to screw up his courage to turn a trick on Central Park West," while Bertin characterized the performance as "elegant and reserved." Lindsay Crouse, by contrast, won unanimous approval for her rendering of Viola, which Edith Oliver hailed as "the best I've ever seen," noting that the actress spoke "her poetry … as easily as breathing, never slighting its music or emotion or force."

In the same year as Mamet's production, the BBC Television version of Twelfth Night was aired in both the United Kingdom and the United States. Reviewers on either side of the Atlantic found John Gome's direction of the drama to have been competent but not outstanding. Although, G. M. Pearce described it as "cheerful" and "vigorous," and Maurice Charney called it "modest but very satisfying," almost all commentators concurred that the production failed to achieve a unique interpretation of the drama.

In the 1980s, several productions of Twelfth Night strove with varying degrees of success to achieve an interpretation of the play that transcended traditional approaches. John Caird's 1983-84 production with the RSC was viewed by the majority of critics as the summation of the twentieth-century preoccupation with the play's melancholy. As Irving Wardle stated, "quite a deal of poison has been seeping into this play … but John Caird's production is the first I have seen that projects Twelfth Night as an all-out dark comedy." Set in the Jacobean period, the production accentuated a sense of decay and confinement by employing a ruined garden, rusting gates, and a mortuary chapel as components of the set designs. For many commentators, the strengths of this revival were the musical score of liona Sekacz and the performances of the principal actors. Nicholas Shrimpton hailed Gemma Jones's Maria as "the most original piece of characterization in the production … this was a high-spirited, horsey girl from a country background, now living in reduced circumstances as a paid companion." Additionally, Emrys James's Malvolio was praised for its fresh power by several critics. Richard Findlater asserted "this Malvolio is odious, even dangerous, in his moment of naked triumph, taken with splendid comic brio, and nakedly hurt in his hour of humiliation." Wilford Leach's New York Shakespeare Festival production in 1986 generated far more hostile responses from reviewers. Mel Gussow explained that it was not "a question of liberties taken but of abandonment of the play's essential nature as one of the most irresistible of Shakespeare's comedies." This production advocated an approach to the play that stressed elements of low comedy and farce. Actors were clothed in Renaissance dress, and the set featured a revolving platform with a central stage tower that flashed "Welcome to Illyria." The butt of critical disapproval, however, was directed towards the central performances. Tony Azito's clownish rendering of Feste failed to tap into any of the role's deeper significance. Gussow described him as a "body in motion but out of sync with his character." Kim Greist's rendering of Viola fared slightly better. John Simon asserted "Miss Greist cannot act very much … but she has a tolerable voice, is not deliberately offensive, and tries hard." The sole performance to receive a modicum of praise was F. Murray Abraham's Malvolio. John Beaufort mirrored the opinions of most commentators in writing that Abraham projected "the fussy aplomb and self-infatuation that make the censorious steward all too susceptible to the cruel trick played on him."

In 1987 two English revivals of Twelfth Night returned to the use of seasonal stage effects. Bill Alexander's RSC production set the play in an Illyria that resembled a sun-drenched Greek island. While Michael Ratcliffe maintained that "there can rarely have been a version of this disturbing comedy so bland, humourless and cold," Gary O'Connor hailed the production as "outstanding," commenting that the use of dazzling white architectural motifs in the set design accentuated "the confusion woven by illusion and self-illusion." The most controversial aspect of this staging was Antony Sher's Malvolio. Sher, whose costume was reminiscent of the liturgical garb of an Orthodox priest, took seriously the possibility that Malvolio becomes mad as a result of his confinement in the "dark room." For Stanley Wells, this portrayal was ultimately a failure. He maintained: "Sher technically as brilliant as ever, allows the effort to be both funny and original to take precedence over the establishment of a credible character who believes in himself." Taking the opposing view, O'Connor lavishly praised the performance as "a gloriously infected piece of work," asserting that the actor's comic excess was "beautifully judged in its degree." In contrast to Alexander's staging, Kenneth Branagh's production with the Renaissance Theatre Company set Twelfth Night in a wintry Illyria that evoked the England of Charles Dickens. H. R. Woudhuysen cautioned, however, that this was not "the Dickens of Pickwick or A Christmas Carol but of Bleak House and Little Dorrit, where secrecy and tragedy will eventually give birth to revelation and joy."

Making full use of the play's seasonal associations, the set of the Riverside Studios featured a Christmas tree and a snowy cemetery in the center stage that was used for Malvolio's imprisonment. Critics generally approved of the director's sole liberty with the text: Branagh transposed the first and second scenes of the drama in order to combine the charm of the play with its underlying strangeness. Audiences and critics were pleased with Branagh's direction; Kenneth Hurren declared it to have been "quite the most enjoyable production of the comedy I have seen for decades."

In recent years Twelfth Night has continued to prove popular on the stage. The productions of Peter Hall and Ian Judge have further demonstrated a shift away from the general trend in the theater of imposing anachronistic ideological meanings on Shakespeare's works. Peter Hall's 1991 production at the Playhouse Theatre, for example, intentionally avoided any allusion to contemporary social and political concerns. Critical opinion varied markedly as to the success of Hall's approach. Peter J. Smith argued that the production "failed to satisfy," despite having "captured both the magic and the melancholy of the script." Similarly, Eric Sams maintained that the staging was hampered by a lack of direction. Bernard Levin, by contrast, lavishly praised Hall's shaping of the drama, making particular mention of the cast's sensitivity to Shakespearean diction. Hall set the play in the Caroline period, and the stage designs presented an Illyria that Christopher Edwards described as a "glorious autumnal prospect—apple trees and falling brown leaves—which dips down to a stretch of mist-shrouded water." Among the performances, Eric Porter's Malvolio proved the subject of controversy. Irving Wardle, for example, maintained that nobody would shed any tears for Porter's "fatuously capering Malvolio," while Michael Coveney took the contrary position that "there is simply no better Malvolio in the world than Eric Porter." Ian Judge's 1994 RSC production was similarly faulted by several critics for a lack of depth, although it charmed the majority of commentators with what Irving Wardle termed its "fresh and truthful detail." The set design featured a wintry Jacobean representation of the city of Stratford-upon- Avon itself. Judge explained: "When I look through the hedges of New Place or sit in the gardens of Hall's Croft, I understand Illyria." The director emphasized the comic and wistful nature of the play, thereby softening its melancholic elements. Russell Jackson maintained that "theatregoers who prefer their comic worlds a little more romantic may find this tame, and it will be too sentimental for those who want more bite in their comedy."

Reviews And Retrospective Accounts Of Selected Productions

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


Henry Irving • Lyceum Theatre • 1884


One of the most visually stunning renderings of the play in the nineteenth century, Irving's Twelfth Night was shorn of the text's music and songs but embellished with lavish scenery comprised of sixteen different sets. Irving himself played the part of Malvolio, who became the drama's focus, and eschewed a comic approach to the character, highlighting the steward's tragic nuances instead. Irving was dressed as a Spanish Golden Age figure reminiscent of Don Quixote, and rendered the scene in the "dark house" (Act IV) in what William Archer described as a "nerveless state of prostrate dejection." Frank Benson commented that Irving's conception of the role compromised the casting of the other performances: "the ladies were too mature and, what was equally disastrous, the comedians were not funny; the sprightly Feste was played as a decrepit old man and Fabian was the brightest spark of the plotters." During the first performance of the production, the audience responded with apathy until the finale, when Irving was interrupted by booing and hissing. Although Ellen Terry rendered the role of Viola admirably later in the season, her first night's performance was hampered by illness. Other members of the cast included William Terriss as Orsino; David Fisher as Sir Toby Belch; Francis Wyatt as Sir Andrew Aguecheek; and Rose Leclercq as Olivia. Irving later took the play to America, where, despite having replaced half the cast, the play similarly failed to please audiences.


Illustrated London News (review date 18 July 1884)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in The Illustrated London News, Vol. LXXXV, No. 2361, July 18, 1884, p. 59.

A by no means inconsiderable advantage was enjoyed by Mr. Irving in ordaining the scenery, costumes, and general decorations of his superb revival of Twelfth Night in the circumstance that he was not tied in any sense to time as regarded the dressing of his characters and their architectural surroundings; nor, to any great extent, was he hampered by the exigencies of place. "A city in Illyria and the seacoast near it" is a geographical expression sufficiently elastic. With regard to the "seacoast," it is enough that it should have a generally Adriatic aspect; while "a city in Illyria," when it is considered that ancient Illyricum comprised apart of the modern Croatia, the whole of Dalmatia, nearly the whole of Bosnia, and part of Albania, and that modern Illyria includes Carinthia, Carniola, Istria, Croatia, Ragusa, and Dalmatia, might present, indifferently, a Teutonic, an Italian, a Greek, a Turkish, or a simply savage Sclavonic appearance. All these characteristics are possessed by Trieste, the modern capital of Illyria, which in the way of conflicting styles of architecture and varied picturesqueness of costume is as cosmopolitan as Odessa, but in which the predominant key of colour, language, and manners is undoubtedly Italian. In Shakespeare's time, however, where now is the imposing and prosperous city of Trieste was probably only a humble fishing-village. The more ancient town of Ragusa, in Dalmatia, would present a more satisfactory ideal of an Adriatic seaport, liable to be visited by corsairs, and near which might be a ducal palace and the stately mansion of such a highly-born dame as Olivia. For the rest, it must be remembered that in the generation between the Dark Ages and the Renaissance Illyria passed successively through the hands of the Venetians, the Hungarians, and the Turks—that is to say, from a condition of high civilisation among its upper classes to one of downright barbarism.

Mr. Irving has chosen the Venetian period as best suited for the illustration of Twelfth Night, and although there is a slight suspicion of Orientalism in the garb of the minstrels who so ravish the soul of the aesthetic Orsino, and there is an element of Sclavonic wildness and uncouthness in the array of the guards who make their appearance in the last scene, the costumes and the architecture belong essentially to the period of the Venetian domination; that is to say, the sumptuous garments in which Mr. Irving has clad his company are such of which the analogues might have been found in England at a time when the Court of Elizabeth had reached its apogee of splendour. Orsino's palace and Viola's scarcely less palatial villa are sumptuously Palladian in style; while the art of landscape gardening, as pursued in Illyria three hundred years ago, appears to have reached a very high pitch of excellence. The sea-coast scenes, the court-yard of Olivia's house, the terrace, Olivia's garden, are painted by Mr. Hawes Craven; Orsino's palace, the road near Olivia's house, and the cloisters thereof, are from the pencil of Mr. W. Telbin; while Mr. W. Hann has painted the orchard scene; Mr T. W. Hall the last scene, before Olivia's house; and Mr. J. Selby Hall the scene including the dungeon in which Malvolio is immured. As a succession of beautiful pictures, the mise en scène of Twelfth Night is equal to any of the far-famed Lyceum revivals; but as a spectacle it is certainly not so brilliant nor so imposing as Romeo and Juliet or Much Ado About Nothing, or even as The Cup. As regards stage management, one of Mr. Irving's highest claims to commendation must be that he has not overloaded a merry comedy, dependent for acceptance on the ingenuity of its plot and the wit of its dialogue, with superfluous ornament.

William Archer (review date August 1884)

SOURCE: "Twelfth Night at the Lyceum," in Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. L, August, 1884, pp. 271-79.


Towards the close of 1601, or perhaps a little earlier, a new play named Twelfe Night Or what you will, was announced on the placards of the Blackfriars Theatre. It was by the most popular playwright of the time, and was doubtless looked forward to with interest by the playgoing world. Eccentric titles were the order of the day, and this one promised an airy comedy, after the fashion of a fantasy by the same author, which had perhaps preceded it in the spring of the year—As You Like It, to wit. For the first performance the prices were no doubt doubled, and 10/. or 12/. may have come into the treasury. It was probably repeated some few times, but it clearly created no great sensation. No contemporary author alludes to it with praise or blame, and it does not even seem to have been pirated. It leaves only one small trace on the records of the time, due to its having been selected (partly, perhaps, on account of its scenic simplicity) for performance in the Middle Temple Hall, on February 2nd, 1602. Manningham, the young Templar whose diary gives us this information, does not seem to have heard of it before, and treats it as the merest triviality. It probably served its author's purpose, in affording a relief from the heavier tragic, historic, and melodramatic matters which formed the staple theatrical fare of the day. Having run its little course, it was relegated to the ordinary repertory of the theatre, to be revived as occasion demanded; and, so far as the public was concerned, it passed out of sight, out of mind.

After a lapse of nearly three centuries the same play is produced at the leading theatre of London. It is a subject of eager speculation in all classes of society for weeks before-hand. Its first night is chronicled by a hundred pens as minutely, and in some cases as heroically, as a national victory. Telegraphic accounts of the great event fly to all ends of the earth. For at least a year to come the production will be a standing topic of conversation at the aesthetic teas of two nations. The manager has probably spent on it as much as would have built and fitted Burbage's Globe and Blackfriars, and Alleyn's Fortune to boot; he will probably reap from it as much as Shakespeare earned in his whole career, enough to buy New Place and a coat-of-arms, and found a family three times over.

It is the fashion to speculate on Shakespeare's astonishment could he see the luxury and completeness of illusion with which his plays are now put on the stage. I sometimes wonder whether he would not be even more surprised at the bare fact of his plays holding the stage at all.

Let us examine Shakespeare's own definition of the function of the drama—"to show the very age and body of the time his form and pressure." A definition this which every one accepts without demur. But it is one thing to accept a maxim, and another thing to act and think up to it. We do not in our drama show the age and body of the time his form and pressure, any more than we turn the left cheek to him who smites us on the right. And did Shakespeare himself obey his own precept any better than we? Assuredly not. He imaged the mere externals of Elizabe-than life, because the limited historic sense of his time cared nothing for painstaking reconstructions of the manners of distant ages and nations; but he had no eye for the social, political, or religious tendencies of his day; America scarcely existed for him, the Reformation was not, no one had less foreboding than he of the coming baptism in blood of our infant democracy. What he did was to show the age and body of all time his form and pressure; in other words, to see and interpret the spirit of man, unconditioned by time and space, as the great art of the Italian Renaissance had seen and interpreted his body. This he did through the medium of fables gathered from many sources—classical and national history, northern legend and southern romance. On the graver subjects he lavished his genius as a dramatist and his metaphysical clairvoyance; the lighter themes he treated as a humorist and master of lyric fantasy. Apart from anachronistic allusions, no single play of his is one whit more relevant to the material interests of the Elizabethan age than it is to the problems of today. He was not even a practically influential satirist, as Ben Jonson aspired to be. A tendency-play—and no serious play which answers to Hamlet's ideal can quite escape an infusion of tendency—is scarcely to be found in his theatre. If such a play exists, it is Coriolanus, in which one seems unwillingly to trace a personal sympathy with violent aristocratic reaction.

The English drama has never really succeeded in showing the age and body of the time his form and pressure. That is the formula of realism, not to say naturalism. We may have done better, but that particular thing we have never done. In modern France, Germany, and Scandinavia, it has been, and is being, done; it has been done to a certain extent in English fiction; but in the drama, no. We have had to content ourselves with mere social satire of varying merit, from Congreve and Sheridan to Robertson and Byron. We oscillate between farce and melodrama; probably we shall never have a great realistic drama. There seems to be something in the national character that forbids it.

Since the theatre, then, is to be a mere place of pastime, we have but to examine what sort of pastime is on the whole most entertaining and least objectionable. And here Shakespearean comedy, illustrated with all the artistic perfection attainable, certainly takes a high rank.

Our Asmodeus-Shakespeare would, on reflection, cease to wonder at finding the passing fantasy of 1601 regenerated and glorified in 1884. He would see in it an aesthetic plaything as good as any other and better than most—a thing of mere beauty, and therefore a joy for ever. Utility passes away, but beauty remains. Just because Shakespeare did not show the age and body of his time its form and pressure, his plays, in so far as they have the perennial gift of pure beauty, are acceptable to a generation which does not care, or dare, to see its own form and pressure on the stage. A realistic drama will never become classical in the sense of being equally relevant, or irrelevant, to all ages. Hamlet, as we know, acted up to his own ideal, and gave "The Murder of Gonzago" a distinct tendency; for which reason, no doubt, it failed to hold the stage, and has not been since revived at the Danish court. But Hamlet's creator was unconcerned as to whether or no the time was out of joint, or at least did not feel himself born to set it right. Therefore it is that his fantastic plays have a right to the first place on a stage which holds itself aloof from the serious problems of life, and is, as Mr. Matthew Arnold has pointed out, in its essence fantastic.


Beauty and humour, then, are the two imperishable elements for which we have to look in estimating the claim of a Shakespearean comedy to hold the stage. In both qualities Twelfth Night ranks high, if not highest, among its fellows. It has practically only one competitor, As You Like It, in which I, for my part, find the beauty fresher, robuster, less evanescent on the stage, and the humour at once less obsolete and more intimately blended with the beauty; but this is a mere individual impression, a question of "as you like it," and nothing more. Two other fantastic comedies, A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest, are put out of court by the inherent impossibility of adequate stage presentation. A Winter's Tale, whose fourth act is beyond question the most exquisite of all, is marred by the repulsiveness, or at any rate the total unbeautifulness, of some of its opening passages. The grouping together of these five plays may be thought arbitrary, since in the first two the supernatural plays no open part as it does in the other three. But this objection is grounded on the letter, not on the spirit. Who shall lay down the boundary between the land of faery and the land of fantasy? It is merely the line on one side of which the spirits are visible, while on the other they play their pranks unseen. Puck is as active in Illyria as in Attica, though we see him only in his works; Ariel is as much at home in Ardennes as in the Enchanted Island. Who does not feel that the air of our Twelfth Night Illyria is full of influences quite absent from the atmosphere of Much Ado or of The Merchant of Venice? This distinction cannot be too strongly insisted on, for it involves the question of what critical standard we are to apply. Our moral judgments are as inapplicable to Twelfth Night as to an Arabian Night; Much Ado, on the other hand, should stand the ethical test as well as Middle-march—if it does not, so much the worse.

The elements of beauty and of humour are kept very much apart in Twelfth Night. It contains two actions in one frame—a romantic intrigue borrowed from Italy, and a pair of practical jokes, or "good practices," as Mr. Manningham hath it, invented by Shakespeare. These two actions can be said really to touch at only one point, and then, as it were, unwillingly; for it is where Viola's blade crosses Sir Andrew's. It shows how potent is the name of Shakespeare to conjure up a mist before the eyes of criticism, when we find rationalistic German critics like Bulthaupt—critics whom the orthodox Shakespearologists regard as mere pagans—dwelling upon the admirable unity of Twelfth Night as a reason why it, more than any of its fellows, should hold the German stage. The prosaic analysis of Benedix contains a great deal more truth. The play has just as much unity as two spheres in contact.

The history of the romantic intrigue is curious, and affords one example of Charles Kingsley's somewhat rash generalisation as to Shakespeare's "truly divine instinct for finding honey where others found poison." The sister disguised in male attire and mistaken for her twin-brother appears in Cinthio's Hecatommithi, but it is in Bandello that the tale first takes the shape we know. Here we have the sister acting as page to the man she loves, and sent by him on embassies of love to an obdurate fair one, who becomes enamoured of the ambassadress, and ultimately falls by mistake into the arms of a twin-brother of the supposed page. Bandello's tale is rambling and very licentious, burdened with heavy fathers, confidants, and the other stock figures of the Italian bourgeois life it depicts, the separation of the brother and sister being supposed to take place at the sack of Rome. Belleforest simply translates and condenses Bandello; and to Belleforest Barnaby Rich seems to have gone for his tale of Apolonius and Silla, included in Riche his Farewell to Militane profession, published in 1581. That Shakespeare borrowed mainly from Rich cannot be doubted. He may possibly have known Bandello's tale, and all or any of the three Italian comedies (two called Gl'Inganni and the third Gl'Ingannati) founded upon it. Hunter makes out a tolerable case in favour of his having known Gl'Ingannati, the strongest point in it being the probability that the title of Twelfth Night was suggested to him by an allusion in the preface to "la Notte di Beffan." But he took little from any one but Rich. It was Rich who changed the characters of the tale from Italian bourgeois into romantic dukes and dames; it was Rich who placed the scene by the sea and introduced a shipwreck, though not as the means of the separation between Silla and Silvio. Strangely enough Rich had greatly improved upon Bandello's tale, introducing a novel comic motive towards the close, and bringing about the revelation of his heroine's sex better than any of his predecessors. This modification, however, involved two scenes of such immodesty as Beaumont and Fletcher would have revelled in. Not so Shakespeare, who rejected them even at the sacrifice of a certain amount of constructive finish. The change is due to a refined sense of tone and keeping which he did not always evince so clearly. He felt that the love which breathes through the play must be "highfantastical," and that its grosser phenomena must for the nonce be ignored. In a fairy tale everything must be sensuous, nothing sensual; and Twelfth Night is a fairy tale.

This well understood, all the crudities and absurdities of the romance become so many inseparable characteristics of the form. The exact likeness between Viola and Sebastian, extending even to the fashion and colour of their clothes; Olivia's sudden love for Viola; the complaisant philosophy with which Sebastian consents to marry a woman he has never seen before; the Duke's barbarous whim of sacrificing "the lamb that he doth love, to spite a raven's heart within a dove;" the failure of Viola and Sebastian instantly to recognise one another—all these details are bad drama but good fairy tale. And how fresh and exquisite, how gracious and stately, are the figures which move through these fantastic mazes! Viola is a shade more ethereal and fragile than Rosalind; to take an illustration suggested by their two names, she is as a violet to a moss-rose. "Ganymede" would probably have done more credit to his "swashing, martial outside" in the duel with Sir Andrew than did the shrinkingly sensitive "Cesario." For the rest they are equally modest, yet equally frank, equally self-reliant, yet equally womanly. Olivia is a model of the gracious chatelaine, even while she is a victim to the mischievous love-philtres of the unseen Puck of the play. Lamb's remark on the tone in which she should "trifle a leisure sentence or two" with the Clown, instead of "setting her wits at him" to "vie conceits with him in down-right emulation," is not the least happy in the happiest of his criticisms. What a princely carriage has the languid egoist Orsino, in whose mouth the poet has placed some of his loveliest snatches of verbal melody! What a fine fresh buoyancy of youth do we find in Sebastian! How pleasant is the bluff tenderness of the old seaman Antonio! The play begins with a symphony, and ends with a song, and should, on the stage, be steeped in music. It is a fugue of graceful fantasies.

So much for the fairy tale: now for the farce. Its construction is entirely Shakespeare's, and affords a good specimen of his manner. Given the pompously fatuous character of Malvolio, the "practise" put upon him is a very simple invention. Much more ingenuity is shown in the second practical joke of the duel, with its recoil upon the head of its perpetrator through the intervention of Sebastian. All these scenes—the scene of the letter, of the cross-garters, of the duel and its consequences—are theatrically effective by reason of their skilful dialogue, which a little judicious pruning renders fairly comprehensible to modern ears. On the other hand there are many passages which can at no time have been reasonably good dialogue—such as the first meeting between Maria and Sir Andrew, and several of the scenes in which the Clown is concerned. Such inane word-strainings may have been true to nature, since the professional fools of the day, bound to be funny at all hazards, must often have resorted to them; but they are none the less puerile, and should drop away on the modern stage to the great advantage of all concerned. Feste is, on the whole, one of the shallowest of Shakespeare's jesters. When he says of himself that he is not Olivia's fool, but her corrupter of words, there is more than a spice of truth in the remark. Compared with Touchstone, he sinks into absolute insignificance. The parts can scarcely have been written for the same actor; Touchstone was probably designed for a comedian of authoritative genius, Feste for a mere singing clown.

As to the other characters in this portion of the play, only one of them, Malvolio, presents any difficulties. Of Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, it is an old remark, but none the less a true one, that the former is a vulgarised Falstaff, the latter a caricatured Slender. It is to be noted that in the chronological sequence Twelfth Night follows almost immediately the two parts of Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Shakespeare doubtless found the popularity of these types unexhausted, and, moreover, he had probably the actors of Sir John and Slender ready to hand. He accordingly deprived the knight of his consummate intellectual supremacy of scoundreldom, giving him a somewhat weaker head for liquor, and a somewhat stronger heart for fighting; he added to Slender a dash of Ben Jonson's Master Stephen; and he placed the two figures in his fairy Illyria as he had formerly placed Bottom, Snout, and Starveling in his fairy Attica. Knight's explanation of the presence of these English roysterers in Illyria, by supposing Olivia's mother to have been an English-woman, sister to Sir Toby, is one of the most amusing naïvetés in the apologetics of Shakespearology.

And lastly, of Malvolio. I confess that he has always been to me one of the most puzzling of Shakespeare's creations. The theory, so popular with German, and with some English, commentators, which makes of him a satirical type of the Puritan as Shakespeare conceived him, will not hold ground for a moment. It is founded on one or two detached speeches wrested from their context. Maria says of him that "he is sometimes a kind of a Puritan," only to say in the next breath that "the devil a Puritan" is he; and when Sir Andrew expresses a desire to beat him, Sir Toby derisively asks, "What, for being a Puritan? Thy exquisite reason, dear knight?" Is it likely that Shakespeare was himself guilty of the stupidity which even Sir Toby ridicules in his gull? Yet Kreyssig, as a rule one of the most commonsense commentators, does not hesitate to speak as if the poet, in this character, took revenge for the Puritan attacks upon his craft, as Molière, in Tartuffe, lashed his enemies the bigots. If this was Shakespeare's intention, he must have been a blundering satirist, for there is nothing of the typical Puritan in Malvolio. He carries out his lady's orders in remonstrating with her kinsman for making her house a noisy tavern, and by so doing he draws down upon himself the vengeance of the leagued spirits of misrule. If it be Puritanism to do his duty as a man of sense and a faithful steward in attempting to put a stop to drunken ribaldry, then the poet seems rather to eulogise than to satirise Puritanism. On the other hand, his misfortunes, so far as he is himself responsible for them, spring from defects by no means characteristically Puritan. Spiritual pride is the besetting sin of the "unco' guid"; it is physical vanity which leads Malvolio so readily to swallow his tormentors' bait. A scorn, real or affected, for the things of this life is the mark of the Puritan; Malvolio, however little taste he may have for the gross "cakes and ale" of the boon companions, has not the slightest desire to conceal his worldliness beneath a mask of other-worldliness. But such argument is futile. No one who reads the play without a preconceived theory can find in Malvolio the smallest trace of the zealot. All that can by any stretch of language be called Puritanism in his conduct redounds entirely to his honour.

To me it seems that Shakespeare, in drawing him, had not so clear an idea as usual of the precise phase of character he wished to represent. He was more concerned to obtain comic effects than to create a consistent, closely-observed type. We do not know Malvolio as we know Polonius, Jacques, Mercutio, Dogberry. This may be a mere personal impression, but I seem to trace in the commentators something of the uncertainty which has always troubled me with reference to his character. The very fact that he has been so grievously misinterpreted proves that there is a certain vagueness in his characterisation. Lamb has drawn with his usual delicacy of insight the externals, so to speak, of the part, has left directions for all coming generations of actors (happy whoso can follow them!); but his hints as to how the best comic value is to be extracted from the stage-personage throw little light upon the inward structure, the psychological basis, of the character. If I may hazard a theory, I should say that he is not a Puritan but a Philistine. The radical defect of his nature is a Jack of that sense of humour which is the safety-valve of all our little insanities, preventing even the most expensive egoism from altogether overinflating us. He takes himself and the world too seriously. He has no intuition for the incongruous and grotesque, to put the drag upon his egoistic fantasy, "sick of self-love." His face, not only smileless itself but contemptuous of mirth in others, has acted as a damper upon the humour of the sprightly Maria and the jovial Sir Toby; he has taken a set pleasure in putting the poor Clown out of countenance by receiving bis quips with a stolid gravity. Hence the rancour of the humorists against a fundamentally antagonistic nature; hence, perhaps, their whim of making him crown his absurdities by wearing a forced smile, a grimace more incongruous with his pompous personality than even cross-garters or yellow stockings. He is a being, in short, to whom the world, with all its shows and forms, is intensely real and profoundly respectable. He has no sense of its littleness, its evanescence, without which he can have no true sense of its greatness and its mystery. In common life this absorption in the shows of things manifests itself in a deficient feeling for proportion and contrast. He has no sense of humour—that is the head and front of his offending.

That his punishment, strictly considered, is excessive to the point of barbarity, cannot, I think, be doubted; but the air of the fairy tale interpenetrates the farce, and we do not demand a strict apportionment of justice either poetical or practical. It is certain that no sense of painful injustice has generally been found to interfere with the pleasure to be derived from the play, which has, until of late years, been popular on the English stage, while German critics agree in regarding it as the comedy which, on the whole, retains most vitality for modern audiences. Nor can we doubt that its attractiveness on the stage has hitherto been due to the farce rather than to the fairy tale, whose iridescent beauties are apt to be lost in the harsh light of the theatre. Whether he clearly defined his character or not, Shakespeare evidently succeeded in making of Malvolio an effective comic figure.


How, then, is Twelfth Night treated at the Lyceum? Is the fairy tale brought into prominence, or the farce? or do they receive equal justice? It may be said at once that the fairy tale comes off the better of the two, but that even it meets with somewhat inadequate treatment.

Not, certainly, as regards externals. Mr. Irving and his scenic artists seem to have recognised, consciously or instinctively, that they had to deal with a Kingdom of Kennaquhere, unrecorded in history, undiscoverable in geography, which must, before all else, be sumptuous and summery. The action moves through no less than thirteen scenes, seven of which take up, if not the full stage, at least a considerable part of its depth. In a popular German arrangement of the play two "sets" are made to suffice; but this is a false and inartistic economy. It is useless to talk of overburdening the action with decoration. This criticism might apply to Romeo and Juliet, but in Twelfth Night there is practically no action to be overburdened. The richer and more varied the background, the fuller is the sensuous satisfaction we receive from the whole. The Lyceum Illyria is a land where ornate Renaissance palaces with their cool balconies and colonnades and their mazy arabesque traceries, look forth among groves of palms, and plantains, and orangetrees, and cedars, over halcyon seas dotted with bird-like feluccas and high-prowed fishing-boats. There is even in some scenes, such as that in Orsino's palace, an apparently intentional effort to indicate a semi-magic light, neither that of common day nor of any visible lamp, torch, or candle, but a suffused rich radiance contrasting exquisitely with the blue moonlight in the background.

The light and colour of the play is thus successfully presented, but one all-important element is lacking from its atmosphere—the music which should permeate it—

                 Like the sweet south
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing, and giving odour.
                               [I. ii. 5-7]

It is to be regretted that Mr. Irving's arrangement, otherwise unobjectionable, removes Shakespeare's opening scene from its initial position. The first line of the play, as it stands in the text, strikes the key-note of all that is to follow:—

If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it.

Mr. Irving and his musical director do not take this hint. They not only eliminate the Clown's two songs—lyrics so exquisite that one feels the criticism impertinent which proves one and probably both of them to be popular songs merely quoted by Shakespeare—but they stint us of the bursts of instrumental melody which might, and should, greet us at every turn.

Four characters move through the simple figure of the fairy tale—Viola and Orsino, Olivia and Sebastian. About Miss Ellen Terry's Viola there is certainly a peculiar charm. It is not the Viola either of tradition or of imagination; it lacks warmth and colour and soft youthfulness. As we first see her standing on the seawashed rocks in the lurid sunset, her stately figure might be that of an abandoned Ariadne or an expectant Calypso; no one would ever suspect her to represent Viola. But when she assumes the white silk and gold-embroidered tunic with the white mantle draped negligently over her arm, we feel that we are in the presence of an individual creation, if not of the very Viola our fancy painted. This is a Viola not "painted" at all, but delicately carved in alabaster. It seems as through Patience had come down from her monument, and, still smiling at grief with distant wistful eyes, mingled for a season in the motley doings of men. Shakespeare's Viola has certainly a greater store of healthy animal spirits than this delicate, sylph-like creature; but she cannot have a lighter, airier grace, or, on occasion, a more refined and yet incisive humour. It seemed to me that Miss Terry's worst mannerisms, her love of studied attitude, and her singsong ill-emphasised delivery of verse, had almost disappeared. It will one day be recognised, I think, that her Viola is a vast improvement on her Beatrice, and in fact the best of her Shakespearean parts. Mr. Terriss, unfortunately, is a most inadequate Orsino. The dreamy egoist, wrapped up in his fantastic passion, and luxuriating in the languor of its "aromatic pain," is quite beyond the conception, or at least beyond the powers of execution, of this fatally beautiful actor. His sins are mainly of omission—lack of largeness of manner and music of utterance—but at one point he is positively and painfully wrong, namely, in the bantering tone he assumes on the revelation of Viola's sex. The Olivia, Miss Rose Leclercq, lacks, if not distinction, at least nobility of manner, and is conventional though not unpleasing. Mr. F. Terry, who plays Sebastian, resembles his sister sufficiently to make the comedy of errors not incredible, and that is as much as can be expected. His acting is manly and pleasant enough.

More music, and more aptly chosen, as well as a more musical more melancholy Orsino—these are the elements required to make the presentation of the fairy tale well-nigh ideal. As it is, the Viola makes it very charming. Let us now turn to the farce.

It would have been little less than miraculous had the characters of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew appealed very forcibly to the audience. One cannot but remember how, on the first night of Much Ado, Dogberry and Verges, characters much easier to play and of humours much less obsolete, were voted bores and hindrances to the action. Here, indeed, there is no particular action to obstruct, the two knights being themselves leading figures in one of the two intrigues; but it would have demanded the rarest combination of comic force and finesse to make them fully credible and comprehensible to a modern audience. Now it so happens that in casting these parts Mr. Irving has made a grave mistake, and spoiled the little chance they had of acquiring new vitality for a new and sophisticated generation. Sir Toby is played by Mr. David Fisher, an admirable comedian who, twenty years ago, might have made much of the character. As it is, he quite lacks the breadth and robustness of manner which are the first essentials for a part of the sort. Sir Toby is a large-limbed, large-bellied, large-voiced toper, certainly not past the fifth of the seven ages. To give him the least touch of senility is to strike at the foundation of the character, which surely consists of irrepressible, overmastering animal spirits. There is an in-decision in Mr. Fisher's manner, a lack of robustness and rotundity absolutely fatal to its effect. Mr. Wyatt as Sir Andrew is hopelessly out of his element, so hopelessly that criticism knows not where to begin or end, and can only assert broadly that he does not come within a hundred miles of the character. It would be unjust to lay the ineffectiveness of the Clown entirely at Mr. Calhaem's door, but his forced and mechanical fooling, without a trace of spontaneous fantasy, certainly did not succeed in bringing poor Feste home to the humorous sympathies of the audience. Miss Louisa Payne was a tolerable Maria, but even had she possessed much greater natural gifts for the part, she alone could not have infused the proper spirit into the scenes of the carouse and the conspiracy. Thus those passages whose mere remembrance was like an electric shock of merriment to the mind of Charles Lamb, as he thought of Dodd and Suett and the elder Palmer, now pass before our weary eyes like the melancholy ghosts of what once was comedy.

But what of Malvolio? Did not Mr. Irving redeem these scenes from barrenness? He did in a measure, for the opening scenes of his performance were admirable; but at the close there came a sudden declension which had well-nigh wrecked the fortunes of the revival.

In the scene of his first appearance Mr. Irving's manner had much of that "Spanish loftiness" which so delighted Lamb in Bensley's conception of the part. He was the self-sufficient, sternly-formal, Jack-in-office to the life. The rebuke to the revellers, again, was an excellent specimen of his artistic method, for not only was his playing good, but its effect was heightened by a marvellously spectral night-dress and a scenic arrangement which threw into relief the grim grotesqueness of his appearance. His soliloquy before finding the letter was addressed too much to the audience, and throughout this scene his face showed one of the defects of its qualities in the shape of an inability to assume a sufficiently stolid and immovable self-consequence. When an absence of humorous expression is required to give a speech its full comic effect, Mr. Irving's restless eye-brows and obliquely twinkling eyes do him a disservice. In all his comic creations a semi-sardonic archness is the prevailing expression of his face, and when this breaks through the Castilian gravity of Malvolio, as he not seldom allows it to do, the effect is peculiarly inappropriate. Whatever may have been Shakespeare's precise intention, he certainly did not mean Malvolio to be arch. When he appears before Olivia, however, in his cross-gartered yellow stockings, the comedy lies in an assumption of the very archness which is not in his nature, and here Mr. Irving's expression is appropriate enough. From this point forward he is throughout in error. The scene of the dark room and the concluding scene are no doubt peculiarly difficult, but to treat them in a tone of serious tragedy is to introduce a discord so crying that it jarred even on the not very fastidiously critical ear of the Lyceum audience. There is a buoyancy of self-esteem about Malvolio which would necessarily prevent his collapsing into such a nerveless state of prostrate dejection as that in which Mr. Irving exhibits him, stretched on the straw of a dungeon worthy of Fidelio. The play should, after all, be treated as a comedy; if Mr. Irving could not hit the true comedy tone in these scenes he had better have erred on the side of farce than on that of melodrama. The short scene of his appearance before the Duke and Olivia in the last act was a mere repetition of his Shylock; he went off like the baffled villain of melodrama, not the befooled fantast of comedy. The mistake was all the more surprising in that it was unintelligent.

There can be no doubt that the straw which clung to Mr. Irving's dress from the mad-house scene was the last straw which broke the patience of a certain section of the first-night audience, already tried by the grave inadequacies of the comic portions of the play. The groans which interrupted his speech fell like thunder from a clear sky, and naturally bewildered him not a little. To complain so loudly of one or two mistakes of detail certainly showed an un-philosophic irritation, perhaps due to the baking July atmosphere. I, for one, should regret it less if I could trace in it the beginnings of a serious reaction against the exclusive cultivation of what Mr. Irving frankly calls "the ancient drama" at the Lyceum.

The New York Times (review date 19 November 1884)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in The New York Times, Vol. XXXIV, No. 10.362, November 19, 1884, p. 4.

The numerous audience at the Star Theatre last evening looked upon a representation of one of Shakespeare's loveliest comedies, in which good judgment, taste, and imagination were seconded by artistic interpretation of no common merit. The pageantry of the play was exquisite and suitable, for the scenery was bright and ingeniously constructed, the costumes of opulent splendor, where that was called for, and always appropriate, and the occasional display of courtly pomp and magnificence was carried out with liberality. The delicate beauty which permeates the romantic tale of the love-lorn Count of Illyria and his page Caesario was not lacking, as it too often is in the glare of the footlights, and passages which hitherto have been disregarded or treated as if of little moment in stage representations of Twelfth Night were given their full significance. Yet we cannot say of this production that it was in all parts satisfactory. Not that it is needful to compare it with any previous production of the same work, or that such comparison would cast a shadow upon the present revival. But the student of Shakespeare, who loves this most fragile, tender, and merry work, will surely find some disappointment in its rendering by Mr. Irving's company. It is difficult to say exactly where the fault lies; perhaps, however, because with the remembrance of the glowing pictures still fresh and the sweet cadences of the familiar verses lingering in the ear, one hesitates to admit that the performance had its dull moments and that these were very dull. It will not do, either, to attribute this dullness to the vapidity of the Elizabethan small-talk—the slang of the poet's day—which besprinkles the speeches of that droll old vagabond, Sir Toby, and his companion rogues. When we go to see a Shakespearean play acted we would not lose a word of Shakespeare's that has not grown with lapse of centuries too coarse for modern ears and, moreover, the actors treated the quaint passages of the text with facility, as if they were used to it, as indeed they are. But the performance lacked variety and bustle in some parts, and although the cast was nicely balanced and harmonious, there were no characters exceedingly well acted except the Viola of Miss Terry and the Malvolio of Mr. Irving, and these two in a very different degree.

For the Viola was redolent with the charm of the actress, and was not only beautiful to the eye, but infused with the spirit of the poem in which she figures, and graced by intellectual power and womanly devotion. Indeed, we do not hesitate to place Miss Terry's Viola beside her Beatrice, as one of the performances in which her temperament enables her to conspicuously shine. Her conception of the character, as may be imagined, is not founded altogether upon tradition, although she has accepted what pleases her of the old, and subjected it to her own admirable methods. The earlier scenes with the sea Captain and Orsino were natural, but in these the actress was noticeably subdued: her sorrow for the loss of Sebastian took the form of dejection, and there was a plaintive wail in the delivery of the lines:

       What do I in Illyria!
My brother, he's in elysium.

But from the moment of the first encounter with Olivia. Viola was vivacious or tender by turns, sparkling with woman's wit or sorrowing o'er her untold love. The love scene with the Duke has surely never been rendered with more beauty, and the lines beginning "She never told her love," were given with much feeling and no striving for effect, the surreptitious dashing away of a tear, as the lament for the imaginary sister was finished, being the only gesture added by way of emphasis. On the other hand; the duel scene was deliciously droll, and the wonderment and scarce formulated hope that Sebastian has been saved, in the subsequent passages were depicted with delightful effect.

Mr. Irving's Malvolio is a striking and interesting impersonation. His makeup is excellent, and the overweening egotism of Olivia's steward is shown with many skillful touches. The interruption of the revelers, in act II., and the famous letter scene may be cited as the two passages in which this Malvolio is seen to the best advantage, the interpretation of the incoherent nonsense of the mysterious billet being marked by quaint comicality and imperturbable complacency. Mr. Irving does not force the character out of its proper place in the play by over-elaboration, and if there is any fault to be found with the impersonation it is because it lacks variety, both in speech and action. This was the fault also of some of the other actors in last night's performance. Miss Payne, for instance, was a merry Maria, but she was too inclined to pitch her speech in one key, and therefore produced a monotonous effect. Mr. Wenman as Sir Toby, and Mr. Forbes as Ague-cheek, although their impersonations were otherwise meritorious, had the same fault. Mr. Alexander was Orsino, Miss Emery Olivia, and Mr. Howe Antonio. Mr. S. Johnson was the clown, and sang the verses

When that I was a little boy,

at the conclusion of the play.

William Winter (review date 19 November 1884)

SOURCE: "Twelfth Night," in Henry Irving, George J. Coombes, 1885, pp. 81-83.

[This review was first published in the New York Tribune on 19 November 1884.]

There is an uncertainty of dramatic drift in the comedy of the Twelfth Night—a kind of whimsical recklessness, sufficiently denoted in the subtitle, What You Will—which, in practical experience, has generally had the effect of making this piece a little tiresome upon the stage. Nobody can care much for anything that it contains, aside from the gentle, piquant, lovely character of Viola; and the charm of this is not essentially dramatic, but resides almost exclusively in the delicious sweetness of her temperament as displayed under the mournful light of her patient and outwardly cheerful resignation to the pangs of unrequited love. There is but little dramatic incident in her experience or of dramatic effect in the development of either her story or her character. The love-lorn Orsino—a gentleman far too easily reconciled to the loss of one love, so that at last he may obtain another—is almost insipid. The episode of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew is little more than a tipsy frolic. Malvolio, though strong and complex as a character, interests rather as a curiously carved and grotesque image of humanity than as a typical man: he amuses and he stimulates analytic reflection upon the possible oddities of human nature, but he does not awaken sympathy. The discomfiture of "an affectioned ass" and "contemplative fool" is a comic spectacle, and yet the laughter to which it incites is rebuked by a kind of humane regret that any man should be so absurd, and should, in his infinity of conceit, encounter such cruel treatment. As often-as the Twelfth Night has been seen here (and it has been seen often since the old days of Burton), it has proved a trial to patience, except for two or three impressive beauties. Mr. Irving's revival of it, although distinguished by rare beauty of scenery and fidelity of detail in dress and "business," met with the usual fortune of calm respect. Its chief features were Miss Ellen Terry as Viola and Mr. Irving as Malvolio—the latter being the first embodiment of this eccentric person seen here of late years, or since the time of Walcot and Gilbert in the character, that has made him an actual human creature, capable of feeling passion and of suffering pain as well as of causing mirth and pointing a moral. Mr. Irving presented him with distinctness and firm execution, and with a wealth of subtle mechanism. Miss Terry in Viola was a beautiful image of boy-like grace, and she delivered the text with a fine intelligence that penetrated and illumined every line. But her performance had little of that half-concealed sadness which, mingled with Viola's glee, makes her pathetic as well as bewitching. Sweet without insipidity and gay without coquetry, Viola is the most piquant female character in Shakespeare, and, excepting Imogen, the most tender and delicious of his women. She is ture but not intense; ardent but not powerful. She loves and she suffers; but she is bright, gentle, and submissive, and she typifies neither misery nor passion. Shakespeare's lapses from verse into prose are always significant because always made to serve a purpose in the art of acting; and it is notable that he seldom allows Viola to speak aught else than the language of poetry. She is a rarefied character, slighter alike in mind and will than Rosalind, though kindred with that luxuriant, sparkling, beauty, but equally affectionate and noble, and more lovely. There is not much of the character, but it is as precious as diamonds. The chief dramatic necessity in the acting of Viola would seem to be the revelation of her wistful sadness, her rueful, charming melancholy, under the repose of innocent glee—the half-checked tear that is momentarily visible through the guileless, patient, unselfish, eager smile of childlike happiness. Miss Terry's expeditious treatment of the part gave such emphasis to its brilliancy as quite concealed its sorrow. But, while deficient in the transparency of acting, it was a delightful image of gladness, sweetness, and beauty.

Frank Benson (essay date 1939)

SOURCE: "Irving as Malvolio," in We Saw Him Act: A Symposium on the Art of Sir Henry Irving, edited by H. A. Saintsbury and Cecil Palmer, 1939. Reprint by Benjamin Blom, 1969, pp. 245-49.

Irving had far too strong a personality for Malvolio. To the best of my recollection his Malvolio was distinctly a gentleman, not a buffoon; he was dignified, not heavy. It was inconceivable that that commanding presence should be a mere steward. He looked like some great Spanish hidalgo—a painting of Velazquez; never could he have become the butt of his fellow-servants. For surely Malvolio graduated in the kitchen or the buttery; he is an old retainer, privileged as old servants are and abusing that privilege as so often they do, domineering over the rest of the staff till he provokes them to revolt. He apes the manners of his superiors with the inevitably grotesque results. With Irving one felt it impossible that he could have superiors. There is no element of greatness in Malvolio, only meanness; there is no intellect, merely a numskull, he is a proper butt for the rest of the household. But in Irving's hands the part became so transmuted that you marvelled how they dared, and no doubt having some such notion in his mind, he cast the play unfortunately; the ladies were too mature and, what was almost equally disastrous, the comedians were not funny; the sprightly Feste was played as a decrepit old man and Fabian was the brightest spark of the plotters. They were indeed a pusillanimous crowd who, one felt, would shrink abashed at the frown of this majestic Malvolio; one could never imagine him their gull. His scenes with Olivia were marked of course with the most courtly grace; with Cesario he was duly arrogant, but with his fellow-servants he was so masterful as to defeat comedy altogether. In the final scene: 'I'll be revenged on the whole pack of ye!' one felt he would, and the whole gossamer fabric of the play was rent. Malvolio should gain sympathy, for mere peacocking hardly deserved the humiliation he suffered, but this is no case for tragic intensity and Irving in a passion suggested no less. But, though possibly marred by the elaboration of eccentric touches, it was an excellent performance.

At the end of the performance on the first night there was an unusual demonstration. Strong as the anti-Irvingites were, I do not believe that there was anything in the nature of an organized opposition. I believe that the pit and gallery were frankly bored with the performance and disappointed to see their favourite actor in a part so inadequate and one, moreover, that could never suit him, and they expressed their dissatisfaction in the usual ill-mannered way, though I am bound to say I prefer that to the stony silence that greets failure across the Atlantic and across the Channel.

Irving for once was irritated out of his calm and in his perfectly dignified speech of remonstrance—though he had done better to have faced the situation in smiling silence—he used an illuminating phrase; he spoke of his company 'having exercised their abilities on one of the most difficult of Shakespeare's plays. 'I cannot help thinking that it was the very simplicity of Twelfth Night that baffled Irving; he had prepared it looking all the time for profundities that he imagined must be eluding him. He was always at his best when faced with introspective and psychological difficulties; he sought them in vain in Twelfth Night for the simple reason that they are not there.

I have felt it very keenly being 'at odds', so to speak, with my old manager and most venerated Chief, so I have looked up old verdicts of professional critics hoping to find one well argued in opposition to my own opinion and I think I have found it in Mr. William Winter's review of the production when it had reached New York. Mr. Winter wrote:

The formalism of Malvolio, his scrupulous cleanliness, his precise demeanour, his constitutional habit of routine, his inordinate self-complacency—over which, nevertheless, his judgment keeps a kind of watch—his sensitiveness of self-love, his condition of being real in all that he feels and suffers—these attributes Mr. Irving combined into a distinct and rounded personality, of which the humour is—as it should be—wholly unconscious. His sustained preservation of the identity was especially impressive, and he was most characteristic in his dry, distinctly articulated, unconsciously pompous delivery of the text.

This compares feebly with Charles Lamb's panegyric on Bensley in the part, but I always felt that the mild humours of Twelfth Night and the gentlemanly puritanism of Bensley's Malvolio were just of a piece with the smiling spirit of the gentle Elia; the subdued chuckle becomes him; it is impossible to conceive him indulging the vulgarity of a guffaw.

I have said above that I did not consider Malvolio worthy of Irving. That is the fact. He was, to use a metaphor, so great an athlete that only the highest hurdle, the broadest ditch was worthy of his attempting. He needed stimulating by difficulties, easy conquests were beneath him: the complexities of a Glo'ster or an Iago challenged all his intellectual forces and ensured his greatest triumphs; the purely physical was beyond him and my metaphor of the athlete cannot be literally applied; the madness of Lear out-thundering the storm; the call to arms by Macbeth, the towering rage of Othello were beyond his physical strength. But who could surpass him in tenderness to Cordelia? Whoever has more subtly indicated the disintegration of spirit in Macbeth?—or shown us the innate nobility of the Moor in his defence before the Senate? It was so always with Irving; no matter what part he attempted he gave you always something to think about, there was always some one great outstanding point of originality if not of inspiration in his performance. It is for that reason that his memory lives; that even in these days when the theatre tosses like a rudderless ship in stormy seas without a chart and without a skipper we still remember him who guided her fortunes so skilfully and steered her into the happy haven of respect and dignity.

His artistic conscience was more highly developed than that of any of his predecessors. His singleness of purpose, his profound respect for his calling, taught the world to respect it also, and under his leadership it gained a higher place in the world's estimation than it had ever known or is like to know again. He identified himself with all that was finest, all that was most artistic, all that was most progressive in an age of remarkable expansions and developments. He brought the Theatre into line with the other arts by his association with artists, writers, and musicians, such as Rossetti and Burne-Jones, Tennyson and Swin-burne, Sullivan and German.

My first introduction to him was characteristic. He had come to see our performance of the Agamemnon. "This Greek play of yours," said Irving," said Irving, "was most interesting and if you will let me say so remarkably carried out. Should you think seriously of the stage as a profession I will do my best for you." What had appealed to him was the selflessness of the players and the simplicity of the production. When I decided shortly afterwards to try my fortunes in the theatre I went to him and the result was my appearance as Paris in Romeo and Juliet. From the first I was impressed by his dynamic force. Nobody could work with him without catching the spirit of his enthusiasm, which penetrated to every department. He was indefatigable. In the days when I knew him first he lived not only for the theatre (that was true of all his life) but in the theatre. No detail escaped him and no detail was insignificant.

In truth Irving was the Lyceum; his complete knowledge of his craft and of its every tradition gave him an authority that no one ever attempted to dispute.

To return to Malvolio: Ellen Terry says in her book that Irving's performance was 'fine and dignified, but not good for the play,' which corresponds exactly with my own impression. All that Irving did was 'fine,' so fine that, at times, it came near to defeating his end. Doctor Primrose, for example, was too fine for a country parson; Lesurques again was too fine for the bourgeois son of a village post-master in the same way that Malvolio was certainly too fine for the servants' hall. His dignity pervaded his personality—exuded from it, and for many made him unapproachable. This was their loss, for it deprived them of knowledge of the man—of his innate gentleness and kindliness, qualities that made him so staunch a friend and won for him the reputation not only of a great actor but a manager, reliable, just and liberal in all his dealings.

Nothing impressed me more than the story of Ellen Terry's interview after the Abbey Service in October 1905. "What have you to say of him?" asked the interviewer. "He was a great actor, a great friend and a good man," she answered. "What more is there to say?" What more' indeed!

Laurence Irving (essay date 1951)

SOURCE: "6th Lyceum Season: Malvolio," in Henry Irving: The Actor and His World, 1951. Macmillan Reprint by The Company, 1952, pp. 435-54.

Twelfth Night was produced on July 8th [1884], Londoners were enduring a heat wave and those of them who made up the audience at the Lyceum were inclined to be as sultry as the night. Irving had spared no pains to match the decorative beauty of his Much Ado—perhaps in this respect he erred in overloading delicate comedy with stage effects. His Malvolio was the outcome of long and original study, for he had never seen the play performed. Phelps had revived the play at Sadler's Wells in 1848; his Malvolio was a masterpiece of make-up and elaborately studied; nevertheless, he did not appear in the part again. Lamb, in his vivid appreciation of Robert Bensley's performance of Malvolio at the end of the eighteenth century, recorded that the actor came near to being the perfect Don Quixote. Many critics drew this parallel in writing of Irving's performance, proving that either he or they had been polishing up their Elia. Undoubtedly Irving interpreted the part in the light of Bensley's conception of a steward whose 'bearing was lofty, a little above his station but probably not much above his deserts'.

Irving must have been bewildered by the contrary opinions his Malvolio provoked. Those critics, who usually handled him harshly, now applauded him, while his adulators hung their heads, embarrassed by their unaccustomed tepidity. For certain, his instinct as a producer had failed him. Afterwards, he confessed to Ellen Terry that he should have engaged three great comedians to play the clowns. As it was, their shortcomings were fatal to the balance of the play, even if the Victorian audience had been ready to be amused by the robust humours of Sir Andrew and Sir Toby.

Ellen Terry should have been, and indeed became, a perfect Viola. But on the first night she was sick with pain from a whitlow in her thumb, had her arm in a sling and was forced to play many of her scenes sitting down. Had not Stoker's brother, a doctor, lanced her thumb during the performance, blood-poisoning might well have caused the loss of her arm.

All these misfortunes and the marked apathy of the audience did not prepare Irving for the demonstration of disapproval which greeted his appearance before the curtain at the end of the play. His speech was interrupted by booing and hissing from the pit and gallery—a sound as painful and unfamiliar to the faithful in the more expensive parts of the house as cat-calls would be to worshippers in a cathedral. For once the gods were demonstrative but not appreciative; the effect upon their humble servant was galvanic. He rounded upon the malcontents and sharply rebuked them, expressing his bewilderment at the presence in his theatre of a strange element which he was at a loss to understand. In defence of his fellow-players, he asked how a company 'of earnest comedians—sober, clean and word-perfect' could fail to have given gratification and pleasure. Though, in his fury, his sense of humour deserted him—for of all men he would have been the last to offer the hygienic or moral excellence of an actor as an excuse for his poor performance—he quelled the rebels and, with his final appeal—'In your smiles we are happy, prithee smile upon us'—he restored the traditional rapture of a Lyceum first night.

Though Twelfth Night ran until the end of the limited season, public interest in it steadily waned. Archer, who praised Irving's performance as 'always adequate and sometimes masterly', particularly in those scenes which seemed to puzzle most of his colleagues, put his finger on what was probably the cause of the play's unpopularity. 'Queen Elizabeth,' he wrote, 'is more dead than Queen Anne. The spirit of her age is not alive in the public … who are, after all, but the abstract and brief chronicle of the tastes and habits of the times.' Even though the text had to some extent been expurgated, a Victorian audience were unable to relish in public the bawdy innuendos over which they might chuckle in private. Moreover, even the most ardent lovers of Shakespeare can find his clowns, when they are not well played, infinitely boring. The very qualities which made Irving's Malvolio one of his most memorable parts to playgoers of discernment, bewildered the ordinary public to whom comedy and tragedy were two entirely separate things. They delighted in Irving's clowning, but when they found themselves moved to tears by Malvolio's imprisonment, which he rendered tragic and pitiable, they failed to see that it was the very perfection of high comedy.

Charles H. Shattuck (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: "Foreign Visitors and the New Realism," in Shakespeare on the American Stage,: From Booth and Barrett to Sothern and Marlowe, Vol. 2, Associated University Presses, 1987, pp. 142-209.

Irving's Twelfth Night was unfortunately short-lived. At the end of the first London performance (July 8, 1884), the unbelievable happened: when Irving stepped forward to deliver his customary opening night address to the audience, he was interrupted by a scattering of boos and hisses. Startled and angered, he treated the audience to a scolding, which of course helped not at all. Some of the critics, attempting to account for the audience's displeasure, blamed Irving's Malvolio as "too tragical." Irving himself, speaking to friends, blamed the "failure" on the lack of great comedians to play Sir Toby and his circle—indeed, he replaced half a dozen of the company before bringing Twelfth Night to America. Secretly, though, he seems to have doubted his own rendition of Malvolio. This was a pity, for by many accounts his Malvolio was superb. Joseph Knight of the Athenaeum called it "the best Malvolio the stage has seen." According to William Winter [in his Henry Irving, 1885], Irving was the first in modern times to make Malvolio "an actual human being, capable of feeling passion and suffering pain as well as causing mirth."

He made himself up to look as much as possible like Don Quixote—his tall gaunt figure clad in close-fitting black satin with gold stripes, with diamonds in his ears, the chain of office around his neck, and in his hand a long slender staff which he swung erratically. He was nearly bald; his eyebrows, painted high on his forehead, gave him a constant look of superciliousness (or surprise); his cheeks were sallow and sunken; he wore a skimpy brown mustache twisted at the ends, and a narrow pointed beard. Malvolio being such an extravagant creature, Irving's naturally grotesque physical movements and vocal quirks could enhance his characterization rather than damage it. And since Malvolio is utterly self-centered, deliberative—"alone," so to speak—Irving could move through the language of the part freely and according to his own patterns, without destroying Shakespearean patterns of pentameter verse or speedy-witty prose. Malvolio is a "slow" role, affording countless opportunities for the "delicate touches" of behavior that were central to Irving's ideas about acting. This Malvolio was a man of parts and breeding, intensely aware of his superiority. Irving did not gag or play for easy laughs, but was desperately in earnest at every moment, and thus profoundly amusing. Unfortunately, as a result of his self-distrust, Irving not only abandoned Twelfth Night after its run in America, but never again undertook a comic role in Shakespeare.

Ellen Terry, who played the boy Cesario charmingly in her cream-colored satin tunic and a little blue cap that rode perkily on her golden curls, was not unhappy when the play was dropped from Irving's repertory. She thought the production as a whole was "dull, lumpy, and heavy." She may have noted the wonderment of several American critics that she and Irving had both let themselves be consigned to such relatively "unimportant" parts, and this would have confirmed her own recognition that Viola cannot take command of the situation she is thrust into. Then, too, in America at least, she was bested by a ghostly competitor—Adelaide Neilson, so lately dead, whose lovely Viola haunted the memory of the reviewers. The Herald critic thought it fair to note that Miss Terry had other parts "more exacting, more pathetic, and even more merry."

Scenically this Twelfth Night—with its array of seascapes, ravines, luxurious gardens, mansions à la Palladio, and a gloomy dungeon for Malvolio's imprisonment—was not only splendid in itself, but occasion for the Spirit of the Times to attempt to shame our American managers into emulating Irving's production methods. Nothing like it had ever been seen upon the New York stage until Mr. Irving came—but "the public will hereafter insist that the same completeness of accessories and unity of action shall be displayed by all professionals, and the sooner the Irving system is generally adopted the better for all concerned.… Mr. Irving has shown us that what our own managers have claimed to be impossible is easily done with the requisite tact and taste and skill."


Augustin Daly •Daly's Theatre, New York •1893-94

Daly's staging of the play, which opened at Daly's Theatre in New York, was accounted one of the director's greatest successes. Taking extreme liberties with the text, Daly cut approximately six hundred lines from the play to purge it of elements that might compromise its "poetry" and "beauty." He additionally transposed and rearranged the musical scenes in the work, employing as an introduction to the first act a group of fishermen and peasants singing "Come unto these yellow sands." Daly promoted the pageantry of the play by using the elaborate costumes of Graham Robertson and by staging such memorable scenic effects as a violent storm and a moonlit rose garden. The play itself consisted of only four acts, and the character of Malvolio was reduced to the dungeon scene in Act IV. This production was in full sympathy with contemporary taste and was well received both in America and in London the following year. Ada Rehan's Viola was considered a highlight of this staging. William Winter wrote "Viola is a woman of deep sensibility: and that way Miss Rehan has comprehended and reproduced her, permitting a certain wistful sadness to glimmer through the gauze of kindly vivacity." For George Bernard Shaw, who deprecated Daly's handling of the text, Rehan's performance was the sole redeeming feature of the production: "the moment she strikes up the true Shakespearian music, and feels her way to her part altogether by her sense of that music, the play returns to life and all the magic is there." The other performances were generally considered to have been undistinguished and included Creston Clarke as Orsino, James Lewis as Sir Toby Belch, George Clarke as Malvolio, and Lloyd Daubigny as Feste. In 1894 the production opened at Daly's Theatre in London, where Rehan played Viola for 119 performances.


William Winter (review date 22 February 1893)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in The New York Tribune, February 22, 1893, pp. 6-7.

"I'll serve this Duke." In those simple words the bereaved and shipwrecked Viola, who must begin life anew, reveals something more than her intention, because she also reveals the steadfast quality—blending patient endurance with buoyant self-control—of her lovely character. Concerning the Duke Orsino she knows only that he is reputed noble; that he is a bachelor, and that he loves the Lady Olivia, who is mourning the death of her father and brothers, and will admit no one to her presence. Viola is not impelled by passion, or by sentiment, or even by curiosity. She must find a new home, and she must obtain subsistence. Her first impulse is to serve the Lady Olivia; but that plan is rejected as impracticable. She will seek service in the household of the Duke—for she can sing, and can speak to him in many sorts of music—and she will hide her sex, and proceed thither in disguise. A happy chance has saved her from the sea, and meanwhile the same happy chance may also have saved Sebastian, her brother. She will be hopeful and will go forward, and the events of her future shall be trusted to propitious time. She is a sweet, constant woman, and she is especially blessed with that cheerful courage, as to worldly fortune, for which good women are usually more remarkable than men. And she is young, handsome, alluring, and—quite consciously—well fitted to prove victorious.

In Twelfth Night the dramatic art of Shakespeare, always felicitous, operates with an indolent ease that is delightful. The touch is invariably light. The mood—now tender, now joyous—is invariably natural, careless, seemingly almost indifferent. You are provided with all essential knowledge as to the two households of Orsino and Olivia; and yet you hardly perceive how it was that you came to know them, or how it is that they are made to dwell in your mind as pictorial and typical of so much diversified character, so much human nature, and so much representative experience. The scene is shifted frequently from one house to the other, but not with violence or caprice. The changes come about simply and aptly. The persons, almost imperceptibly, drift into their places and into your acquaintance and favor. The style varies, with charming flexibility, from verse to prose, and back again from prose to verse, preserving an absolute harmony with the variations of the theme. All is unforced. All is free and careless—a profusion of wild flowers—an ordered medley of whimsicality, and drollery, and sentiment, and grace, with abundance of kindly satire and a wealth of genial philosophy involved in it. Both the houses are stately, and over both the poet has thrown a hale of romance. In the palace of Orsino that Prince is suffering with the melancholy of hopeless love. In the sober hall of Olivia that cloistered beauty is suffering with grief for her dead brother and father. At the side of Orsino stands the disguised Viola—the page Caesario—love-lorn for her master's favor. At the side of Olivia stands the saturnine, self-worshipful Malvolio, nursing his conceit that the great lady may yet become his wife. And around those serious figures eddy the vinous revels of stout Sir Toby Belch, the puling capers of silly Sir Andrew. Aguecheek, the antics of mischievous Maria, and the romantic adventures of rescued and mystified Sebastian. It is a picture in little of the way of all things. Love is blind and will not see its own comfort, which is close at hand. Self-opinion makes itself a fool, and comes, amid inextinguishable laughter, to utter and irremediable disgrace. Frolic and revel sparkle, for their little moment, and turn to nothing. Irrational fortune scatters her favors wholly without logic. Truth and devotion are rewarded by chance. And motley smiles over all.

A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain.

After the action of the piece has opened several comical situations are devised for Viola, together with several situations of serious perplexity, which mostly tend to create a comic effect for the auditor. In those situations Viola's gleeful spirit is liberated—her irrepressible hilarity, on being expected to play the part of a masculine lover, and her feminine consternation, when confronted with the necessity of combat, being artfully contrasted, for the sake of humorous results. The true note of the character, however, is serious. Viola is a woman of deep sensibility: and that way Miss Rehan has comprehended and reproduced her—permitting a certain wistful sadness to glimmer through the gauze of kindly vivacity with which, otherwise, her whole bright and gentle figure is artfully swathed. That was the pervading beauty of the impersonation. Those frolic scenes in which Viola participates are perfectly consonant with Miss Rehan's propensity for mirth and with her faculty for comic action. She rejoiced in them, and she made the listener rejoice in them. But the great underlying cause of her brilliant success in them was the profound sincerity of her feeling—over which her glee was seen to play, as moonlight plays upon the rippling surface of the ocean depth. In this embodiment, more than in any assumption of character previously presented by her she has relied upon a soft and gentle poetry of condition. She discarded all strong emphasis, whether of color, demeanor or speech. Her action was exceedingly delicate, and if at any moment she became conspicuous in a scene it was as the consequence of dramatic necessity, and not by reason of self-assertion. Lovely reserve and aristocratic distinction blended in the performance, and dignified and endeared it. The melody of Shakespeare's verse—especially in the passage of Viola's renunciation—fell from her lips in a strain of fluent sweetness that enhanced its beauty and deepened the pathos of its tender significance. In such tones the heart speaks, and not simply the warmth of an excited imagination, and so the incommunicable something that the soul knows of love and sorrow finds at least an utterance, if not an intelligible expression. Subtlety of perception naturally accompanies deep feeling. Viola, when as Caesario she has captured the fancy of Olivia, although she may view that ludicrous dilemma archly, and even with a spice of innocent mischief, feels a woman's sympathy with the emotions of her sex; and all her conduct toward Olivia is refined and considerate. Miss Rehan was admirably true to the Shakespearean ideal in that particular, as also she was in expressing the large generosity of Viola toward Olivia's beauty. It is only a woman intrinsically noble who can be just toward her prosperous rival in matters of the heart. Miss Rehan, in her embodiment of Viols, has obeyed the finest of all artistic impulses—the impulse to make no effort. Her performance was as natural and as sweet as the opening of the rose. She allowed the pensive tenderness and the sweet gravity which are in her nature to drift into her portraiture of the character, and to express themselves honestly and simply. Her elocution was at its best—concealing all premeditation, and flowing, as the brook flows, with continuous music and spontaneous and accidental variety. She wore the boy-dress with all her usual grace. No woman plays the boy better. Few actresses have played it so well. The local public has seen other impersonations by Miss Rehan, more complex, more elaborate, more powerful; no other impersonation so alluring, so essentially poetical, so significant of artistic growth, and of the rich resources of spiritual nature. Her by-play alone, in the scene wherein Viola attends Orsino while he is listening to Feste's song, was a sufficient evidence of the true inspiration of genius. Her success with the house was very great, and she was re-called with enthusiasm many times. The dresses, three in number, are of exceptional beauty.

Persons who insist upon reading into the works of Shakespeare meanings that they do not contain often place many obstacles in the way of their enjoyment of a Shakespearean representation. Mr. Daly's revival of Twelfth Night—which was marked in every particular of it with simplicity, sense and taste—may not entirely satisfy judges of that exigent order. Nevertheless, it is a thoroughly well-appointed and most intellectual and scholar-like reproduction of that delicious comedy, and it was greatly enjoyed by one of the most numerous and most cultivated audiences that have been assembled this season. Remembrance of previous presentments of Twelfth Night, while it recalls much pleasure, recalls also some weariness—for the piece has usually been given with its explanatory narrative as well as its vitally dramatic passages. The performance on this occasion never once flagged. One reason is that the Malvolio episode has been condensed, and another reason is that the talk and action were skilfully diversified with delicious music. The scenes of Sir Toby's carousal and of Maria's plot were likewise carried with such an affluence of vivacity as could not fail to animate even the least festive of auditors. Mr. Lewis enacted Sir Toby. There is, in that character, underneath the sensuality and the humor, much shrewd knowledge of the world and a most capable, resolute and expeditious mind—albeit not devoted to a worthier end than that of appetite and personal comfort and advantage. The humor of Mr. Lewis is dry, quizzical, whimsically droll, waggishly sapient, and at times not without a sub-acid flavor of satirical pungency. He is not of the unctuous order, and he was not destined by nature for Falstaff or any of that kindred. Nevertheless, he suggested, most adroitly, Sir Toby's exultant animal delight in his own capacity of appetite, and in his bibulous diversions; while to the mental quality of the knight—the comic sagacity of a selfish good-natured worldling, the inveterate purpose of predominance and profit—he rendered the most ample justice. The relation of Sir Toby to Sir Andrew Aguecheek (a part that was intelligently and neatly acted by Mr. Herbert Gresham) is not unlike that of Falstaff to Justice Shallow—for in both cases the knight seeks, from the gudgeon, the replenishment of his purse. The preservation of that attitude by Mr. Lewis, and of the amatory attitude toward Maria, might be named as a sufficient denotement of his intellectual grasp of the character. He laid all possible emphasis, however, on the mirth, and in the scene of the midnight revel he was the incarnation of tipsy jocularity. The cooperation of Miss Catherine Lewis, as Maria, proved of great value to that scene, and indeed to the general effect of the humorous portion of the comedy. That actress has an abundant flow of animal spirits, a superlative talent for merry mischief, an inherent capacity of vivacious action, and a himble and crisp method of speech; and those attributes make her presence entirely adequate and delightful in characters—like Maria—of brittle sprightliness and roguish duplicity. She was cordially welcomed. Mr. George Clarke presented Malvolio, and therein he obtained professional honor such as an old actor may well cherish with pride. The ripe repose and adequacy of his art have not at any time been more explicitly manifested, or with more authority or more absolute power. Mr. Clarke embodied Malvolio as a very serious and even formidable person—as he is in Shakespeare—making the absurdity of the situation subordinate to the portentous gravity of the Don-like character, and thus largely augmenting the resultant merriment which accompanies his discomfiture and disgrace. That saturnine quality in Malvolio is of great value. He is not to be mistaken for a mere gull. "His own opinion was his god," as Queen Katherine said of Cardinal Wolsey. He came to grief through his colossal conceit, but he is not a booby. "He hath been most notoriously abused," says Olivia, at the last, and the command of Orsino is explicit and significant: "Pursue him, and entreat him to a peace." The scene of Malvolio's justification has been omitted in Mr. Daly's carefully condensed four-act copy of the comedy, but these who know the original will not forget its bearing on the story. Mr. Clarke's impersonation very clearly revealed a scholar-like grasp of the whole subject, and his execution was remarkable for symmetry and point. The other characters are in good hands, and they were adequately given. Olivia must be handsome, proud and stately—and that was not difficult for Miss Adelaide Prince. The requisite element of mirthful relish was readily supplied by Mr. William Gilbert, to the part of Fabian. Antonio was made picturesque and fervent by Mr. Charles Wheatleigh. The musical portion of the clown's part was admirably done by Mr. Lloyd Daubigny, who does not yet, however, claim attention as an actor—for there is more in that clown than melody. Sebastian—not a very grateful part but an important one—was most discreetly played by Mr. Sidney Herbert. Mr. Preston Clarke acted Orsino with princely dignity and refinement, and made every picture effective in which he appeared. The piece has been dressed in Greek and Italian garments of seventeenth century styles, and the pageantry of it was beautiful. No Shakespeare play has hitherto been produced with scenery at once so suitable and so magnificent. The colors and groupings made a feast to the eye, and the melodious accompaniments were a soothing comfort to the ear. Dramatic art receives a distinctly favorable impetus in this magnificent revival of a classic comedy, and the public gain in it is obvious and of much value.

E. A. Dithmar (review date 26 February 1893)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in The New York Times, February 26, 1893, p. 13.

In the chronicle of the theatrical week the Viola of Ada Rehan holds the first place; in the record of her artistic career that lovely embodiment of one of Shakespeare's simplest but most beautiful creations will not be far from the first. Remembering Katharine, Julia, and Helena, it might be rash to say that her latest is her best work, but certainly she has done nothing better, for she realizes this heroine not only in her outward aspect, in form and bearing, and in melodious speech—she is surely the loveliest page that ever served an impossible Prince of Dalmatia, but that was to be expected—but in every shade of feeling, in every impulse, in every change of facial expression, she completely identifies herself with the role, and it with her own personality. She is so surely and entirely Viola as to make us forget all the other portrayals of this character in recent times, which was not the case with her Rosalind. Truth to tell, Miss Rehan's reading and conception of this part—using that tiresome word "conception" under protest to signify her comprehension of it as expressed in her performance—seem to us more lucid and convincing than her treatment of Rosalind.

One of the most charming of all the Essays of Elia, one of those that are best remembered by the readers of Lamb, is devoted to his memory of a performance of this very play he saw in his youth, and the description he there gives of the Viola of Dora Jordan now reads like a faithful account of the Viola of Ada Rehan. How closely this passage in it applies to the portrayal we saw first last Tuesday night!

There is no giving an account how she delivered the disguised story of her love for Orsino. It was no set speech that she had foreseen so as to weave it into a harmonious period, line necessarily following line, to make up the music—yet I have heard it so spoken, or, rather, read, not without its grace and beauty—but when she had declared her sister's history to be a 'blank' and that she 'never told her love,' there was a pause, as if the story had ended; and then the image of the 'worm in the bud' came up as a new suggestion and the heightened image of 'Patience' still followed after that as by some growing (and not mechanical) process, thought springing up after thought. I would almost say, as they were watered by her tears. She used no rhetoric in her passion or it was Nature's own rhetoric, most legitimate then when it seemed altogether without rule or law.

In the future there may be some critic of Lamb's worth and geniality and young heart and golden pen to thus record his memory of the performances of Shakespeare's heroines by the Dora Jordan of the English-speaking stage in these our little times.

Miss Rehan's elocution in this part seems to us absolutely beyond cavil. The cadences of her speech fall as gratefully upon the ear as sweetest music, yet she speaks, she does not read or recite. If speech upon the stage has ever sounded better or expressed a poet's meaning more clearly than her delivery of that fine passage of rhapsody Viola addresses to Olivia,

And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out 'Olivia'!

We have no knowledge of the time. The voice of Ada Rehan is the rarest and loveliest voice raised in public amid the ceaseless clamor of these times, and it is perfectly attuned to all the notes in this comedy of Shakespeare.

The tone of this impersonation is not continuously plaintive; she does not bear with her through all the mazes, in moods of frolic as well as those of sentiment, an air of melancholy; no Viola ever has. The girl is young, the spirits of wholesome, healthy youth are not always depressed even when youth is suffering from blighted affection. Presumably Viola would never die of love, even if Duke Orsino married his Countess; perhaps she would not even sit "like Patience on a monument" very long; but Miss Rehan's Viola, joyous when occasion demands it, sparkling with animation in the gayer scenes, with a delicate touch of irony in her vicarious lovemaking, is still dominated by pensiveness—the memory you bear away from it is a tender memory, the echo of her voice is gently sorrowful. She makes less of the comic scene with the roysterers than any other Viola we remember, even than Ellen Terry's or Modjeska's.

The charm of those two exquisite artists in everything they do is potent; but Miss Terry's Viola was what Miss Rehan's never is, monotonous, and its sweetness was rather cloying, while of Helena Modjeska's impersonations of Shakespeare's women we treasure in mind most strongly her Rosalind, Isabella, and Ophelia. Much is said in current talk about the Viola of Adelaide Neilson, and those who honestly and vividly remember the acting of that charming and ill-fated artist are to be congratulated, but some of us who remember all she did remember keenly, also, that, until almost the last year of her brilliant career, the glowing plumage of her genius was the constant mark of the small, ill-tempered birds who can always peck, even if they cannot sing.

But no memory of the past whatever can cast a shadow on the Viola of Ada Rehan. It is successful in the popular sense; it is a work of stage art of the finest quality.

Little more remains to be said about the revival of Twelfth Night. It is tiresome after all to be compelled so often to use the superlative; it is not in accord with the spirit of these times. The gibe and the jest and the sneer are much more popular, but in the old comedy revivals at Daly's Theatre the effect of beauty in color, form, and melody is cumulative. We thought only a few years ago that this high-minded, far-reaching manager could never do anything better than his production of The Taming of the Shrew; London expressed the same opinion a little later. It seems only a few days ago that we thought he had at last reached the limit with The Hunchback, but to describe Twelfth Night as it is given on his stage one needs a new vocabulary.

Much of the text is omitted; the Clown, for instance, is shorn of much of his antique wit, for which we have a fondness, and is principally of interest as a singer, and Malvolio, a part taken by Mr. George Clarke with the judgment and skill of an experienced and able actor, loses some of his scenes—if the Sir Topas episode is omitted after a while we shall not regret it, for though Shakespearean students esteem it highly, it has never seemed entertaining upon the stage, and was even duller in Mr. Irving's production of Twelfth Night than it is at present.

In much of the scenery and costuming of the new production an Oriental effect is secured. We doubt very much if Shakespeare knew where Illyria was or cared, but the coast of Dalmatia is close to the border land of the Orient. Greek forms and fashions have controlled former elaborate productions of this play, but the touch of Oriental warmth and languor now appropriately imparted to it adds greatly to its pleasing effect. The humor is well preserved by Mr. Lewis and his associates, and the music, which is all in keeping, is rendered with extraordinary ability for the singing forces of a theatre not devoted to music alone.

"Realism" has nothing to do with such a play as Twelfth Night. It all belongs to fancy. No one under its influence thinks of the horrors of shipwreck; the perfume of rare flowers, the echo of soft music pervades it. It is not needful, in presenting it on the stage, to befoul the atmosphere with the odor of bilge water or to give to any one of its characters the appearance of bodily suffering.

The production of a poetic drama is not an easy task. The manager who undertakes it should possess the highest and best qualities. No one in America in our time has equaled Augustin Daly in this kind of work. In London Mr. Irving, like Macready before him, has been obliged to submit throughout his brilliant career to the caviling and sneers of the gadflies of the press. In New-York, for nearly a quarter of a century now, Mr. Daly has had more than his share of that sort of abuse. The enormous pecuniary success of his present season, the most noteworthy, in some respects, of any in the history of his theatre, is therefore all the more gratifying to people who cherish a high ideal of the dramatic art.

Jeannette Gilder (review date 4 March 1893)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in The Critic, Vol. XIX, No. 576, March 4, 1893, p. 135.

Although Mr. Daly has expended much labor and money upon his elaborate revival of Shakespeare's delightful comedy of Twelfth Night, and is entitled on that account to credit and gratitude, it must be confessed that the result is disappointing, inasmuch as the general richness of the setting excites expectations with regard to the acting which, unfortunately, are not always realized. The eye of the spectator is pleased continually by a series of glittering and attractive stage pictures, and by many evidences of artistic taste and profuse liberality in the matter of scenery, accessories and costume, but the intelligence is unsatisfied and the lover of the poet is forced to the conviction that more thought has been taken of the spectacle than of the play. If this representation had been offered at a minor theatre by a manager of smaller experience, capacity and accomplishment, it would have been worthy of hearty commendation as an effort in the right direction, but Mr. Daly has earned the right to be judged by the highest standards, and his best friends will scarcely be bold enough to assert that he has approached that of Mr. Henry Irving, not to speak of others that have been set in this city.

It may be admitted at once, and readily, that in mere sumptuousness of decoration he has done all that could be expected reasonably of any manager. There can be no question of the costliness of his preparation or of the skill with which he availed himself, as a rule, of modern theatrical resources. It is true that his system of lighting is deficient, that he has turned night into day and day into night, that the sky illumination in the opening set is an impossible phenomenon, that his costumes belong to no one place or period and that his architecture is curious in more respects than one; but it would be unfair to insist too strongly upon such lesser points of detail as these, considering the fanciful nature of the work—which affords plausible excuse for license—and the fact remains that such sets as the interior of Orsino's palace, with its array of courtiers and musicians, the hall of Olivia's house and the garden scene are beautiful and striking, while the costumes are extremely brilliant and picturesqu'e—sometimes, indeed, a little too brilliant as in the case, for instance, of Viola just fresh from shipwreck. In all these spectacular features of the entertainment there is much to praise and little to complain of, while the incidental music, all of which by the way does not belong to Twelfth Night, is very sweetly and tastefully rendered, although occasionally in too slow time. But in the most vital part of the representation, the acting, this high level of excellence is not maintained. Correct as most of it is in form and detail it is sadly devoid of spirit or imagination. Miss Ada Rehan, when in her proper element, which is one of archness, or frolic or pretty petulance, is a most charming actress who need fear no rival; but in characters whose very essence is romantic, poetic and sentimental she is misplaced. Her defects are those of temperament, not of intelligence. Her delivery of verse is monotonous and unsympathetic, and her style of acting lacks the delicacy, refinement and grace necessarily associated with the heroines of poetry and imagination. In interpreting them she is compelled to restrain her own natural vivacity, which is her most potent weapon, and to substitute for it a colorless demeanor which is necessarily ineffective, and often dull. Her Viola, compared with the performances of such artists as 'Modjeska, Ellen Terry or Adelaide Neilson, was curiously insincere and unimaginative, except in those passages which gave something like free play to the merry mood in which she excels. She did not fall absolutely, of course—her experience as an actress and her natural charm as a woman prevented such a catastrophe as that—but most assuredly she fell very far short of success.

The most satisfactory performance was the Malvolio of Mr. George Clarke, which, although without the inspiration and distinction of Mr. Irving's masterful impersonation, was a humorous, consistent and exceedingly well-executed sketch. Mr. Lewis's Sir Toby was quaint and funny, but lacked breadth, vigor and unction, and the carousal scenes passed very tamely. The Olivia of Miss Prince was an uncommonly meritorious bit of work, admirable in dignity and grace, and especially notable for good elocution. Of Maria's spontaneous and infectious humor Miss Catharine Lewis suggested little. The only other part deserving a word of special mention was the Orsino of Creston Clarke. Doubtless the general representation will improve with rehearsal, but the future of it will depend chiefly upon the scenery and the music.

The Athenaeum (review date 13 January 1894)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in The Athenaeum, No. 3455, January 13, 1894, pp. 57-58.

The production of Twelfth Night is the most interesting feature in Mr. Daly's programme since his memorable revival of Taming of the Shrew. As in most recent Shakespearean representations, too much stress is laid upon the setting, and accessories are elevated into undeserved and, in a sense, inartistic prominence. Yet only when similar conditions prevail are we likely to see Shakespearean comedy at all, and to complain of means when the result is delightful would be churlish. For delightful the representation is. The perfume of the love scenes is preserved, and the whole is shown to be comedy, and not farce. To no character is allotted undue prominence; the whole is even, artistic, fragrant. In the scenes in Orsino's palace the grouping is, perhaps, a little too formal, and the sustained chorus to Feste's songs, though agreeable, is unimaginative. The result, however, as has been said, is pleasing, and lovers of Shakespeare should not fail to visit the performance. They must be prepared to see Shakespeare's disposition of the scenes "knocked about," and to find some occasional extravagances. Mirthful as it is, the laugh with which Maria more than once quits the stage is conventional and out of place. Still the right atmosphere is preserved, and the performances generally are excellent. Miss Ada Rehan's Viola is bewitching. Miss Renan looks surprisingly well in her page's costume, and delivers her lines with admirable music and with that sense of humour which is necessary to bring out their full significance. Nothing in which this actress has been seen conveys a higher estimate of her powers and endowments. Miss Violet Vanbrugh gives the right rendering of Olivia; and Miss Catherine Lewis, with the reservation before mentioned, leads off the revels with admirable spirit. Mr. James Lewis is the best Sir Toby Belch we can recall; Mr. Clarke's Malvolio is full of spirit; and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Orsino, Feste, and the characters generally are modestly and well sustained. Mr. Daubigny's singing is excellent, and the general musical effects are delightful. Those who fail to see the representation will have cause for regret.

William Archer (review date 17 January 1894)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in The Theatrical 'World' of 1894, Walter Scott, Ltd., 1895, pp. 22-31.

At last, at last! The long series of disappointments has ended at last, and we have to thank Mr Daly for an evening of rich and keen, if not absolutely unmixed, enjoyment. The performance of Twelfth Night has the one supreme merit which, in a Shakespearean revival, covers a multitude of sins—it really "revives" the play, makes it live again. There is nothing mechanical or academic about it. We feel we are in a live playhouse, not a historical museum. Not that I, personally, object to seeing the theatre turned now and again into a historical museum. When we have our Endowed Theatre, at which Mr Sydney Grundy scoffs (but "come it will, for a' that"), some twenty to fiveand-twenty nights in the year (not more, Mr Grundy!) will probably be devoted to the merely historical drama,—to plays which interest us, not for their living merits, but because, like those people with whom Mr Browning parleyed in one of his last books, they were of importance in their day. The Country Girl, despite the freshness and charm of Miss Rehan's Peggy, belongs on the whole to this class. It is pleasant enough to parley with Garrick for once in a way (since Wycherley is out of the question): but his work gives us pleasure, not because it is absolutely and perdurably beautiful or witty, but because the mediocrity of long ago acquires a certain charm in the very act of growing old. Here, I take it, lies the explanation of the difference between Mr W. S. Gilbert and Mr Clement Scott. Mr Scott, perhaps, does not quite thoroughly analyse the pleasure which he receives from The Country Girl, and mistakes for inherent superiority what is really an "un-earned increment" of quaintness due to mere lapse of time; while Mr Gilbert, not making sufficient allowance for this unearned increment—as inevitable, under certain conditions, in literature as in economics—is inclined to compare new plays and old on their absolute merits, weighing wit against wit, and invention against invention, as though the pleasure we received from wit and invention were, or ought to be, strictly commensurate with the sheer brain-power involved in it. Twelfth Night, on the other hand, is a work of inherent and permanent vitality. Poetry is the one thing imperishable, and Shakespeare has never written more tenderly and exquisitely than in the romantic scenes of this comedy. The fable has all the charm of a myth of the elder world, when instinct spoke to instinct unashamed, and when love found its sufficient sanction in beauty, with "no d—d nonsense about merit," about spiritual affinity, or harmony of souls, or friendship, or even mutual esteem. Someone in Paris has recently produced a pantomime-play in which Juliet awakens before Romeo has drunk the poison, and they set up house together, quarrel, and lead a cat-and-dog life. What wanton vulgarity of imagination! In Twelfth Night, only Malvolio, the would-be "bourgeois gentilhomme," associates love with domesticity. Malvolio, a born major-domo, dreams of ruling Olivia's house, bidding others know their place as he knows his, and, in short, fulfilling the social duties of marriage. To the noble and beautiful children of fantasy, marriage is only a spell or charm to be recited "for luck," as it were, as they cross the threshold of love. They are pagans in a pagan world, and we no more care to imagine them "married and settled," than we want to follow the figures on Keats's Grecian Urn into their workaday life in the

  Little town, by river or seashore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel.

We leave the lovers in each other's arms, beyond the reach and time of destiny. It is in this etherealising of the material, this elimination of all after-thought from life, all doubt and fear and shame, that the perennial charm of the poem consists. These "high-fantastical" beings are so frankly absorbed in the passion of the moment that they make the moment an eternity. Since Shakespeare left the comedy without an epilogue, Keats might have supplied it, in the shape of a fantasia on the theme:' 'For ever shalt thou love, and she be fair."

Mr Daly and I will never quite agree, I fear, as to the proper way of treating Shakespeare's text. We differ in our fundamental principles. To me it seems that the aim of the artistic manager should be to present any given play with as little cutting and rearrangement as possible, having regard to the altered conditions of the theatre both before and behind the curtain. Mr Daly seems rather to cut and rear-range as much as he possibly can, without absolutely going the length of Dryden, Tate, and Cibber, and rewriting his author. My rule would be, "When in doubt, play Shakespeare;" to which Mr Daly would probably reply that he is never in the least doubt as to the superiority of his own ideas. For instance, nothing shall ever reconcile me to the barbarism (of which Mr Irving was also guilty) of opening the play with a seashore tableau, instead of with that bewitching speech of Orsino's, "If music be the food of love, play on," in which Shakespeare (who occasionally knew what he was about) strikes the keynote of the whole comedy. Mr Daly is not content with running Shakespeare's first and fourth scenes together as the second scene of his production: he actually cuts the six loveliest lines in the Duke's speech:

Give me excess of it: that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.—
That strain again!—it had a dying fall:
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet south;
That breathes upon a bank of violets,

Stealing, and giving odour.

This is so incredible, that I almost hesitate to make the assertion; my wits may have been wool-gathering for the moment; but I certainly did not hear the lines. The running together of the two scenes, Mr Daly may say, was necessary because of the deep stage required for the Duke's court. Well, if the retention of Shakespeare's arrangement had involved the sacrifice of a few of the odalisques strewn about the floor of the ducal seraglio, we need not have been inconsolable. But I do not even see that any such sacrifice would have been necessary. If the re-sources of the modern theatre are unequal to the changes of scene required in following Shakespeare's arrangement, all I can say is, the more shame to it. There are many cases, of course, in which judicious rearrangement is quite permissible; but a rearrangement which displaces and mutilates what Shakespeare obviously intended for the opening chord of his romance is surely the reverse of judicious. The text throughout is treated very cavalierly, not only in the omission of important and characteristic speeches (such, for instance, as Viola's reply to Antonio, "I hate in-gratitude more in a man," &c), but in the curtailment and alteration of some even of the best-known phrases in the play. Why should the Clown's part be docked of the protestation that "Ginger shall be hot i' the mouth, too"? Why should Viola stop short at "By my troth, I'll tell thee, I am almost sick for one" (i.e., a beard), and omit "though I would not have it grow on my chin"? Is Mr Daly of opinion that Shakespeare "rubbed in" the jest inartistically? Perhaps; but what we want is Shakespeare's lack of art, not someone else's art. What possible authority is there for "And dallies with the innocence of love like ripe old age"? The emendation is as stupid as it is unnecessary. Finally, to pass over many more important matters, and descend to a very trifling, but not uncharacteristic, detail, why should the Clown modernise the line "Youth's a stuff will not endure," and sing "that won't endure" instead? This may seem the very pedantry of fault-finding, but the alteration serves no conceivable purpose, and to the ear which is familiar with the phrase in its quaintly archaic form (and what ear is not?), the modernisation is a quite sensible annoyance.

There now; I have had it out with Mr Daly, and can now return with an easy conscience to my original statement that, whatever his lapses of taste, he has truly revived the play, making it, as it ought to be, a thing beautiful, enjoyable, and lovable. I shall not even quarrel with the omission of "Come away, come away, Death," and the interpolation of one or two other more or less appropriate airs. In an ideal revival, the play would doubtless be less operatically treated; but the musical portion of the present performance is too beautiful to be otherwise than gratefully accepted. I don't know where Mr Windmer found the setting of "Oh, Mistress Mine!" which Mr Lloyd Daubigny sings so charmingly. It seems curiously unlike the words, converting the Clown's light-hearted ditty into a solemn and plaintive dirge: but it is beautiful, exquisitely beautiful and touching. "Who is Sylvia?" treated as a serenade at the end of the third act, is perhaps not strikingly appropriate, but it, too, is perfectly rendered, while the stage, by an original and ingenious arrangement of lights, presents one of the loveliest pictures imaginable. The performance, take it all round, is capital. In the very first scene, Mr Hobart Bosworth, as Viola's sea-captain, led off by speaking his lines not only with perfect verbal correctness (alas, that we should have to remark on so simple and mechanical a virtue!), but with excellent phrasing and accentuation. Similar praise must be accorded to Mr John Craig, who did full justice both to the metre and the meaning of Orsino's lines. Miss Violet Vanbrugh made a pleasant and intelligent Olivia; and the other blank-verse parts, if not excellently treated, were at least not notoriously maltreated. Mr George Clarke's Malvolio lacked fantasy, but was otherwise quite respectable; Mr James Lewis was an admirable Sir Toby, incomparably the best I have ever seen; Mr Herbert Gresham, as Sir Andrew, was quite worthy of his partner; and Miss Catherine Lewis, though she somewhat over-elaborated the sprightliness of Maria, was not so very florid in her humour as she is sometimes apt to be. The comic scenes, on the whole, had the true "festivitas," without which they are a weariness of the flesh. By the way, why does Mr Daly take all the humour out of Viola's appeal for "Some mollification for your giant, sweet lady," by making it apply to Malvolio instead of Maria? The contrast between Miss Rehan's stature and Miss Lewis's is quite sufficient to give the thing point, though Shakespeare no doubt intended Maria to be played by a mere "wren" of a boy.

Lastly, of Miss Rehan's Viola. It is a beautiful, a fascinating, a truly poetic creation—on the whole more pleasing, to my own personal taste, than her Rosaline. Its one prevailing defect is slowness. Strange that one should have to say this of a performance of Miss Rehan's, but it gives all of Viola except her sparkle, her vivacity. A large exception, you may say; but until you have seen Miss Rehan you don't know what liberal compensations she presents in the shape of tenderness, delicacy, and quiet, subdued humour. At the same time, there is every reason why she should try to bring her achievement up to the point of perfection by hastening the movement of several passages. She has adopted a curious sort of psalmody in her treatment of verse. She exaggerates her pauses, and lengthens out her vowel sounds, caressingly, beautifully, but, as I cannot but think, immoderately. I first noticed this tendency to what I then called grandiloquence in her performance of Maid Marian in The Foresters. It is an error on the right side, and gives a peculiar, dreamy, languorous charm to many passages of her Viola; but an error it certainly is when carried to excess. Now and then, too, she misses what I may call syllabic perfection in the wording of her lines, baffling the ear, for example, by saying, "I'm the man, if it be so as 'tis," instead of "I am the man." Her worst slip of this nature occurs in the very first lines of her part. Can anything be more beautiful than the echoing cadence of—

And what should I do in Illyria?
My brother, he is in Elysium,

which Miss Rehan ruins by omitting the "he"? But, after all possible deductions, this Viola remains a creation of in-describable beauty and charm—a thing to be seen, and never to be forgotten.

Charles H. Shattuck (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: "Augustin Daly and the Shakespeare Comedies," in Shakespeare on the American Stage,: From Booth and Barrett to Sothern and Marlowe, Vol. 2, Associated University Presses, 1987, pp. 54-92.

For 1893 Daly determined to surpass all his previous Shakespearean accomplishments: in Twelfth Night he found stuff that appealed with extraordinary intensity to his "creative" instincts. He disassembled the play and rebuilt it, cleansed it of every grossness, doubled the amount of music that Shakespeare called for (but canceled that too gloomy song "Come away death"), hired Graham Robertson to costume it in the high esthetic mode, and invented the most striking scenic effects, from violent storm to rose garden by moonlight. By cutting more than six hundred lines he got rid of everything that might endanger the "poetry" and "beauty." His efforts hit popular taste exactly as he intended. In New York Twelfth Night ran for six weeks (February 21 to April 8); it finished the season in Boston; a year later it enjoyed over 100 performances in London; it stayed in Daly's repertory to the end.

Most of the publishing critics echoed or even promoted the popular enthusiasm. Yet there were deep divisions. Consider only the responses to Miss Rehan's Viola. Out of William Winter's review [in The New York Tribune (22 February 1893)] (some two thousand words, all evidently composed in advance) we may cull such sentences as these:

Viola is a woman of deep sensibility: and that way Miss Rehan has comprehended and reproduced her, permitting a certain wistful sadness to glimmer through the gauze of kindly vivacity with which, otherwise, her whole bright and gentle figure is artfully swathed.… The great underlying cause of her brilliant success was the profound sincerity of her feeling—over which her glee was seen to play, as moonlight plays upon the rippling surface of the ocean depth.… Lovely reserve and aristocratic distinction blended in the performance, and dignified and endeared it. The melody of Shakespeare's verse—especially in the passage of Viola's renunciation—fell from her lips in a strain of fluent sweetness that enhanced its beauty and deepended the pathos of its under significance. In such tones the heart speaks.… Her elocution was at its best—concealing all premeditation, and flowing, as the brook flows, with continuous music.… Her performance was as natural and as sweet as the opening of the rose.

Jeannette Gilder of The Critic [4 March, 1893] thought quite otherwise:

Miss Ada Rehan, when in her proper element, which is one of archness, or frolic or pretty petulance, is a most charming actress who need fear no rival; but in characters whose very essence is romantic, poetic and sentimental she is misplaced. Her defects are those of temperament, not of intelligence. Her delivery of verse is monotonous and unsympathetic, and her style of acting lacks the delicacy, refinement and grace necessarily associated with the heroines of poetry and imagination. In interpreting them she is compelled to restrain her own natural vivacity, and to substitute for it a colorless demeanor which is necessarily ineffective and often dull.

These opinions confronted each other everywhere in the press. Dithmar of the New York Times wrote two long reviews praising every aspect of the production, defending Daly from "the jibe and the jest and the sneer" so often directed against him, and declaring that "surely the actress never before seemed so lovely as she did in her page's garb, or spoke so well, or mingled in her acting archness and sentiment, the passion of womanhood, the unquenchable spirit of youth so deftly." Against this Towse of the Evening Post declared that "in the more delicate, sentimental and purely poetic interludes her droning singsong robbed the familiar lines of almost all their familiar beauty." In Boston Arthur Warren of the Herald found nothing to blame; Clapp of the Advertiser and Mrs. Sutherland of the Transcript were reluctant to praise.

In The Critic Miss Gilder isolated one weakness of the production very clearly: "the general richness of the setting excites expectations with regard to the acting which, unfortunately, are not always realized." Daly's company, or what was left of it, was not right for the play. John Drew, who might have played Orsino, had defected. Otis Skinner was gone. Arthur Bourchier rehearsed Orsino but quarreled with Daly and resigned. The part was then taken on short notice and played without distinction by Creston Clarke (a nephew of Edwin Booth). Perky little James Lewis would be nobody's idea of a proper Toby Belch, but Daly padded his thighs and belly and instructed him to be jolly but not at all vulgar: the "carousal scenes" passed very tamely, said The Critic. Except for Winter, not even friends of the management were much amused by these scenes. George Clarke's Malvolio started off well enough, but his Yellow Stockings Scene lost its point because he was dressed in a dainty costume of pastel colors, pretty but not ridiculous: his cross-gartering consisted of bands of white ribbon on pale yellow hose. Feste, which Lewis might have made a good thing of, was relieved of most of his speeches and assigned to a sweet-voiced singer, Lloyd Daubigny, who was no comedian and was hardly called upon to "act" at all.

As for Miss Rehan's Viola, it appears that although she was adored for her personal beauty, she had great difficulty at first in finding what to make of the part. Her situation was much the same as that when Daly cast her as Helena in the Dream. There was no room in Viola for the explosiveness of her Katherine nor for the wit and merriment of her Rosalind. Viola, confined to a dramatic situation which she cannot dominate, has to be rescued from it; and Miss Rehan, thus prevented from lifting and carrying the play, was subdued by it. Happily, there are signs that in time her performance improved. When the production went to London, William Archer, A. B. Walkley, and [George Bernard] Shaw—though they could not abide Daly's arrangement of the text—were all delighted by her Viola. The Athenaeum called it "bewitching." Archer took mild exception to the slowness of her speaking, her exaggerated pauses and excessively lengthened vowels, but both he and Walkley actually preferred her Viola to her Rosalind. For Shaw [in Our Theatres in the Nineties, 1932], "the moment she strikes up the true Shakespearian music, and feels her way to her part altogether by her sense of that music, the play returns to life and all the magic is there." When Clapp of Boston saw the play a second time in the autumn of 1894, he withdrew his initial objections and declared she had "accomplished a wonderful advance," was now "almost beyond praise." By 1898, Norman Hapgood, a hard man to please, sounded as deep in love with her Viola as everyone else: "As Viola her varied voice is kept at its sweeter, easier, more natural tones, her face is quiet with a sad love, an expression across which the lighter humor flits from moment to moment.… It stands as one of the best Shakespearean interpretations of the time" [New York Commercial Advertiser (January 27, 1898)].

Daly was far more interested in creating spectacular stage effects than concerned for Shakespeare's play, and his tamperings were so outrageous as to deserve the compliments of a certain philistine critic named Vance Thompson, who declared that "he is doing what Colley Cibbàr did for his generation, and he is doing it quite as well." According to this Thompson, Daly's "method of ameliorating and remodeling the Shakespearean plays is the only feasible one." Every generation must take from the plays those qualities which are "in the line of its own fashionable modes of amusement," and what the modern amusement hunter wants is "pretty faces, pretty music, pretty pictures." Thompson is aware that the attitude he is expressing is not that of a superior person: "but you and I, it is to be hoped, are not superior persons and have learned that when we cannot get the moon it is well to put up with the substitute of wholesome green cheese" [New York Commercial Advertiser (December 2, 1893)].

Shakespeare's opening scene sets theme and tone for the play as Duke Orsino, accompanied by sweet music, broods over his unrequited love for the lady Olivia; next Shakespeare presents Viola at the sea shore, just rescued from shipwreck, hoping desperately that her beloved brother has not been drowned. Daly was not the first nor would he be the last to "improve" the play by reversing these two scenes, but his improvement is the most radical that anyone ever perpetrated. He had read The Tempest and discovered there how to get the evening going with a bang. With darkened stage and Storm Music he worked up his theatre's full potential of thunder, lightning, wind, and rain. Gradually the storm subsided, the music calmed, the rising dawn revealed through mists a boat lying alongside the rocky shore. The mists cleared. A Chorus was heard in the distance singing Ariel's song, "Come unto these yellow sands." When the lights were up to full, who should arrive but Viola's brother Sebastian and his rescuer Antonio, who were not supposed to be seen until Shakespeare's second act. When they explained themselves and went their ways, the Chorus, a band of happy Illyrian peasants, danced across the stage singing "Come unto these yellow sands" at top volume. Then at last came Viola with her Captain, sailors, and baggage, the Captain singing another snatch from The Tempest—Stephano's "I shall no more to sea, to sea. Here shall I die on shore." Viola's worry about her brother may have seemed a bit pointless, since the audience had just seen him in perfect health, but probably at that moment the audience was less concerned with plot than Viola's glorious costume. Though just arrived out of the stormy ocean, she appeared to be on her way to a fashionable soirée—a white gown embroidered with delicate gold patterns, the deep sleeves trimmed with wide gold fringe, a full-length rose-red cape draped from her shoulders.

When she heard about Orsino, and went off to "serve this duke," Daly then turned back to Shakespeare's opening scene. Probably he was uneasy about the boldness of his "improvement," for he consulted the leading American Shakespearean, H. H. Furness, about it. Furness's response [in a letter to Daly of January 27, 1893] must have gratified him hugely, and encouraged him to commit even further violations of the text:

In the name of sanctity why do you think I'll be shocked at any changes which a modern playwright thinks best to make in the omission or transposition of scenes in Shakespeare? His stage is not our stage, his audiences are not our audiences.' Tis only additions like Dryden's, Tate's or Garrick's that are lèse majesté. Your partial combination of the two seacoast scenes strikes me as excellent.

Furness urged him, too, to eliminate the final appearance of Malvolio, a suggestion which Daly would accept and improve upon.

When he finally got round to the Orsino Scene he had quite lost sight of its Shakespearean significance, and after the Storm Scene it must have seemed to him impossibly thin and feeble. He glamorized it. When the curtain rose on the love-lorn bachelor in his palatial quarters, he did not strike one as love-lorn at all: nine pretty girls—musicians, singers, and dancers—stood or knelt or lay about the stage. When he called for music they treated him not to a brief strain with a dying fall, but a full concert rendition of Sir Henry Bishop's setting of the twenty-fifth stanza of Venus and Adonis, "Bid me discourse, I will enchant thine ear." After the song they performed an Oriental dance.

There was a technical reason for thus stretching out this first Orsino scene. At the end of it Orsino would cut ahead to scene four, calling for Cesario, and Miss Rehan had to be ready at the entrance in her green doublet and hose (identical with the costume in which we have already seen her brother). As Shakespeare arranged his narrative, she would have had the long Sir Toby scene (I. iii) in which to make the costume change, but in order to reduce the amount of scene-shifting Daly postponed the Sir Toby scene and tacked together two Orsino scenes (I. i and I. iv). Thus, in order to give Miss Rehan time enough in her dressing room he had to pad the first Orsino Scene with song and dance.

The "carousal" scenes (Shakespeare's I. iii and II. iii, also tacked together) were not played below stairs, as had long been the custom, but in Olivia's beautifully appointed drawing room—dainty furniture, a bronze chandelier, gilt statues on tall pedestals—and through a wide archway at the back a view of a pretty garden. It was hardly the ambience for Shakespeare's low comedy. But Daly did not want it to be very low. William Winter had urged from the beginning that "Sir Toby will not be made a foul & dirty Sir Toby—for that is not necessary." Business with tobacco pipes and flagons was kept to a minimum and nobody got very drunk or very amusing. In the second of these scenes, the late night one, there was a great deal of singing of "catches," all those named by Shakespeare—"Hold thy peace," "Three merry men be we," and "There dwelt a man in Babylon." Daly added two more that had crept into the play a century earlier:

Christmas comes but once a year
And therefore we'll be jolly

and this one, probably sung as a round:

Which is the properest day to drink,
Saturday, Sunday, Monday?
Each is the properest day I think.
Why should I name but one day?
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,
      Saturday, Sunday, Monday.

Feste did not sing "O mistress mine" in this scene but at Orsino's court in place of "Come away, death."

The gulling of Malvolio—the Letter Scene—took place in a spectacularly beautiful garden in front of Olivia's house. The house, a two-story structure, which one entered by mounting steps at either end of a high porch, stood at an angle at stage right. Downstage of the porch and near it was a garden chair, and across at stage left a stone bench. While Malvolio strolled about center stage, musing and preening himself, the pranksters hid behind a massive bank of very pink roses at upper left center. Across the back of the garden was a kind of picket fence with an arched opening at center, beyond which lay another flowered garden and beyond that the sea.

To mark the transition between the Letter Scene and Cesario's second visit to Olivia, which followed without intervening dialogue, Feste sang the first stanza of "It was a lording's daughter," the fifteenth item in Shakespeare's The Passionate Pilgrim.

The sentimental climax of the play was entirely a Daly intervention—a tableau sustained by a serenade. After the farcical violence of the Cesario-Sir Andrew duel, Viola heard words from Antonio that intimated that her brother was alive. Sinking into the garden chair near the porch she soliloquized, "O, if it prove, Tempests are kind, and salt waves fresh in love." Dusk was gathering, the new moon rose over the sea (in the west!), and music sounded. Through the archway up center came Orsino, followed by his band of girl-musicians, who half-hidden behind the bank of roses sang "Fair Olivia, what is she?" (Schubert's setting of the Sylvia song from The Two Gentlemen of Verona). Olivia appeared on her high porch, and looking down discovered Orsino gazing up at her. Turning away in annoyance, she discovered Cesario, and fixed her gaze lovingly on him—who was, of course, gazingly lovingly at Orsino. "The garden was all in moonlight," wrote William Winter [in his Shakespeare on the Stage, 1911] "The delicious music flowed on, and over that perfect pageant of romance the curtain fell." Even Bernard Shaw allowed that this Dalyism was both permissible and seductive, "thanks to Schubert and to the conductor, Mr. Henry Widmer, who has handled the music in such a fashion as to get the last drop of honey out of it."

All that remained of the play (Acts IV and V) after this feast of music and moonlight Daly packed into a single act. Not much remained that served Daly's purpose: a bit of sword play between Sir Toby and Sebastian, Olivia's drawing Sebastian offstage to marry him, the recognition between brother and sister, and Orsino's taking Viola for his "fancy's queen."

There was no room for Malvolio in this world of happy lovers. Everything after his Yellow Stockings Scene—the Prison Scene, his demand for retribution, his furious exit ("I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you")—was eventually canceled. Furness had urged Daly to omit Malvolio's very last appearance: "We really do not want to see Malvolio again—the laugh has died out & it can with difficulty be revived." Furness as much as Daly appears to have been oblivious to the ambivalence, the irony, the weight of the Malvolio story: Malvolio was a joke or he was nothing. And Daly objected to Malvolio even more strongly. As he told Winter, Malvolio's ordeal was painful and tiresome. He had got all the laughs that could be got out of the foolish gull, and these bitter passages only undercut and destroyed the "poetical" climax which he had so cunningly created. Though he printed the Prison Scene, he cut it from the performance. He sped the love affairs to their joyous conclusion, and while Feste and Maria sang the three most "innocent" stanzas of "Hey, ho, the wind and the rain," the company of lovers danced a galliard.

Of the many reviews of this Twelfth Night that I have seen, surprisingly few have been troubled that Daly smashed the play in order to turn it into a musical entertainment. Arthur Warren of the Boston Herald [April 18, 1893] offered an apologetic nod to those devoted Shakespeareans who might regard it as sacrilegious to cut lines, dispense with scenes, and subordinate characters in order to suit the tastes of modern audiences. "Malvolio has been somewhat slighted," Warren admitted, "and he is not as prominent a figure in the comedy as the author intended he should be, but, after all, there is much matter concerning this character which usually has the effect of wearying an audience." That idiot, before mentioned, who would give up the moon for wholesome green cheese, defended Daly with the argument that "it is no compliment to Shakespeare to make art dull." When the play got to England, William Archer reminded us that he disapproved of Daly's method, but as if weary of the struggle he only cited a few absurd misreadings and omissions (Feste was denied his "Ginger shall be hot i' the mouth too"), and borrowed a few neat whacks from Shaw, who, as Corno di Bassetto, was responsible only for covering the music.

Only Henry Clapp of Boston, after a second viewing, was sufficiently annoyed to enter sustained complaint. The best parts of the performance, he acknowledged, were "almost beyond praise," but there was "much which could scarcely be endured." The singing was abundant and excellent, and the choral rendition of "Bid me discourse" was pleasant to the ear—"even if the eye was a little amused by the resemblance of the court of Orsino, the 'bachelor' duke, to a Turkish seraglio." But in order to make room for so much music, and as a concession to scenic arrangements, "characters are made to march in and out with utter unreason," and Daly

found it necessary to tear and pare and clip and snip Shakespeare's text… with a frankly insolent recklessness which would not have discredited Colley Cibber or Nahum Tate. Passages memorable in every line are presented in scarcely recognizable fragments; many of the most familiar are sacrificed altogether; and not seldom a cruel telephone abridgement is practised upon splendid pieces of wit, and the audience are treated to an exact half of some immortal world-famous joke. Turning Twelfth Night from a comedy into an operetta, even in a half dozen scenes, is certainly illegitimate. But the most extraordinary defeat of the spirit of comedy achieved by this version must not escape being noted. For the first time in who can say how many centuries, the entire revels of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and the Clown are conducted without the assistance of apparent drinking and smoking,—perhaps for fear of spoiling the scenery.

The revelry concluded with a noisy dance and no words: it was useless for Sir Toby to shout "it's too late to go to bed now" when there was neither wine nor tobacco to stay up for.

But not even Clapp takes exception to the dismissal of Malvolio from the play after the Yellow Stockings Scene. All that seriously mattered, even to Clapp, was that "the evening was made beautiful and delightsome by Miss Rehan's Viola."

And that, of course, was Daly's whole intention—to feed the public appetite for prettiness and sentiment. He gave them lovely scenery bathed in atmospheric sweetness, pretty costumes designed by the delicate artist Graham Robertson (and to Robertson's dismay, redesigned them to make them prettier), beautiful women, nothing to embarrass or worry anyone, and over all a wash of lovely music gathered ad libitum from anywhere. And Daly was rewarded. The historian and diplomat John Hay, for instance, thanked him [in a letter of March 29, 1893] for "this beautiful and masterly presentation of one of Shakespeare's most poetical works." Hay had come up to New York from Washington especially to take his children to it, and his own delight had been heightened by theirs. "It is hard to estimate the good you are doing in putting before the public such a magnificent result of combined industry, liberality, intelligence, and taste," he wrote. "Your Twelfth Night is saturated with beauty and poetry; the most enchanting dreams of fairyland are there, incarnate before our eyes. I hardly see how scenic art can go farther."


Margaret Webster • Theatre Guild • 1940-41


One of the most prominent American stagings of Twelfth Night in the first half of the twentieth century was the 1940-41 Theatre Guild production at the St. James Theatre, New York. Directed by Margaret Webster, the production starred Maurice Evans as Malvolio, a performance that departed from tradition in making use of a Cockney accent. Euphemia Van Rensselaer Wyatt commented that "Olivia's major-domo emerges as the correct British butler." Grenville Vernon enthused over this performance, maintaining that "Mr. Evans reaches the peak of his accomplishment in the most subtle, most beautifully articulated performance of the part I have ever seen." Joseph Wood Krutch, however, asserted that Evans's comic portrayal debased the role and was "false to Shakespeare's conception." Another portrayal that received mixed reviews was that of Helen Hayes in the part of Viola. Krutch argued that "so far as she herself is concerned there is in truth, very little left to be desired." Stark Young, by contrast, criticized her delivery of Shakespeare's blank verse, maintaining that she turned "most of all that poetic treasure into mere chirpy prose." Similarly, Rosamond Gilder commented that Hayes's performance lacked spontaneity and that only once or twice did she "release the full lyric loveliness of the part." Critics generally agreed that the production provided a splendid evening's entertainment, while nevertheless judging Webster's direction to have emphasized lively stage business at the expense of poetic interpretation. The cast included Mark Smith as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Donald Burr as Feste, Sophie Stewart as Olivia, Wesley Addy as Orsino, and June Walker as Maria.


Joseph Wood Krutch (review date 30 November 1940)

SOURCE: A Review of Twelfth Night in The Nation, New York, Vol. 151, No. 22, November 30, 1940, p. 540-41.

Presumably Shakespeare's contemporaries had no difficulty in knowing just how to take Twelfth Night and the other romantic comedies. But it has not always been so. In the next age that indefatigable playgoer Mr. Pepys witnessed a revival of the tale of Viola's misadventures, and he was probably speaking for most of his contemporaries when he called it "one of the weakest plays that ever I saw." Even today it would not be hard to find intelligent people ready to agree with Mr. Pepys, or with Bernard Shaw, who professed himself so unable to find in the whole group of comedies anything except brainless inanity that he was compelled to suppose titles like "As You Like It" and subtitles like "What You Will" were intended by Shakespeare as disavowals of responsibility. Neither can it be denied that the question of the ultimate artistic intention of these comedies presents a problem in a sense that the great tragedies do not. One may, to be sure, argue endlessly over the proper interpretation to be put upon Hamlet, but there is at least no doubt that it must be presented as tragedy in the grand style. There is, on the other hand, a real doubt as to what kind of comedy Twelfth Night is, a real doubt as to the seriousness of its artistic pretensions and the general nature of its comic intention. Is it, as apparently the Victorians presumed, romantically naive, sentimental, and whimsical to an extent which renders it almost literally brainless? Is it a merely random mixture of somewhat precious poetry and low comedy? Or do the two sets of characters bear some real relation to each other; so that the play as a whole means something more than the mere sum of its poetic and farcical elements?

For all these reasons the new and elaborate production of Twelfth Night (St. James Theater) with Helen Hayes and Maurice Evans is a bolder undertaking than any of the other recent revivals of Shakespeare. The play is not, as Hamlet is, fool-proof—at least to the extent that it cannot fail to be in some degree interesting. Audiences are probably less disposed to take naturally to it, and under the circumstances the first thing to be said is simply that it is, without question, the best production of this or any of the romantic comedies seen here in many a day and that it deserves the success which it is pretty certain to enjoy. Considered simply as an evening's entertainment, it is rich and unflagging; where it falls short of everything one could wish, it falls short because it manages almost too skilfully to avoid facing fundamental questions, because it never even tries to suggest what all the romantic posturing and all the simple fun add up to; because, indeed, it seems to assume that the whole means no more than the individual parts.

Of the performances the best is certainly that of Helen Hayes, and so far as she herself is concerned there is, in truth, very little left to be desired. Her Viola is not only charming and richly inventive; she is also mischievous, and she is dominated by a sense of fun which saves her from the mere cuteness which some performers have made cloying. Miss Hayes is superb in the scene of her first appearance before Olivia, and all through the play she delights one by striking just the right note—as she does, to cite a single example, in the soliloquy leading up to the conclusion that to her the proud Olivia has lost her heart. Here Miss Hayes, instead of being wistful or tender, exclaims, "She loves me!" with an accent of half-delighted and half-incredulous astonishment which makes completely evident the "Well, I'll be damned!" mentally accompanying it and thus keeps the mood of exuberant fun in which the whole part is played. Mr. Evans's Malvolio, considered simply as a comic characterization, is almost as good, even though his interpretation of the role debases it almost to that of a mere comic butler and therefore seems to me to be not only false to Shakespeare's conception but incompatible with that interpretation of the play as a whole which I believe to be the best one. June Walker's Maria is delightfully comic, and Margaret Webster's direction, as it was in Henry IV, is highly competent in purely theatrical ways though almost too ready to put before everything else amusing business and mere liveliness on the stage. She manages to make every moment active and amusing enough so that an audience is never aware that anything more is possible or even desirable, but her solution of the problem of how to hold the play together is largely a theatrical rather than a poetic or imaginative one.

I can only wish that she had read—and pondered—Mark Van Doren's recent Shakespeare, in which he so illuminatingly and persuasively states the case for the assumption that the whole group of romantic comedies of which Twelfth Night is one are alike in that each is a poetic whole integrated by the same problem or at least the same contrast, that the central theme in each is the clash between an aristocracy which is cultivated, self-consciously exquisite, and fundamentally decadent and the representatives of some cruder but more full-blooded or more wilful group. In The Merchant of Venice Antonio's first speech announces luxuriously that he knows not why he is so sad; in Twelfth Night Orsino demands more of the musical food of love, only to announce a few seconds later that he has now achieved the surfeit he was seeking. But Antonio and Antonio's friends have to reckon with Shylock and something which threatens their world of finicky gentility just as Orsino and his friends have to reckon, not only with Sir Toby, but also—in the person of Malvolio—with a middle class just learning to be ambitious. Out of the balance of sympathies between these two groups the finest music of the plays arises, and yet the fact that in the present production the first scene ("If music be the food of love, play on") is the poorest in the whole play and quite pointless except in so far as it provides a factual exposition, shows how completely the deepest theme of the play has been missed. As here played, Twelfth Night is a delightful evening's entertainment. But it could conceivably be better, not merely quantitatively but qualitatively as well.

Stark Young (review date 2 December 1940)

SOURCE: "Or What You Will," in The New Republic, Vol. 103, No. 23, December 2, 1940, pp. 755-56.

It is only fair to say of the new production of Twelfth Night: or, What You Will that some of our best critics have found it an occasion of great merit. They have found in it a deal of sweet enchantment, fun, loveliness, and wit and merriment. If you can get that from the occasion, you are lucky; for that was Shakespeare's intention undoubtedly.

To my mind the event is very dull, not to say banal, unromantic and pedestrian. And in the familiar manner of the Theatre Guild is without joy. It does not seem to rise on pleasant exercise. Culture has the relation to pleasure or satisfaction that any other access of vitality has. We should not be led to wonder, as I was at the Guild production of Twelfth Night, why the producers took so much trouble or ever bothered with this play at all. Culture or no culture for the joy of it, the producers here have indeed taken a great deal of trouble, and labored to bring to their enterprise many a rich resource—for example, Mr. Paul Bowles's music, which underlies the play, delicate but firm, suggesting the antique but not going stale, and seeming at times more visible than heard note by note, Une by line.

The star of this Theatre-Guild-Gilbert-Miller-Helen-Hayes-Maurice-Evans production is Mr. Stewart Chaney.

This youngest wren of nine carries off the majority of the honors; his décor has a beautiful richness that ought to be obvious and expected—the sources being what they are for theatre design within this period—but that is, among our designers, very rare and unfamiliar. One thing only I would suggest; it involves lighting. In the lines of the play three days are spoken of and also three months, so that we may assume some changing of the clock. More variations in the hour of day, the tone and assertion of the light, on Mr. Chaney's part would add to the scenes' dramatic value. Otherwise his settings have a certain lightness for the play, and a Renaissance splendor and knowledge. The costumes provide an admirable reminder of Veronese, Tintoretto, Tiepolo—what you will—and are especially effective for the minor characters, who very likely do what they are told. Mr. Evans' costume for Malvolio has something too much of style and elegance for its right dramatic purposes; though this might be forgiven as court-masque if it were not that Shakespeare's motif of the yellow stockings and cross-gartering gets no chance. There is no costume whatsoever that is worth killing the dramatic point to such an extent. Maria's costumes, with their stripes and fine tones and surfaces, go wrong dramatically, unless, that is, this whole event be conceived as pure masque, free revel and artifice. That conception, however, the acting completely denies.

A point to keep in mind about Twelfth Night is that it is one of those theatre works that can do as it pleases, all glancing light, artificial device, lyric departure from cold fact. At the same time, however, we can suffer no harm in remembering that by way of Barnabe Riche (1581) and in turn from the thirty-sixth story in Part II of Bandello's Novelle, the play descends from those novels of later Greece that circulated endlessly in the classic groves but that are rarely mentioned in our schools. It happens to be the case just now, however, that history repeats itself and that we can comprehend more readily the way in which this Greek source was not so arbitrary and fanciful as might be supposed. Taking up the newspaper any day almost, we may read how people are ordered out of a country with half an hour's notice, bag and baggage, scattered over the earth, forwarded, gutted, misplaced or lost. Your sister, your twin, your traveling companion or adventurous helper is who knows where and may turn up when, by chance? The Greek novels, those romances and vagaries so different from the high-horse business of college Greek departments, rested partly on a foundation in fact, on the actual-incredible, something as the figures in Balinese sculpture come back finally to a certain anatomy in that race. We are not obliged, therefore, to be too wholly incredulous as to the fable in Twelfth Night, too scornful of the tale's improbability, any more than we need doubt, trim down and be afraid to risk its freedom, quirks and lyric romance.

So far as the verse goes, Twelfth Night has the elements of Shakespeare's middle period: boldness and freedom of the metrical scheme, keeping on the whole the older form. For the most part the reading of the company in this new production is inadequate, frightened of, or slurring, the metrical values, and without precision for the stresses that convey the sense. Few of the players are less successful in the reading of Shakespeare's lines, in their poetic and metrical values, than Miss Helen Hayes herself in that starry script Viola has to speak. Miss Hayes turns most of all that poetic treasure into mere chirpy prose. The poetic line, a living thing on the stage, can survive only a certain amount of so-called naturalness, conciliative, perhaps, but mistaken. In general Miss Hayes brought her usual, highly honorable professional application to her role, but Shakespeare's Viola is not for her.

Nothing is served by bringing up the matter of Duke Orsino, Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Sir Toby—all fine roles—and the performances given them (Orsino had a superb costume). How Miss Margaret Webster, who is one of our most literate directors, turned such matters over in a heavy heart, may be left to conjecture.

With his Malvolio, Mr. Maurice Evans, choosing to adopt a sort of Thackeray squire make-up and a cockney accent—brings to the whole occasion a touch of the professional that is to say the least refreshing. Malvolio is a part that has been done by a number of illustrious players—Irvin for example—and is easily within any actor's ambition. It is one of the darkest and most terrific things in Shakespeare and too strong, I have always thought, for our present-day stomachs. Granted the toning down of the bite, of the shadowed and the ominous, of the raw, distraught and eloquent, the Renaissance complexity, Mr. Evans' Malvolio is good and will be better. He is still searching for the plane he wants to have it on and the exact breadth and extravagance of the style he wants for it.

Grenville Vernon (review date 6 December 1940)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in The Commonweal, Vol. XXXIII, No. 7, December 6, 1940, p. 180.

If Twelfth Night has ever received a New York production in which the acting level was higher or the staging more vital, it has not been in the memory of my generation. There are many to thank for this, the real opening of the season of 1940-41. There are the Theatre Guild and Gilbert Miller for sponsoring it, Theresa Helburn and Lawrence Langner for supervising it, Stewart Chaney for designing the settings and costumes, Margaret Webster for directing it, and the magnificent cast for playing it. Twelfth Night is a play that needs to be produced with vivacity, yet with poetry; with humor, yet with romance. This Miss Webster has accomplished, and in accomplishing it clinches her position as our most vital and original Shakespearean director. But Miss Webster had magnificent material to work with. Let me speak first of Maurice Evans.

In Malvolio Mr. Evans reaches the peak of his accomplishment in the most subtle, most beautifully articulated performance of the part I have ever seen. His Malvolio is a Cockney, a head butler raised to sublimation; not a figure of farce, but one of high comedy. E. H. Sothern made Malvolio an aristocrat in decadence, Evans makes him a butler in ascendent. In face, in walk, in gesture, in the gradations of his voice he is superb; to hear him utter the one word "Run?" in reply to Olivia's injunction is to hear him project his whole character in that single monosyllable. Mr. Evans's Malvolio is the Prince of Snobs, delightful, pathetic, unforgettable. Miss Helen Hayes's Viola is exquisitely human and humorous. In her scenes with Olivia and especially in her duelling with Sir Andrew, she is inimitable, and throughout is captivating and utterly sincere. What she lacks is in the poetic reading of her lines, and in romance. Hers is not an aristocratic Viola, but it is within its own conception an exquisitely thought out and executed figure. If she doesn't make one forget Jane Cowl or Julia Marlowe, she makes you remember Helen Hayes. The Olivia of Sophie Stewart is the best I have seen, a lady who combines charm and humor with the grand manner, and who knows how to speak her lines exquisitely. Wesley Addy fails to make Orsino effective because he tries to make him sensible. Orsino's lines are music, and nothing else, and they must be read as such. Mr. Addy attempts to make them express ideas, and succeeds only in making the character and the lines alike flat. Donald Burr is superb as Feste, both in his singing and his acting. His is the way a Shakespearean clown should be played and rarely is. June Walker is perfectly cast as Maria, acting with sprightliness and charm. It is a pity that Mark Smith's Sir Toby Belch shouldn't have been funnier, and the same applied to a lesser degree to Wallace Acton's Sir Andrew Aguecheek. A word of commendation too should be given to Ellis Irving for his Sebastian. In short with Twelfth Night the theatrical season at last bursts into life.

Rosamond Gilder (review date January 1941)

SOURCE: "Fiddling While Rome Burns," in Theatre Arts, Vol. XXV, No. 1, January, 1941, pp. 6-19.

With a Presidential campaign behind us and preparedness ahead, with Europe's capitals in flames and war spreading like an insane octopus all over the habitable globe, Broadway takes time off for comedy, more comedy, nothing but comedy. As though fearful lest the dark thoughts that shadow us by day, that blacken newspaper headlines and blare at us through the air, should cross the threshold of the twenty-odd playhouses now open along Broadway, producers, authors, musicians and actors have united in a conspiracy of laughter. The latest recruit to the army of good cheer is no other than Shakespeare himself. Twelfth Night is true holiday fare, a light-hearted masque full of music, lovers, clowns, absurdities—What You Will—as its author cheerfully indicates. Written three hundred years ago as a divertissement for the January Sixth festival, the name of which it bears, it is perennially young. As Orsino says, it is, indeed,

                  Silly sooth,
And dallies with the innocence of love
Like the old age.

To do justice to this antique song, the Theatre Guild has assembled a formidable array of talents. The billing is as complex as a musical comedy. In this their first production of the season, the Guild joins hands with Gilbert Miller as producers; Margaret Webster, past-mistress in Shakespearean governance, directs; Stewart Chaney designs; there is music by Paul Bowles, supervision by Theresa Helburn and Lawrence Langner, an impressive array of stars of the second magnitude—June Walker, Mark Smith, Sophie Stuart, Wesley Addy—and, shining bright in the mid-firmament, the twin planets Helen Hayes and Maurice Evans. The result of all these combined excellences is indeed a feast for holiday makers, colorful, smoothly articulated, inventive, engaging. Miss Webster orchestrates her scenes ably, using all the resources of the theatre—settings, music, movement, grouping, costumes, properties—with her customary resource-fulness. She has been well served by her collaborators. Mr. Chaney's settings in the manner of the Stuart masques and of the early Restoration theatre are happily in the spirit of this playful fantasy. His false proscenium, decked with billowing painted curtains, frames an inner stage which, when its curtains are drawn, can be set in the twinkling of an eye. With backdrops painted in perspective a set piece or two, the scene changes from Orsino's palace to Olivia's garden, from the buttery to the street or to my lady's chamber. Miss Webster, abetted by Shakespeare, has devised innumerable ways of bridging the gap between scenes: sometimes Feste repeats a verse of his song, sometimes a lamp-lighter passes, sometimes Viola is seen marching Olivia-ward with Orsino's gentlemen in attendance. It all flows freely through a theatrical, never-never land where candelabra hang on curves of sky, where conspirators hide behind realistic bushes half their size, where all the make-believe of yesterday and today meets in a merry jumble.

Following the Stuart pattern, Mr. Chaney costumed his actors in knee breeches, his actresses in the tight-waisted free flowing dresses of the period. The play, incidentally, was very popular at the time of the reopening of the theatres under Charles II. Betterton gave it as his second production, Hamlet being his first. It provided one of the first 'breeches parts' for a woman and ran with 'mighty success' for many performances, though Pepys, never an enthusiastic Shakespearean, did not like it. He called it a 'silly play not related at all to the name or the day'. But he would have liked the current production. Its bright colors, its frills and furbelows, its little blackamoor carrying a pink parasol, its glitter and gaiety would have appealed to him. He would have enjoyed its pretty girls with their low-cut dresses without bothering to question why Olivia's household, steeped in mourning and ruled by a near-Puritan, should go thus accoutred. He would have enjoyed 'mightily' Paul Bowles' music though he might have been confused by our modern convention which accepts the fact that actors on the stage do not even twang their guitars while the music of the 'consort' floats up from a hidden orchestra pit. The music in this production is, indeed, all-important. It supplies the tender, lyric mood which is as much a part of the play as its more obvious fun. For Twelfth Night is not all foolery. Its theme is love frustrated, even its clown's songs are plaintive—they have a dying fall.

When Shakespeare wrote his play he posed a pretty problem to his boy-actors. He called upon them to be boys pretending to be girls pretending to be boys, undoubtedly the jest within the jest of Viola's impersonation added spice as well as some faint degree of verisimilitude to the original performances; the boy-actor could reasonably pass for a boy. But modern Violas are unfalteringly feminine even when they are as slim, youthful and bright-eyed as Miss Hayes. She makes a charming picture with her hair curled about her piquant face, her cocky hat on the back of her head, her striped knee breeches and rosette trimmed shoes. She wears her 'man's attire' without aggressive swagger and gives the kind of honest, direct performance that we have come to expect of an artist of her integrity. But she is not entirely at ease in the play itself. Many of her attitudes, positions, gestures, movements seem the result of direction, not the outgrowth of situation. Her performance lacks spontaneity, as it lacks real poetry; it is occasionally humorous and it is always gay and sweet and lovely as is everything Miss Hayes touches; there is about her an unaggressive, but an irresistible appeal; yet only once or twice throughout the evening does she release the full lyric loveliness of the part. One of the high points is the scene when Malvolio gives her Olivia's ring and the subsequent soliloquy with its direct, unaffected address to the audience.

                      As I am man,
My state is desperate for my master's love;
As I am woman,—now alas the day!—
What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe!
O time, thou must untangle this, not I;
It is too hard a knot for me to untie!

But her finest moment is at the end, when, her identity at last discovered, Orsino turns to her with

Boy, thou hast said to me a thousand times
Thou never shouldst love woman like to me.

and Viola answers:

And all those sayings will I over-swear,
And all those swearings keep as true in soul
As doth that orbed continent the fire
That severs day from night.

As Miss Hayes stands very quietly before the duke, looking up at him with a complete, absorbed concentration, tenderness is made manifest; her voice, her attitude, her expression glow with that inner fire, that lambency which is the essence of the actor's art.

If Miss Hayes' attack on Shakespeare is somewhat pedestrian and lacking in style, Mr. Evans as Malvolio has enough of it for a whole cry of players. His entrance in the pompous black of his steward's office, his gold chain about his neck, his high flared collar setting off a face unexpectedly adorned with goatee and sideburns, his high-soaring eyebrows expressing a noble self-complacency, an invincible hauteur, is an event in itself. He registers at once Malvolio's enormous conceit, his high seriousness, his disapproval of frivolity. In order to break away from the ordinary pattern of Shakespearean speech, and from the confines of his own successes in it, Mr. Evans has provided Malvolio with a genteel cockney accent. He scans his speech with care, avoiding h's where they do not belong, breathing upon them lovingly in their right places. This amusing trick keeps his voice well away from the music of the bard's blank verse with which his audiences have associated it so closely during these last years. The accent makes Malvolio's dream of Olivia's favor more ridiculous than ever and it adds yet another note to the chorus of colloquial speech with which American productions of Shakespeare are afflicted, but it is justified by Mr. Evans' use of it as a comic device. His performance is sprinkled with genuinely witty moments, as for instance, when Olivia bids him

Run after that same peevish messenger,
The county's man: he left this ring behind

Mr. Evans interjects a 'Run!!' which is as full of comment as a whole speech could be. In that one word he expresses his outraged dignity, his shock, his surprise and disapproval of the whole procedure. The subsequent scene with Viola is a delightful vignette of wit in performance. He is less successful in the latter part of the play and fails to rise to the final dignity of a man who has been 'notoriously wronged'. Malvolio becomes in the end, thanks to the all-embracing humanity of Shakespeare, a moving as well as a ridiculous figure. Though he is the grotesque pendant to this trilogy of misplaced loves, he is also a poignant example of the sin against the 'holy ghost' of human dignity. Mr. Evans does little with this aspect of the character, but the technical skill, the dash and accuracy of his acting, sets his performance high in his gallery of Shakespearean portraiture.

The play as a whole suffers from the usual problems that face any classic production which must be brought together in a short three weeks. Individual performances are un-even in themselves and often unconnected with their surroundings. Wesley Addy's Orsino is handsome and has a bold, Renaissance flourish, but it is dry, sharp. He hammers his lines in his effort not to sing them. June Walker suffers from the necessity of filling a big theatre with a voice that tends to become shrill when it is forced, but she has a natural sweetness and gaiety that help her interpretation of an unkind part. The chief comics, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played by Mark Smith and Wallace Acton, labor not too successfully with the scenes of Elizabethan revelry, which require more gusto and comic relish.

Since this is so lyric a play—full of lovely sounds and songs—voice, speech, diction, delivery are all important and difficult to achieve in a theatre that provides its actors with no steady opportunity for development and experience. Miss Webster has cast the Feste from the ranks of musical comedy and has thereby obtained a fine voice for the songs with which it is studded. Donald Burr is husky and high-spirited. He sings easily and well and plays with vigor if without subtlety. The production as a whole shares this fault. It never coheres around a central mood; it lacks intention except the obvious one of achieving a smooth-running, vigorous performance. It has beauty, energy, competence, charm, but its lyric pulse beats low. This reservation accepted, the Twelfth Night at the St. James is a merry revel indeed, a feast for the eye and ear, a joy to the mind.

Euphemia Van Rensselaer Wyatt (review date March 1941)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in The Catholic World, Vol. CLII, October, 1940 - March, 1941, pp. 467-73.

"A Great while ago the world began" and ever since men and women have been making their own dream worlds while poets, who set boundaries to dreams, show what may happen on that far Illyrian shore where Shakespeare has set his comedy. Twelfth Night was the old English name for the Feast of the Epiphany and it marked the close of all the Christmas festivities; the minor note that is sounded in the title is the minor note of Elizabethan music and of all real comedy—the wishfulness of dreaming. Comedies of manner have their brief passing season but comedy written round the vagaries of human dreams is timeless. Have there not been young men since the world began who fancied that they were dying of love? Have there not been rich ladies who desired only the unobtainable? And when have girls ever ceased to want heroes, or conceited men to see themselves distorted? Because he, himself, was too much a part of the British scene to keep it out of Illyria, Shakespeare has interposed between his dream makers some hearty British clowning and blended them together with one of his favorite and mysterious types of philosopher, the Jester. Feste is the link between the palace and the kitchen; between the homely folk who laugh at their own foolishness and the clever people who sigh over it, and when Malvolio tries to rise from the lower to the higher level, they pull him back with a robust brutality that grates on modern squeamishness. Augustin Daly, by the way, fearlessly removed from his Twelfth Night the baiting of Malvolio in the madhouse. Unless Shakespeare meant it to give a touch of macabre pathos to the comedy, there seems small point in retaining it now as, to play it for humor, only makes for general discomfort.

William Winter points out that King Charles I. drew his pen through the title, Twelfth Night, on the Second Folio in the royal library and substituted Malvolio!

To hear Malvolio, that cross-garter'd Gull,
The Cockpit, Gallery, Boxes all are full —

In adding Malvolio to his repertory, Mr. Evans has followed the tradition of Macklin, Sir Henry Irving, Sir Beerbohm Tree and E. H. Sothern, but he has also brought to the part a new vision. For the first time, the solemn steward speaks in solemn Cockney as, disdaining all pretense of Dalmatian attributes, Olivia's major-domo emerges as the correct British buttler. Mr. Evans has also cornered a new laugh when, at Olivia's command,

Run after that same peevish messenger
The County's man —

he interrupts the pentameter and interpolates his now famous


which integrates his whole character.

He and Miss Hayes also make the most out of the large stiff nosegay which Viola holds as she makes her first speech to Olivia and finally thrusts into Malvolio's hands. When he is sent "running" after her with the ring, which he presents with the usual business of the staff, he turns back and, dragging the nosegay out of the coattail's pocket, flings it at the feet of the boy for whom he has the full bureaucratic contempt of a minor official. After the garter scene, Mr. Evans removes the long black lacings which Maria surreptitiously ties to his belt and he stalks off with them trailing behind him. His costume, in accord with his characterization, has the stiff white shirt front, black tie and "tails" of butlerdom but his top hat carries cocksfeathers for the fantasy.

Viola, one of the gentlest and most unselfish of all Shakespeare's ladies, can cloy if played without humor. Mrs. Jordan was the first of the celebrated Violas, then came Mrs. Kean (Ellen Tree) and Adelaide Nielsen who was likened to "April sunshine." I never saw the Viola of Ellen Terry but she was always dissatisfied with herself in the part. Viola was born for me with Ada Rehan, glowing and romantic. Modjeska and Margaret Anglin were disappointments, so was Viola Allen but the poetry, of which Viola is the embodiment, was recreated by Julia Marlowe and Jane Cowl. Miss Hayes's Viola is not so much a lovelorn maid as a delightful urchin. So heartily and bravely does she assume the boy that the audience almost shares Olivia's mystification. As the boy has all of Miss Hayes's sensitive honesty, he is the nicest boy imaginable and, in her neat gray breeches, forsaking majesty, Miss Hayes affects the easy postures but never the swagger of young manhood. She is really funny in her first scene with Olivia and very, very funny in the duel but equally real is her solicitude for the Duke and Olivia. The strength of her passion for the Duke is less convincing. In Daly's production, "O mistress mine, where are you roaming?" was transposed to the scene between Orsino and Viola and at the line "Journeys end in lovers' meetings," Ada Rehan in her quick glance at the Duke, revealed her suffering. Miss Hayes, who kneels in a charming but complicated attitude by the Duke's couch, as the musicians sing "Come away death," lets her cheek touch his hand as it rests on her shoulder. The gesture would have been completely out of character for Ada Rehan.

Well known in London, Miss Sophie Stewart is an Olivia of incomparable grace and elegance, with a delicacy of movement and gesture that reveals her early training as a ballerina. Nearly a century ago, Feste was played here by a Mark Smith and now a descendant is the present Sir Toby Belch but he lacks the quizzical twinkle which made James Lewis so famous at Daly's nor does he carry off the part with quite the aristocratic bearing one expects from Olivia's kinsman. If Betterton was happy to turn from playing Hamlet and Othello to play Belch, there must be elements in the character that have been permitted to slip by. There is only one way to make comedy alive and that is to give it some contemporary connotation. Ferdinand Gottschalk once played Sir Andrew Aguecheek without overstraining the farce or the make-up but simply showing the pettiness of a very shallow mind. He had such distinguished predecessors as Lester Wallack and John Drew. One advantage of playing Shakespeare occasionally in modern dress is that it brushes off some of the accumulated cobwebs. Sir Toby as the decayed Union Club member and Sir Andrew as the cautions Yankee might re-acquire lost values. Feste takes the honors of the trio in Donald Burr who has stepped out of musical comedy for a part which demands a singer, a dancer and an actor of quick intelligence. Wesley Addy, who won his spurs as Hotspur, plays Orsino without enough imagination, but as Maria, June Walker is everything that she should be in overflowing measure. Her Maria is so full of contagious high spirits that she supplies the vitamins to every scene of the conspirators.

Stewart Chaney's designs are as elusive of place or period as Illyria. They verge toward the baroque, and the blacka-moor page is a happy touch for Olivia's household, as is the boudoir in which we first meet her. One of Chaney's most effective backdrops is a stylized perspective of angry cliffs for the seacoast. Paul Bowles has written an original score for six musicians—flute, oboe, percussion, muted trumpet, harp and an imitation harpsichord—and, opening with a serenade and closing with a round dance, the poetry of the whole comedy is woven on a musical background, unobtrusive but sustaining. As is distinctive with Miss Margaret Webster's productions, the whole is harmonious. But Miss Webster—to use an annoying modernism—is extravert in her outlook. Her Twelfth Night is forthright and the genuine entertainment it offers has made it the spectacular success of the season. As it should be.


Hugh Hunt • Old Vic • 1950


Hugh Hunt's revival at the Old Vic in 1950 avoided traditional approaches to the play's opening by employing mournful music in the first scene and by presenting an Illyria swathed in decayed grandeur. In commenting on the sets of Roger Furse, Richard David noted that "the Illyrian streets had the peeling and water-worn dignity of a side-canal in Venice." Hunt nevertheless infused his staging with a degree of liveliness, especially in the crowd scenes and musical interludes. The focal point of the production's comedy was Roger Livesey's portrayal of Sir Toby Belch, which T. C. Worsley praised as a "rich, bursting Sir Toby, who never misses an opportunity for a bit of business, but never gives us too much." Paul Rogers's Malvolio, which similarly contained an element of buffoonery, was less well received. J. C. Trewin found the performance "strangely out of the picture here." By contrast, Peggy Ashcroft's Viola was accorded general praise, with Trewin maintaining that "it is long since I have seen a Viola so fitted to the play." In judging the production as a whole, critics tended to deprecate Hunt's reliance upon low comedy. Other performances included Alec Clunes as Orsino, Ursula Jeans as Olivia, Robert Eddison as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Leo McKern as Feste.


T. C. Worsley (review date 25 November 1950)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in The New Stateman & Nation, Vol. XL, No. 1029, November 25, 1950, pp. 498, 500.

The best criticism I have heard of Mr. Hugh Hunt's production of Twelfth Night—with which the Old Vic make a welcome return to their old home in the Waterloo Road—was contained in a remark by a friend who listened to a description of it and then said: "I see, in other words, it managed to be both arty and hearty." It is just that. Its best bits are the hearty bits, centred round a fine scarlet-faced, broad-bottomed, big-bellied, rasping Roger Livesey as Sir Toby. Its worst bits are the arty framework which the producer has thought fit to provide. There are the simpering attendants on Olivia. There is a chorus of boys in beards and girls in urchin cuts, who round off each scene with a skip of dancing, lots of hurraying, clapping of hands, smacking of knees, and who are always there at the dramatic moments to "back up" the action with a concerted snarl or a burst of mocking laughter or a shaking of fists. Then there are the clowns who turn themselves over at the dropping of any one of the inaudible jokes; or keep striking attitudes taken from early theatrical engravings, or jumping over a bench before you know where you are.

Commedia dell' arte, we are doubtless meant to feel; and I am bound to admit that I start with an ineradicable prejudice against this kind of posturing and mumming, while those who enjoy it may not feel so strongly as I do. I think that all this belongs not merely to another age which cannot be revived, but also to a different zonal temperament, which we cannot ape. Twentieth-century English boys and girls, even when they are dressed up Guardi-Italianate, only make one sweat with embarrassment as they huzzah around, trying to be uninhibitedly Latin. Obviously none of this framework is necessary—Twelfth Night is not so bad a comedy as all that. On the other hand if it came off it might be a pleasing enough addition. But it is not in any case a substitute for getting a little nearer the heart of the play. Twelfth Night runs through a wide gradation of mood, from the lowest farce with Sir Toby Belch, to the highest comedy with Orsino and Olivia, and even touches a disturbing chord or two beyond that, with the humiliation of Malvolio, for instance. Mr. Hunt's production misses most of the shades except the lowest, and the arty intrusions, being strictly irrelevant, do not obscure the loss and cannot compensate for it.

Most of the low comedy is inventively and amusingly put over. Mr. Roger Livesey is a rich, bursting Sir Toby, who never misses an opportunity for a bit of business, but never gives us too much, never a belch or a stagger in excess, and he remains—that priceless attribute in an actor—always in perfect command. Then he and the producer have thought of some delightful new devices. The ladder balanced as a see-saw over the wine barrel in the first act is a splendid invention, and the fight between Aguecheek and Cesario-Viola in the second is another piece of perfect comic production. Mr. Eddison's Aguecheek has, by this time, settled into something faintly feasible; all the same I found the kind of death's head stuck on the end of a gangling broomstick which he made of himself a curiously pointless fantastic, which fitted in nowhere. We were surprised to find Malvolio played by Mr. Paul Capon as a comic, with a red nose and a touch of George Robey. And though he carried out the conception amusingly (at least up to his assault upon Olivia in the cross-gartered yellow stockings) the conception itself is so obviously wrong that one wonders why it was left in; it necessarily takes out of the ending that hint of the world of shadows which is an important ingredient of this romantic comedy. Not that anyone coming to the play for the first time through this production would think of classing it as a Romantic Comedy. The Romantic note is almost studiously avoided from the very first moment when Mr. Alec Clunes as Orsino delivers "If music be the food of love" with a jaunty smile as if he were handing us an arguable proposition. No, coming to it for the first time through this production, one would class it as a Fantasticated Farce, a very enjoyable, brisk and romping one. Even so one might think that there was altogether too much movement on the stage too often. Weren't, one might innocently object, some of the lines rather funny too in their own right—if only one could catch more of them?

And this is born out by the fact that apart from the broad comedy the best scene is the stillest: the scene in Orsino's palace where he talks of love with Viola while Feste sings "Come away, Death," and the page-Viola stands intensely watching him, referring his passion to herself. Miss Peggy Ashcroft was at her best here too, acting the scene with a charming unforced gentleness, and speaking the lovely language beautifully. Otherwise the Orsino-Olivia thread was sadly missing; and it was here that the producer might have concentrated his attempts to find a style. Herbert Farjeon called these two characters "Creations in the subtlest comic vein, the one in love with love, the other in love with death," and he added (his notices are full of such pregnant condensations):

If this were realised by the actors the flexibility of their affection manifested in the final scenes would stay within the bounds of comedy, instead of edging over the borderline into something almost Sophoclean.

I should not like to end without re-emphasising that this production, for all its shortcomings and misplacements, comes over to the spectator with enormous vitality, verve and high spirits. In the battle between its predominant elements at least the hearty holds its own against the arty, and less sophisticated playgoers will enjoy themselves immensely. I have concentrated on the defects for this particular reason: it strikes me that if the commercial theatre is always liable to the infection of vulgarity, the besetting danger of our subsidised theatre at the moment may very well turn out to be artiness.

J. C. Trewin (review date 9 December 1950)

SOURCE: "What You Will," in The Illustrated London News, Vol. 217, No. 5825, December 9, 1950, p. 962.

At any revival of Twelfth Night—frequent though they are, there are not enough of them for my liking—I bring with me a bristle of anxious question-marks. "Look here," says Dickens's character, "upon my soul you mustn't come into the place saying you want to know, you know." Maybe; but there is much to ask in Twelfth Night. I found the old questions circling round me in Lilian Baylis's famous and beautifully renovated theatre, the Waterloo Road Old Vic, now back to service at last.

Trivial things, no doubt. I would like to know how Viola, who, as a page, went in the same "fashion, colour, ornament" as her lost brother, managed to get herself so accurately fitted. I would be interested in the true age of Sir Andrew Aguecheek. I wonder why Olivia's jester happened to be "about the house" in the Duke's palace. I wonder who Fabian can be, the man Malvolio brought out of favour with Olivia "about a bear-baiting." I wonder at the odd Elizabethan sense of humour that could see nothing to jar in the scene of the imprisoned Malvolio. I would like to hear more of that sea-fight when the Duke's nephew Titus lost his leg. And I wonder always why Shakespeare should have imperilled the lovely recognition scene by the exchange: "My father had a mole upon his brow." … "And so had mine."

There are other questions, even less to the purpose. Some of these will never be answered. We shall hear nothing more about the Duke's nephew Titus: indeed, there is no reason why we should: he is one of the shadows fated, like Hisperia, Marcus Luccicos, and Valentinus, to stand only on the margin of Shakespearean drama. We shall never know more about Viola's disguise: this is Shakespeare in his what-you-will mood. The prison scene we have to endure, and it is run through as quickly as may be at the Vic.

To our surprise, Hugh Hunt, the inventive director, gives a new answer to the Fabian puzzle. He, too, must have bothered about this man: a fellow who turns up in the fifth scene of the second act, observing (with the baiting of Malvolio in mind): "If I lose a scruple of this sport, let me be boiled to death with melancholy." Mr. Hunt has now decided—and it speaks for his ingenuity—that Fabian is a potential rival to Feste, the jester. Feste is a "fool that the lady Olivia's father took much delight in." He is not always around when needed. ("My lady will hang thee for thy absence," says Maria.) We can assume that, being tired of his struggle to keep going in a dull household ("I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal"), he gets away when he can to more appreciative company, no doubt at the Palace. As presented at the Old Vic, where the actor is Leo McKern, Feste is in faded motley. The Fabian (Paul Hansard) is young, spry, forever on Feste's heels. We sense that the older man's fortunes are thinning, and that, in the final business with Malvolio's letter, Olivia's impatient "Read it you, sirrah" to Fabian shows the way things must go. Feste will strive to please us every day, but his day wanes.

It is an idea and it does explain Fabian, though I shall continue to believe obstinately that the fellow is a groom or an undergardener, and that Shakespeare wrote him into the piece in a hurry to make room for a neglected actor. The Vic reading takes something from Feste. The part can be done in innumerable ways. We have escaped, thank goodness, from the conventional cap-and-bells stencil, the clown likely to observe at any given moment (in the phrase of Gilbert's parody): "I would as lief be thrust through a quicket hedge as cry Pooh to a callow throstle." But for me a Feste should have the queer latent melancholy of a high summer afternoon: I miss this special feeling at the Vic.

Here we are, side-tracked as usual in any discussion of IIlyria. Twelfth Night is not primarily about Feste. For that matter, it should not be primarily about Toby and Andrew, though the Illyrian knights are the richest company: they have seldom been funnier than in this revival, with Roger Livesey as a Toby cheerfully in the Upper Fourth and Robert Eddison as a lean and withered Andrew who finds his stay at Olivia's cumulatively embarrassing. Yet he has an abounding resilience. Mr. Eddison has his own views about the "dear manakin's" age: whatever we think of this—and I would put Andrew at, say, thirty-five to forty—we must agree at the Vic that the knight is in good fooling. And Andrew has a queer, twisted pathos when Olivia runs from him before his "No, faith, I'll not stay a jot longer."

This production has been called an Illyria of the drolls. Truly they have more than their share. But when I reproduce the revival in the mind, I shall call up first, not the roaring-boy Toby or the human-skeleton Andrew; not the ageing Feste, or the Malvolio who, though Paul Rogers plays him with competence, is strangely out of the picture here; not the Olivia or the Sebastian, who lack any special colour; not the adaptable quay-cum-garden set which wants a flood of sunlight to warm up its greyness: none of these things, but the wholly enchanting Viola of Peggy Ashcroft. That is right and proper. Illyria belongs to Viola: one day she will be its Duchess, and she will be fortunate in her Duke, the high-romantic Orsino of Alec Clunes.

It is long since I have seen a Viola so fitted to the play. Peggy Ashcroft is never brisk or pert, never self-consciously disguised, more of Boxing Night than Twelfth Night. She is very quiet, very loyal. She does not juggle with words. When she says:

If I did love you in my master's flame,
With such a suffering, such a deadly life,
In your denial I would find no sense;
I would not understand it.…

it is no more than truth. This Viola realises what love can be—she is not toying with it—and the "willow cabin" speech comes from her with an absolute sincerity, with no kind of elaborate preparation. (We know, that in her heart Viola is making the babbling gossip of the air cry out 'Orsino!') And this is not Peggy Ashcroft's finest moment: that comes at the very end, when Viola, her lost brother before her, answers his question, "What countryman? What name? What parentage?" with the barely-breathed "Of Messaline." Now the play is played. Viola has her reward at last in the strange bittersweet Illyrian world. The Old Vic can be happy indeed to have had such a performance as this at its opening.

Richard David (review date 1952)

SOURCE: "Shakespeare in the Waterloo Road," in Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespearian Study and Production, Vol. 5, 1952, pp. 121-28.

For some years before the war there was one theatre in England, and perhaps only one, which could be confidently relied upon to produce Shakespeare for Shakespeare's sake—the Old Vic in the Waterloo Road. When in 1941 the building was damaged by bombs, the company moved to another theatre, in London's west end; but though there were still individual productions of distinction and star performances of particular roles, something of the special glory of the Old Vic seemed to evaporate with the change of quarters. The post-war reorganization of the Memorial Theatre at Stratford, of old the double shrine of Ham and Whimsy, and the startling emergence there of a true Shakespearian style have since provided another stage on which authentic productions of Shakespeare's plays may be expected. Yet even with this second stronghold in being, there are many who have waited anxiously for the reopening of the theatre in the Waterloo Road, in the hope that with it might reappear the old qualities, of faithfulness to the text and to the spirit of the plays, of star turns subordinated to-team-work, and of stage-craft inventive but never fanciful or perverse.

No one who, little more than a year before, saw the still derelict building, with sagging galleries and the cleared pit vast and dreary in its dilapidation, would have guessed that the reconstruction could be so quickly carried through, or that the result could be so charming. By some feat of the original designer the theatre, which holds 500 people on the ground floor alone, gives an impression of great intimacy. It seems to assume good relations between stage and auditorium. The new décor, of crimson furnishings and patterned crimson panels contrasting with the French grey of walls and balustrades, is at once festive and cosy. The audience settles immediately into a mood of cheerful expectancy. Here once more is at least a perfect setting for Shakespeare.

The season opened gloomily with a production of Twelfth Night by Hugh Hunt. The gloom was in one sense actual. Roger Furse's costumes and settings for the play were on the grand scale, but it was a decayed grandeur. The Illyrian streets had the peeling and water-worn dignity of a side-canal in Venice, Olivia's garden the evergreen frowsiness of some great mansion where the family is seldom in residence. The dresses were of rich and weighty stuffs, but their colours were blacks and russets and sombre browns, the dash of scarlet in Antonio's cloak (and Malvolio's garters) positively swearing with the subfusc of the general effect. All this for the gentry; when the "members of the commonwealth" appeared on the stage (and, as will be seen, they did so only too often) it was in the garb of convicts. Seldom can the most high-spirited of Shakespeare's comedies have been presented against so glum and portentous a background.

What was the point of this drabness? If we are charitable we may take it as a reflexion of the producer's belief (more cynical by ten years than Lytton Strachey's) that Shakespare speare was bored with comedy by the time he came to Twelfth Night, and in it exchanged his youthful delight in excess for disillusioned satire, his comic verve for perfunctory horse-play. This would explain the mechanical slickness with which the more farcical scenes were thrown off and thrown away, the absence of any pleasure (save malicious pleasure) in the raillery, and two staggering instances of miscasting. Ursula Jeans, for all the accomplishment of her acting, and the fluency and control of her speaking of verse, could not give Olivia precisely that un-worldliness without which she must appear (at least to a modern audience) a monstrous bundle of vanities and affectations; and Leo McKern delivered both the lines and the music of Feste in an offhand style that said plainly "there is nothing to be made of this stuff".

Now Twelfth Night is certainly a mature comedy by comparison with, say, The Merchant of Venice or A Midsummer Night's Dream, but it is a wry mind that finds in it either disillusion or distaste. The alternative title What You Will is surely a token rather of the author's benevolence than of his boredom. As for Feste, we happen to know precisely why his part is what it is. In 1599 William Kemp, who had created the more orthodox clown roles of Dog-berry and Touchstone, resigned his connexion with Shakespeare's company to become a free-lance entertainer, and his place as comic lead was taken by Robert Armin. By comparison with Kemp, Armin was a lightweight and an intellectual (he himself wrote comedies) whose strong points were his singing and his "slipper tongue". It was for this reason that Shakespeare wrote in for Feste not only the songs but the patter and word-play that depend for their effect on an unusually smooth and glib delivery. Such a gallimaufry of puns and nonsense might still be brought off by a virtuoso speaker with immense vitality and self-confidence.

But perhaps it was not so much Shakespeare that was bored with Twelfth Night as the producer himself; and indeed we have all seen and read the play so often that there is some excuse for feeling it to be hackneyed—why then present it at all?—or so easy and straightforward that little trouble need be given to its presentation. In fact, however, though familiarity may disguise it from us, Twelfth Night is (as far as language goes) an extremely difficult play, full of current slang and topical allusions beyond Shakespeare's other comedies. As the most mature of his essays in this genre it is also his nearest approach to the colloquial plays of London life and character for which Jonson at the turn of the century was beginning to set the fashion. Line after line of the dialogue makes a topical point that can be grasped today only with the aid of an erudite note. Yet the general drift is always clear, and the types portrayed so striking and universal that we tend to set up in our minds a precise picture of Malvolio, Sir Toby, or Sir Andrew, without any very exact remembrance or perhaps understanding of the words out of which they are formed. Hunt's production made the most of this tendency. The 'characters' were writ large in make-up and action, while the words, when not omitted, edited, or misapplied, were allowed, nay, assisted to go hang. Thus Paul Rogers's Malvolio, impressive at his first appearance, degenerated with the donning of his yellow stockings into pure butt and buffoon. Roger Livesey, made up as the pop-eyed military man on the cover of Lilliput, played Sir Toby with the good-humour and engaging reasonableness of Colonel Chinstrap, and might have carried it off; but the scene of his midnight carousal (to mention only one) was obliterated beneath the antics of the two knights with a ladder brought on, for no plausible reason, by Sir Andrew. They were certainly funny, but if we want such fun the place to go for it is the circus, where ladders are longer, the clowns are trained to the job, and buckets of whitewash are provided extra; where, too, we are spared the uneasy feeling that somewhere in the background a play is proceeding, which, could we but catch a word of it, might be worth the hearing.

This buffoonery overflowed every scene of the play and even the gaps between them. The sets had been admirably designed for rapid change without lowering the curtain, but their over-elaboration of detail made the operation, though speedy, a complicated one and quite an effort of adjustment to the new environment was required each time of the audience. To cover the physical and mental break the producer brought on a crowd of Illyrian peasants who capered and roared in chorus before the dissolving background. The same horror of gaps presumably inspired in him another piece of invention, though it was frequently employed even where no shift was to be made. This was the introduction in one scene of a character from the next who linked the two together like a held note in music. Unfortunately these 'suspensions by anticipation' often produced an unpleasant discord in the earlier scene. Thus when Maria arrived to congratulate the eavesdroppers she brought with her (all ready for the subsequent encounter with Viola) Feste. This called attention in the most blatant manner possible to the oddity of the substitution of Fabian for Feste in the box-tree (probably due to Armin's being, as we have seen, unsuited to knockabout), and to cover this a great deal of unnecessary and distracting byplay—surprise, resentment, malignant satisfaction—was required of the two. Similarly Aguecheek was present all through Olivia's declaration of love to Viola, and though this may be defended in the light of his subsequent assertion that he himself had witnessed Olivia's favours to the page, the actual sight of his face poking out of the box-tree is a discordant interruption in a scene of poetry. In planning such ingenuities, such irruptions of supers, such elaborations of 'business' a producer must ask himself three questions. Are they required by Shakespeare's text? No. Are they nevertheless a part of the necessary machinery of production on a modern stage? No—for where, after an indoor scene, the 'chorus' could not plausibly be introduced, the shift was made quite happily without it. Are they required for the translation of Shakespeare's intention into modern terms? No. Then away with them.

From a generally disastrous production it is all too easy to collect examples of how Shakespeare's comic points were missed, or masked, or bungled; but it is time to turn to the other, by many held the more important, the romantic half of the play. In this the producer seemed equally at sea. The miscasting of Olivia has already been noted, and Alec Clunes, playing Orsino with a fine blend of genuineness and affectation, had some ado to live down a series of misrepresentations and indignities. An opening scene in which the music was presented not as Orsino's self-indulgence but as a serenade to Olivia made an entirely false impression; and surely the Duke might have been allowed more than three attendants before he offered, as escort to Viola, "Some four or five … all, if you will." Hunt would have spared himself (and his Orsino) a titter if he had sent on a few of his redundant supers here instead of between the scenes. Yet all such faults were more than redeemed by the exquisitely moving performance of Peggy Ashcroft as Viola. How far she herself controlled her own part in the production cannot be guessed, but at least her presence on the stage seems to have influenced the producer and dissuaded him from the worst extravagances. Where some 'bright idea' for the reinterpretation of Viola was admitted, it was in keeping and effective. Such was the impulsive variety of her speech and movement in her first scene; or the taking of the cry "Olivia" (the climax of the "Make me a willow cabin" speech) as a hastily remembered substitution for the "Orsino" that possessed her own thoughts. This was a performance that brought out every subtlety of music as of meaning in the part, and but for this many more seats must have stood empty after the first interval.

Hugh Hunt (essay date 1954)

SOURCE: "Twelfth Night," in Old Vic Prefaces: Shakespeare and the Producer, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1954, pp. 55-79.

[In the following essay, Hunt explores the directorial issues that informed his production ofTwelfth Night,focusing in particular on balancing the play's lyrical and comic elements, setting and costume, and the handling of the major characters.]

This play is, in the grave parts, elegant and easy, and, in some of the lighter scenes, exquisitely humorous. Aguecheek is drawn with great propriety, but his character is, in great measure, that of natural fatuity, and is, therefore, not the proper prey of a satirist… The marriage of Olivia, and the succeeding perplexity, though well enough contrived to divert on the stage, wants credibility, and fails to produce the proper instruction required in the drama, as it exhibits no just picture of life.

Thus does Dr. Johnson criticize the play we are to perform. We recognize that this is purely literary criticism and has no bearing on the effect of the play upon an audience. Twelfth Night has always been one of the most popular comedies in the language. The frequency of its performance by girls' schools and women's clubs has tended to make it a little too familiar in the eyes of the audience—too familiar for its magic to work easily on them.

But Johnson's criticism is interesting to the producer, if only because it takes as its criterion of judgement an entirely irrelevant standpoint, and so teaches us what not to do with the play. Johnson was steeped in the neo-classical tradition and judged this play by the standards of eighteenth-century comedy. Such standards demanded that the duty of comedy is to portray the excesses of human behaviour and to cure those excesses by laughing at them. Such comedy must have a moral and, however salacious its subject matter, a didactic purpose. What the critic is complaining about in this play is that there is no obvious moral to be drawn from Twelfth Night, and it cannot be regarded as a true picture of the way people behave. But it is, in fact, not a comedy of manners; it is a poetic comedy. Our job is not to caricature reality, but to create a world of fantasy. It is the poetic and, indeed, the fantastic quality of Twelfth Night that I want to emphasize in this production, for how else, except in terms of fantasy, are we to explain the delightful improbabilities of this story of a girl disguised as a boy and the incredible love story which ensues?

To emphasize the poetical quality of this play does not mean that I want the lines to be intoned in the manner of romantic acting, but it does mean that the sound of the play must be given its value, and that poetry must not be treated as an unnecessary decoration which comes between the actor and the characterization of his part. The modern tendency in Shakespearian performance to submit the characters to overanalytical treatment can be as harmful to the flow of the play, as the nineteenth-century tendency to intone the poetry and tear a passion to tatters with a fine display of oratory. Poetry must be spoken with meaning, but also with feeling; gestures and movement in a poetical play must be eloquent, and characterization must be kept within the bounds of poetic creation and not stray into the realm of naturalistic imitation. This play is a fantasy, it must hang in the air somewhere midway between earth and heaven.

Not all of Twelfth Night is written in poetry, and there may appear to be a large gulf between the lyrical characters of Orsino, Viola, Sebastian and Olivia, and the comic, earthy characters of Toby, Andrew, Malvolio and Maria. Too often in productions of Twelfth Night we see the clowns walking away with the play; in consequence, the lyrical people appear pale and even a little dull beside their boisterous, prosaic companions.


Our main tasks must be: firstly, to balance the lyrical people with the comic people so that the latter do not out-weigh the former; secondly, to weld these two elements together by creating a poetic world in which both can exist side by side.

Let us start with the problem of balancing the lyrical and the comic. The important thing to realize about the lyrical side of Twelfth Night is that it is comedy and not sentimentality. So often we see the characters of Orsino and Olivia played as sentimental, or straight, parts; as such they will appear poor acting material, particularly Orsino, and be easily submerged by the strong characters of Toby, Andrew, Malvolio and Maria. If this is the case, the play will be thrown off balance, the love story of Viola will lose our sympathy, and as for Olivia, she will become frankly a bore. Now, Orsino and Olivia are intended as satirical parts. Their satire is not, I admit, the full blooded comedy of the clowns which caught the fancy of the groundlings, but a more delicate comedy which delighted the gallants and their ladies in the galleries.

In the characters of Orsino and Olivia, Shakespeare is satirizing two affectations of his time. Orsino is the Elizabethan gallant who is in love with love, spending his time lolling on sweet beds of flowers' and contemplating an ideal mistress of his fancy. (The same type of self-indulgence is satirized in the young Romeo.) Olivia is the chaste Elizabethan beauty who is in love with grief, vowing she will never enjoy the society of man. Both these are, in Shakespeare's philosophy, unnatural states of mind and as such are laughable, and both were common enough affectations of court life in Shakespeare's time, as we find it reflected in Elizabethan and Jacobean love poetry. Neither Orsino nor Olivia are, in fact, sincere in their dedication, though both think they are. In contrast to their insincerity, Viola represents sincere love; the true, unaffected, natural, human passion which comes like a fresh breeze to blow away their conceits.

Now, once we have accepted this satire, the problem is how to make it tell without exaggerating the characters in such a way as to destroy their charm, for neither Orsino nor Olivia can be treated in the caricature fashion of Restoration drama. Shakespeare's satire is gentle satire, unlike the strongly marked satire of Dr. Johnson's ideal of comedy. The wistful smile graces his lips, not the full-throated laugh which we direct at the extravagant creatures of the comedy of Johnson's day. This satirical comedy is essentially human, and sympathy is extended to the affected persons. This gentle satire must, however, be marked, and both Orsino and Olivia must be accepted as part of the play's comedy. We will find, once we accept and play this satire, that the gulf between the lyrical people and the broader comics is not nearly so wide as would otherwise appear. Moreover, in playing this satire of insincerity, the sincerity of Viola stands out in its proper place as the embodiment of Shakespeare's own philosophy. This is a big step forward in balancing the seemingly diverse elements of the comedy.

To complete the balance of the play, however, there remains the problem of welding the comic and lyrical elements together by creating a poetic world in which both can exist side by side. The provision of a harmonizing background, in which the lyrical character can exist beside the boisterous ones without hurt to either party, is of the utmost importance, otherwise we shall have two separate styles existing inside the comedy. If the two groups—the satirical and the broad comedy group—are not properly balanced, then, however much satire we infuse into the lyrical group we shall always find the comedy group pre-dominant. The wittiest comedy by Oscar Wilde will fail to get its legitimate laughs if one of the characters spends his time slipping up on a banana skin, and no matter how discreetly we play Sir Toby Belch, we cannot escape the fact that he is the sort of person who has a predilection for the type of humour which borders on farce. The background and atmosphere of the production must, therefore, provide the unifying factor and make it possible for broad comedy and satirical comedy to exist side by side. I will now turn to the way in which I intend, with the help of the designer, to treat the question of unification.


In Twelfth Night, as in all Shakespeare's fantastic comedies, there is no accepted, normal state of society—the 'just picture of life' required by Dr. Johnson. In nearly every English comedy from Congreve to Coward the scene is laid in a contemporary setting, but in Shakespeare's fantastic comedies the author creates his own society, his own country and his own conduct of life. In these comedies we enter the kingdom of the high fantastical where the rules of behaviours and reason, in the eighteenth century or neo-classic sense, are left behind. It is significant that in only one of his comedies, The Merry Wives of Windsor, does Shakespeare choose an English background. Everywhere else we enter a fantastic country which is either an invention of his own—such as the Forest of Arden, Illy ria, the Sea Coast of Bohemia—or a corner of the world sufficiently unknown to him and to his audience for a fantastic or unrealistic state of afiFairs to exist. In such a land of fantasy girls may be mistaken for boys, twins mixed up, lovers go to bed with each other without being aware of each other's identity, and many other incredible happenings take place. For such purposes his preference is for the old Italian romances which are laid in such places as Syracuse, Messina, Athens, and medieval France. He purposely avoids the contemporary society and the topical background, perhaps because it would have fettered his imagination and prescribed rules of behaviour too precise for his searching, poetic spirit. In this created world of fantastic comedy, anything can happen: Olivia can fall instantly in love with Viola and not be unduly perturbed when she finds that she has married Sebastian; Orsino can discover his love for Viola the moment he knows her to be a woman without any loss of the credibility so treasured by Dr. Johnson.

Twelfth Night is like nearly all Shakespeare's comedies, a comedy of love. But what distinguishes Illyria from the other fanciful countries of his comic genius is that it is a land of music. But Illyrian music is not only the food of love, it is also the food of every other kind of fancy; it sets free man's spirit to rove into the land of imagination, it opens the door of the kingdom of poetry, it induces melancholy and roisterous merriment and even tames the drunken clowns into a state of sentimentality. This land of Illyria, which is unfolded to us in Orsino's music with the dying fall and folded up again in Feste's song of the wind and the rain, rises like a magic island out of the sea, only to melt out of our grasp at the end like the land of fancy it is:

But that's all one,
Our play is done,
And we'll strive to please you every day.

To produce the true effect of this magic land of music on the stage we must free ourselves from the conventions which have stamped this play too strongly in the audiences' mind. We must try to find a new form in which to present the play. This form is all important, for to the modern playgoer it is not sufficient to return to the Elizabethan stage. We can no longer clothe the rush-strewn boards with our imagination, nor turn the Hall of the Middle Temple into the magic island of Illyria, as our Elizabethan ancestors were apparently able to do. Soaked as we are in the realism of the cinema and television, we require a greater impetus to set our imaginative faculties in motion and soar into Shakespeare's world of 'high fantastical', than did the playgoer of the Renaissance, to whom even such common objects as potatoes and pipes of tobacco were things of wonder, suggestive of incredible adventures. For us a spade is a spade, and the magic of Illyria can no longer exist in the Globe any more than it can exist in the box hedges of the overworked conventional setting of this play. The job of the modern designer of Twelfth Night is to find the right theatrical aids in order to allow his audience's imagination to reach across the centuries and find the magic world of Shakespeare's Illyria. The scenery of our production must be, therefore, neither conventional, nor realistic, nor purely Elizabethan, if it is to provide the right release for the imagination. It must be fresh, evocative and lyrical. This all important question is the designer's particular problem.

In searching for the form in which to present the play we have decided that certain principles must be born in mind: firstly, we must avoid unnecessary and cumbersome changes of scene; secondly, the poetic nature of the play can best be served by keeping as much of it in the open air as possible; thirdly, our scenery must be atmospheric without being realistic; lastly, we must give the play a sense both of intimacy and fantasy. This we have tried to do by placing Illyria on a small island off the Dalmatian coast. We realize it is an unconventional setting for the play, which is usually set among the trim box hedges of a typical Elizabethan garden—well enough, but no more than a recent theatrical convention when all is said. There are times when theatrical conventions should be broken; when the producer and designer should seek new visual aids for Shakespeare. Twelfth Night is, I believe, a case in point, for it is one of those plays which have become too familiar to the audience and it needs to be seen in a fresh light if its magic is to work again. But why choose the Dalmatian coast? First, because Dalmatia and the Aegean islands are probably Shakespeare's own geographical conception of where Illyria was, and, secondly, because when Viola and Sebastian are wrecked on a sea coast, we need some sort of fantasy island for them to arrive at. Moreover, though I place no great store by the source of the play, it is more than probable that it was derived from an old Italian play called Gl'Ingannati which stems from Venice and something of its Adriatic origin still lingers about it.

In pursuit of the principles outlined above we have arrived at the following three locations for the scenes:

1. Act I, Sc. I-4; Act II, Sc. 1-3; Act III, Sc. 3, and Act IV to end

These scenes will be played in the piazza of a little seaport with streets leading to the sea, down which the shipwrecked travellers—Viola and Sebastian—will come. On either side of the piazza are the houses of Olivier and Orsino; neither of them very large or imposing, so as to maintain the feeling of a small, out of the way island, in which these two persons are the sole representatives of the aristocracy. In the middle of the piazza is a raised platform under which is the town prison.

2. Act, I, Sc. 5; Act II, Sc. 5; Act III, Sc. 2, and Act III, Sc. 4

These scenes will be played in the garden of Olivia, a secluded spot screened by cypress trees, where this affected and wealthy lady can escape from the unwanted attention of her suitors.

3. Act II, Sc.4

This most lovely of all the lyrical scenes will be played in the palace of Orsino, which we will treat in an airy Italianate fashion so as to preserve the open air character of the play.

We have given serious thought to the location of the drinking scene (Act II, Sc. 3). This is by tradition set in some kind of kitchen or cellar. Apart from our desire to avoid unnecessary scene changes, there is, as far as I can see, no indication in the text that this scene should take place in any definite locality. It can be played just as well immediately outside the door of Olivia's house, where the caterwauling of the knights would disturb the household no less than in the cellar. We have, therefore, decided to place this scene in the piazza at night, causing Toby and Andrew to enter as if returning from a carouse in the town, bearing a barrel of wine and a ladder with which Toby purposes to enter his niece's locked house through an upper window. Here they are joined by Feste, and the carouse becomes the merrier for a ladder and a barrel make an excellent see-saw. Maria and Malvolio issue from the house in a fruitless endeavour to prevent them from waking their mistress and causing Toby to be turned out for good.

Now the background we have described, revolving around the piazza of this small seaport, is reflected, though not in any pedantic sense, in the costumes. I would like you to imagine the inhabitants of Illyria as a gay, feckless, music-loving people, whose main occupation is the sea and all that pertains to it. If seafaring is the main occupation of the island, we can understand Orsino's anger with the pirate, Antonio. In such a community we will expect to find the common people dressed in simple, practical costumes, and the aristocrats in so small an island will be well-dressed but not over-ornate. Between the two households of Olivia and Orsino, there is not much to choose as far as wealth is concerned, and it is the natural expectation of the town that Olivia will in time ally herself with Orsino, there being no other suitable match for her on the island.

So much for what we might call the realism of our setting. I have, however, already indicated that the play cannot be treated realistically and must always move in the realms of the 'high fantastical'. The community we have outlined, therefore, only exists in the realms of the imagination. It is for this purpose that the designer has expressly avoided any definite period in the costume. It is for this purpose, too, that he has avoided any complete realism of setting, to which he has given an insubstantial quality in keeping with the fantasy of the story, for the play must remain timeless. To maintain this sense of timelessness and for the purpose of welding the lyrical and comic characters into a world where they can exist together, the designer has introduced into the costumes of Toby, Andrew, Feste, Malvolio and Fabian a marked note of the Commedia del Arte. In doing this we are not so wildly extravagant as it might seem, for the origins of this play were, as we have said, taken from an Italian source. This costume resemblance to the stock figures of Italian comedy is most predominant in the costumes of Feste and Fabian, about whom I shall have more to say later.

Having described the way in which we will try to give the play a unity and a fantastical atmosphere in keeping with its lyrical feeling, I will now pass to the question of characterization, which I will treat together with some indications of how I see the play appearing on the stage in this sort of setting.


It is early morning when the curtain rises on the piazza of Illyria; the houses that surround it are silhouetted against the light of the rising sun. On our left is Olivia's house, on our right Orsino's palace. Asleep by the fountain in the centre is Feste, who, of course, has been out on the loose and has found himself locked out.

Nay, either tell me where thou hast been, or I will not open my lips as wide as a bristle may enter, in way of thy excuse. My lady will hang thee for thy absence. [I. x. 1-4]

In the distance a clock chimes and Feste wakes up, looking apprehensively at Olivia's windows. He takes out his pipe and with a flourish summons the townspeople, who, as arranged, are to serenade Olivia on this fine summer's morning at the orders of Orsino; for Feste, as we find in Act II, Sc. 4, works for Orsino as well as Olivia. As the serenaders arrive and the music which is the 'food of love' is played beneath Olivia's windows, the door on the opposite side opens and Orsino, followed by his small retinue, enters.

The Duke of Illyria is the embodiment of the traditional lover with his sad, pale face, his Byronic collar, and his rich, flowing cloak. His eyes are fixed upon his mistress's closed shutters as he leans elegantly against the platform in the centre of the stage. He is the picture of an Elizabethan lover, but we must not imagine Orsino to be a spineless individual, nor purely a sentimental romantic. He is, in fact, a typical nobleman of Renaissance poetry and romance. He hunts, he likes music and poetry, he has a will of his own and a good deal of stubbornness. He is a man in search of the ideal. In his case this ideal takes the form of ideal love, and he has mistakenly embodied this ideal in the person of the dedicated virgin, Olivia. His love for her is as 'all embracing as the sea', and his passionate spirit is so absorbed with his imaginary ideal that he lives, acts and breathes love at every minute of the day. He requires only a good dose of liver salts, after which we shall find him a capital fellow and well worthy of Viola's love.

The music ended and the serenaders departed, he indulges in his favourite pastime of extolling his mistress:

O! when mine eyes did see Olivia first,
Methought she purg'd the air of pestilence;
That instant was I turned into a hart,
And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,
E'er since pursue me …
                                    [I. i. 18-22]

The typical opening for one of those allegorical love sonnets, which were such favoured pursuits of the Elizabethan gentry. But he is interrupted by Valentine who, issuing from Olivia's house, comes to tell him that the chastity of his mistress has once again prevailed. Having received the daily refusal to his protestations of love, there is nothing to do but to spend the morning reclining on a nice bed of flowers, where the lover in love with love can indulge himself by reflecting on the cruelty of his ideal, and wholly imaginary, mistress.


And now as he passes across the stage a very different procession enters at the back, toiling wearily up the narrow streets from the sea. This is Viola with the sailors and the Sea Captain. 'What country, friends, is this?' Viola asks, as she stands in amazement watching the departure of the handsome, love-sick Duke and his dejected followers. The little group which has entered present a strong contrast to the previous occupants of the piazza. Wet-through, tired and dispirited, having spent the night struggling with the elements after the loss of their ship and of their dear ones, we see in them, and in particular in Viola, a sincere grief nobly borne, as opposed to the affected grief of Orsino. We notice how Viola is so overcome at the loss of her brother that she has no further wish to live. But how gradually her own courageous nature, awakened by the cheerful practicality of the Sea Captain, gains the upper hand, and she bravely determines to face a new life. It is this contrast between sincerity and insincerity, between true grief and affected grief, between true love and self-indulgence, which is the main theme of the play. These first two scenes are delicately balanced to emphasize this contrast. If we reverse them—which is sometimes argued to be theatrically effective—we destroy the delicacy with which the author has balanced his opening situation.

Now, so far we have pointed at Viola as being the acme of perfection in matters relating to the emotions in contrast to Orsino and Olivia. It is important, however, that, as well as recognizing her emotional sincerity, we also realize that she is a human being with a natural desire to gain the love of her lord. Viola is already on the way to being in love with Orsino when the play begins; for she has heard her father talk of him and she has conjured up a vision of this handsome bachelor Duke to which her girl's heart has responded. She is not, therefore, completely without ulterior motive in her decision to offer herself to his service. Does she hope to supplant Olivia in his affections? That would hardly be true at first, for she deliberately disguises herself as a boy. But Viola undoubtedly hopes that something will come of it all, and that the adventure, which is certainly a very bold move on her part, may prove rewarding. I do not mean that, when entrusted with her various love embassies on behalf of her master, she will lack diligence or prove deceitful, but once she sees that Olivia is adamant in her determination to reject her suitor, Viola does not hesitate to counsel Orsino to give up his useless passion, and there is more than a hint that he might look elsewhere for an outlet for his love in the mysterious tale:

My father had a daughter lov'd a man,
As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman,
I should your lordship.
                         [II. iv. 107-09]

Like the real woman she is, Viola likes to surround herself with a sense of mystery. Who is this strange youth who talks in riddles? She deliberately places a puzzle in Orsino's way for him to think out. It is the feminine side of Viola which makes us love her. She is not just an angel, incapable of the little deceits of human life. She is a woman in love. Her other human frailties only help to make her perfections more lovable. She is struck, for all her courage, with a very natural terror when asked to fight a duel. She has a delicious sense of irresponsibility which she assumes when things become too complicated and she finds that Olivia has fallen in love with her:

O Time! thou must untangle this, not I;
It is too hard a knot for me to untie!
                                    [II. ii. 40-41]

Of all the characters that Shakespeare created, Viola is the most lovable, the most human.


And now that we have seen Viola off on her great adventure we can turn to the scene that follows. Sir Toby enters from Olivia's house, suffering from a bad hang-over, and thoroughly fed up with this endless state of mourning which pervades his niece's household. Seizing an opportunity to slip off unnoticed to the nearest hostelry, he is called back by Maria who has been watching him from Olivia's doorway. The two important points about Sir Toby Belch's character are: firstly, he is a gentleman who has run to seed; and secondly, he is quite determined he is going to enjoy life no matter what other people want to do. The idea that he should confine himself within the modest limits of order is abhorrent to him:

Confine? I'll confine myself no finer than I am: These clothes are good enough to drink in, and so be these boots too. [I. iii. 10-12]

Toby is completely selfish, and hopelessly unsubtle in his selfishness. He plans to marry off his niece to the unsuitable Sir Andrew so that he can borrow money from the latter. He persuades this ninny of a suitor to fight Cesario so as to provide himself with a good entertainment. Anything that comes between him and his pleasures must be swept out of the way and the principal obstacle to his enjoyment of life is the sour face of the puritanical Malvolio.

We might conclude from this that Toby is an unlikeable character, but in fact we like him because he is such a thorough rogue, and because he has such a constant, irrepressible sense of fun.

But with all his boisterousness, Toby must always remain a gentleman. In his most drunken moments we must see his ludicrous attempts to maintain his dignity. He is genuinely furious with the steward, Malvolio, for presuming to set himself up as a gentleman. The very fact that Toby was born a gentleman is his undoing. He has never had to work; he has been spoilt from his youth, and he has always managed to bluster his way through life. The new regime of cloistered virginity, which has been adopted by his niece since the death of her brother and the consequent dominance of Malvolio, has caused him to break out more wildly than ever as a protest against petticoat government in particular, and puritanism in general. For this we cannot wholly blame him; and for the understanding of Toby's behaviour we see one more reason why Olivia's character must be gently satirized. It is her affectations as much as Toby's own weakness which causes his excessive behaviour. You cannot confine Sir Toby Belch in a cloister of affected grief, where the vows and company of men have been abjured. He has learned to spend his money recklessly, to drink, to quarrel, and to dance. His trouble is that he is now penniless and dependent on his niece for his clothes and food. No wonder he cultivates Aguecheek for the sake of a little financial independence.


For Maria, who tries to keep Toby on the rails, we may say that, apart from being Olivia's gentlewoman, she is the brains behind Toby. We imagine her as a high-spirited and neat person. She has come to be a little mother to Toby, trying to conceal his worst extravagances and save him from Olivia's tongue. But she is no doormat to be walked on by him, which would undoubtedly be her fate were she not possessed of a ready wit, a considerable courage, and a great sense of mischief. All these features make her into an indispensable prop for the rather helpless, old rascal for whom she cannot help but feel affection.

Although Maria has plenty of sound sense she is by no means beyond encouraging Toby to mischief, especially where Malvolio is concerned. We can easily imagine that the position of overbearing authority, which this intolerable steward has assumed in the household since the death of Olivia's brother, has not only made Toby far more truculent than usual, but has also made the servants, Maria, Feste and Fabian, ripe for revolt. They are all ready for mischief and Maria is determined to use it to bring about Malvolio's downfall. For this purpose she encourages Toby and supplies him with a device to overthrow this household tyrant. The fact that Toby marries her out of gratitude was probably a nice piece of calculation on Maria's part. But their marriage is as happy an augury for Toby's future as we can imagine, for it is highly unlikely that anyone else would have accepted the penniless, old reprobate, and, if anyone could keep Toby within the confines of some kind of order, Maria is the person to do it. Their marriage will undoubtedly be considered a misalliance in aristocratic circles. I hardly imagine Maria will be received at Orsino's court, but I feel quite sure that they never wanted for company round their hearth, nor did the company ever want for a 'stoup of wine', or a witty word from their hostess.


And 'here comes Sir Andrew Aguecheek' on his way to pursue his preposterous courtship of Olivia. A more unlikely suitor for that temperamental Prima Donna's hand we cannot imagine. Perhaps Sir Andrew lives on the other side of the island of Illyria, but more likely he lives in the more cultured city of Venice, where he has learned to play the viol-de-gamboys and to speak 'three or four languages word for word without book'. At all events, he has plenty of money and is, as Maria says, 'a very fool and a prodigal'.

He has come to the little town of Illyria to woo the rich heiress, obviously at the instigation of Sir Toby, who hopes to reap a rich harvest from the match; for Sir Andrew is completely under the thumb of his boisterous companion. Toby is a fatal attraction to the timorous, weak-brained Andrew. In Toby's presence Sir Andrew feels himself a bit of a blood. Such is his need for an inflation of his ego that he will follow this bully-boy round like a spaniel, no matter how many kicks he receives; rejoicing in any little spark of encouragement that may fall from the old rogue's lips. He is one of those totally vacant-brained gentlemen who can be counted on to put his foot in it on every occasion; yet there is no malice in him, but rather a pathetic desire to please everyone and above all a wish to be thought well of, which invariably results in his making a fool of himself. He is aware that he is a bit of a failure, which occasionally makes him melancholy, and without the constant encouragement of Toby's companionship, he would give up at once.

This companionship between the old rogue and his fatuous hanger-on is not purely a matter of a desire for money on the one side and for inflation of ego on the other. Toby and Andrew have a strange affection for each other, and always back each other up when either is criticized. We should feel that, despite the difference of age and temperament, they are firm friends. But Andrew has just enough spark in him to revolt occasionally against Toby's dominance. Unfortunately it never comes to anything, for his courage is very slight, and a comforting word from his idol makes him a 'dear mannikin' once more. The quality which really endears Andrew to us is that he knows what a pitiful fellow he is. His desire to take part in everything, his valiant attempts to impress Toby with his courage, his happiness when Toby praises his prowess in dancing, his pathetic confession that he was 'loved once, too', all make of this poor num-skull a thoroughly lovable, if always ludicrous, creature.

So Toby and Andrew dance away from the piazza to set about some revels and for a few hours Andrew will bask in the sunshine of Toby's companionship. They are followed by Viola and Orsino's lords and there is more than a hint of jealousy in Valentine's lines to Viola:

If the Duke continue these favours towards you,
Cesario, you are like to be much advanced.
                                        [I. iv. 1-2]

For she has won Orsino's confidence, and now it is Viola and not Valentine who will be entrusted with the embassies of love. Viola goes off on her first embassy to Olivia accompanied by 'some four or five', and as they go the scene is changed from the piazza into Olivia's garden. When the music ends and the change is completed, we see Feste trying to elude Maria as she chases him in and out of the Illyrian boys and girls who have aided the change of scene. By the device of changing the scene in front of the audience, using the inhabitants of the island to move the pieces around, we will hope to maintain the flow of the play, and at the same time by the use of music maintain its fantastic character.


I will begin by describing what is realistic about the character of Feste before I pass to what à might describe as the fantasy of his part. Feste is a sort of half-way person, belonging partly to the plot of the play, and partly to the strange musical atmosphere in which it is wrapped. The realistic Feste is the Feste of Olivia's household. He is a little, middle-aged creature who lives by his clowning, by his songs, by his ability to amuse his patroness. The existence of a licensed fool was probably a most precarious form of earning a living, for to be successful a fool has always to be able to produce the required distraction, no matter what his private feelings might be. Professional fooling required a daring and an impudence of approach which, if taken amiss by the uncertain temper of a patron, resulted in a beating at the best, or a hanging at the worst. More often failure to strike the right note entailed dismissal and we may be sure that a fool had little ability to earn his living at anything else.

Feste lives under this constant threat of dismissal; for Olivia with her affected grief is a very uncertain customer to serve. Moreover, it is clear that he is no longer quite equal to his job; perhaps he is growing old and a little stale.

Now you see, sir, how your fooling grows old, and people dislike it [I. v. 110-11]

says Olivia to him, and Feste, unable to make any reply to this, quickly changes the subject. Now, if Feste is in danger of losing his job because his fooling is beginning to pall, he has two additional pitfalls to contend with: one is Malvolio, and the other his own irrepressible nature. Between him and Olivia's steward there is a constant feud; for not only is Malvolio bitterly jealous of any intimacy between his mistress and another servant, but as a Puritan and a man completely devoid of humour he has an inborn distaste for, as well as a strong distrust of, Feste's jests. Feste is quite aware of Malvolio's hostility and he knows, too, that the steward will do his utmost to get him thrown out of service. Feste's ultimate cruel mockery of the distracted Malvolio is only understood if we realize how serious a threat the steward is to Feste's livelihood. In the first scene when we see them together Malvolio administers a stinging insult to the ageing jester:

I saw him put down the other day with an ordinary fool, that has no more brain that a stone.

[I. v. 84-85]

Feste is at once touched to the quick; his professional pride has been badly wounded—put down by an ordinary fool! Is he losing his grip on his job? He is haunted by this cruel gibe and, when it is Malvolio's turn to lose favour, back comes these words out of Feste's mouth:

But do you remember? "Madam, why laugh you at such a barren rascal?" [V. i. 374-75]

and so 'the whirligig of time brings in his revenges'.

The other pitfall that Feste has to contend against is his own irrepressible high spirits. Like Toby, Feste cannot confine himself within the modest limits of order. He is always out on the loose, not necessarily drinking, like Toby, but enjoying himself, flitting from place to place, sometimes at Orsino's house, sometimes in the company of Toby and Andrew. We shall see him in this production dancing with the music-loving crowd, mocking Orsino's sentimentality and getting into every sort of mischief, when he should be at home pandering to Olivia's whims. At the end he has gone too far—Olivia promises to right Malvolio's wrongs:

But when we know the grounds and authors of it, thou shalt be both the plaintiff and the judge of thine own cause. [V. i. 353-55]

This threat of an investigation into Malvolio's imprisonment cannot fail to produce fatal evidence against Feste, who is not only Malvolio's main enemy, but is also the most vulnerable of his mockers; for he cannot be allowed the liberty of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, and Maria is safely married. Thus it is that when the happy couples go off to celebrate their 'solemn combination' Feste is left behind, and his last song has an ominous significance in its refrain of 'the wind and the rain'.

About the fantasy of Feste's part I shall have something to say later, but I will now turn to Olivia as she enters her garden accompanied by her dutifully sad ladies.


I have already spoken of Olivia's insincerity, but I do not wish to give the impression that she is incapable of sincere love. We must imagine that this chaste lady is confronted with a considerable problem owing to Orsino's insistent wooing of her. She comes of a proud, rich family and we maintain that on this island there is no other suitable husband at hand, for she cannot take Sir Andrew's suit seriously. Unfortunately she does not love Orsino, and it is partly in self-defence that she affects a Ufe of cloistered seclusion, hiding behind vows of everlasting mourning for her dead brother. She is, of course, quite aware that this form of prevarication makes her the more attractive to Orsino; aware, too, of her personal charms, as she clearly shows when she makes an inventory of her beauty to Viola:

Item, two lips indifferent red.
                                       [I. v. 297]

Olivia has no intention of remaining a nun all her life, but it is a pleasant conceit for the moment, and, whilst holding Orsino at bay, she can, from behind her veil, be on the lookout for a nice personable young man. The joke of this situation is, of course, that she falls head over heels in love with Cesario, who is unable to respond. Thus she is placed in the most embarrassing position of having to endure the same scornful rejection of her own love as she has dealt out to Orsino.

This gentle comedy of the scornful beauty who rejects and is rejected will only become apparent if from the first the actress has struck the right note of affectation. If, on the contrary, the audience have been led to accept Olivia as a charming, straight juvenile, the comedy will be lost, the part appear insipid, and the pursuit of Viola-Cesario indecent and undecorous. Olivia is, of course, dressed in black and heavily veiled, her manner is one of assumed grief, which she manages to make very attractive. Behind the veil there is more than a hint of a self-willed, temperamental flirt and we should find no small degree of comedy in the haste with which she whips Sebastian off to church, before he has time to look round. The secret of the acting of Olivia is to balance affectation with attraction, and to underline the gentle, but unmistakable comedy of this capricious young woman, who woos so assiduously a girl under the impression that she has found a gallant, young gentleman.


In her steward, Malvolio, who accompanies her into the garden, we recognize the mixture of the Puritan and the proud servant who aspires to greatness. Since the death of Olivia's brother, Malvolio has clearly seen a golden opportunity for advancing both his authority and his social position. Olivia's affected grief has placed some good cards in his hands; for, as her principal male confidant, he is able to exert his authority over her household without interference, and who knows how far his advancement may carry him:

There is example for't; the lady of the Strachy married the yeoman of the wardrobe. [II. v. 39-40]

Malvolio is in love with his mistress, or at all events he has imagined himself to be so. He is a very ambitious person and, in his determination to keep Olivia to himself, he encourages her to reject all suitors with the utmost diligence. But although he concurs with Olivia's affectation of chaste seclusion, he does not entirely approve of his mistress's taste. He thoroughly disapproves of her championship of Feste, her tolerance of Toby and her dangerous interest in Cesario. We can well imagine his dislike at being asked to carry a ring from his mistress to this young stripling, Cesario, after his visit to Olivia. We can understand with what excitement he reads the letter that Maria drops in his path, and we can see how completely his ambition and pride are overthrown when he discovers the hoax that has been played on him.

Malvolio is, however, not a figure of tragedy, nor yet a fearsome villain. He is an intolerably pompous person, and as such he is exceedingly funny. He is puffed up with pride, credulous to a degree, full of affectations and fine airs and utterly lacking in any sense of humour, the absence of which makes him an easy butt for the 'lesser people'. He is, in fact, the sort of person who always gets his leg pulled, because he never seek a joke, and deserves to get his leg pulled, because he dislikes any form of fun in others. His gait, his dress, his speech, his pride, his 'austere regard' and his officiousness earn him the mockery that is meted out to him, and although his punishment is a little cruel by our standards, we must remember that these Elizabethan Illyrians were more full-blooded than we are.

We picture him as a middle-aged governess of a creature who folds his clothes meticulously when he goes to bed, and probably pins up his hair. No doubt he suffers severely from corns and objects very strongly to being told to hurry:

Run after that same peevish messenger. [I. v. 300]

We can imagine with what a look of surprised hauteur Malvolio receives this instruction from his mistress to un-bend his dignity and take to his heels! He passes from the play like an enraged hen with his feathers not a little ruffled, but with his self-conceit untouched.


I will now turn from the group in the garden to two other figures who later enter the piazza: Sebastian and Antonio. About the former there is not a great deal to say, except that he is a thoroughly likeable young man who shares the same sort of directness that we find in his twin sister, Viola. Sebastian has an openness about him, an innate honesty, and a freshness which immediately endears him to his older companion. Like Viola he is deeply affected by the loss of his twin, but he has the same courageous determination to start life again and to seek his fortune cheerfully. He is the sort of person who responds very quickly to his emotions. He warms at once to Antonio's kindness; he falls head over heels in love with Olivia, and he does not hesitate to draw his sword on Andrew and Toby. The very quickness of his emotional response make him hot tempered as well as warm-hearted. Above all, the actor who plays Sebastian must approach the part lyrically. The joyous soliloquy 'This is the air, that is the glorious sun…' and the infinitely tender recognition of Viola demand a lyrical approach to the acting of this part which is of great importance to our acceptance of what might otherwise appear improbable.

There must be something about these twins that makes them specially attractive to the tougher type of male, for just as Viola wins the devotion of the Sea Captain, so Sebastian captures the affection of the pirate, Antonio. The secret of this attraction lies, I think, in the directness and warmth of their youthful affections. There is nothing complicated or affected in them to make the rough sea-dogs feel out of their depth. They bring out the fathering instinct, which is often a very endearing characteristic of the hardened seaman.

Antonio is a thorough seaman; honest and straightforward in his personal dealings, generous with his purse, despising meanness and ingratitude, brave in combat, incapable of cloaking his feelings when angered, and a devil when it comes to a scrap. He has, like Drake and Grenfell, been a notable pirate attacking with his 'bawbling vessel' the 'most noble bottom' of Orsino's fleet. Antonio denies this charge of piracy. To his way of thinking he won his prizes in fair combat with the odds against him, but he realizes that he may be justly regarded as Orsino's enemy, for, whereas his compatriots handed back their pirated gains in order to conclude an advantageous trade pact with the government of Illyria, Antonio refused to do so. He is, therefore, a marked man in Illyria; well knowing the danger he runs in accompanying Sebastian through the streets. It is clear that he must not walk, as Sebastian says, 'too open'; there must always be a cautiousness in his movements, as if he were constantly on the look-out for trouble. It is only when he sees what he thinks to be his young charge in bodily danger that he throws caution to the wind and rushes headlong into action and so into the arms of Orsino's officers. From then on he behaves as we would expect him to, in a fearless and courageous manner. We know he would walk with his head up to the gallows, were he not ultimately rescued by Sebastian.


So far we have covered all the main characters of this play with the exception of Fabian. Here lies a problem. Who is this unexpected and unexplained character?

We had been led to believe from the plot concocted by Maria and Toby that the clown would make a third in the trapping of Malvolio. It is, therefore, not a little surprising that Shakespeare discards his clear intention that Feste should accompany Toby and Andrew in the letter scene, and deliberately replaces him with a character called Fabian, whose sole explanation of himself is that Malvolio 'brought him out of favour' with his mistress, Olivia, about a bear-baiting. Many explanations have been offered for the inclusion of this apparently unnecessary party, which seems to have been intended at one stage of the writing to be contained in the part of Feste, the clown. Perhaps the reason is that the actor who played Feste got a little beyond himself at rehearsals, and, as a result, the original Malvolio complained about the number of pranks that were being played behind his back whilst he was reading the letter, and insisted that Feste's part be given to another. Let the actor of Feste take note! Whatever the truth may be, we are now forced to accept the inclusion of Fabian, since from the letter scene onwards he takes an integral part in the action. It remains for us to find an explanation for him.

Licence, if it be in keeping with the spirit of the play, is perhaps allowed in the interpretation of Fabian. I propose to play him as a second clown—a rival to the ageing Feste. Like Feste he is a member of Olivia's household, but he is younger and less extravagant in his behaviour. If he be a clown, then with reasonable luck he may hope to succeed his rival, for his high spirits are more strictly under control. When Feste is asked to read Malvolio's letter to Olivia in the last scene of the play, he earns her rebuke for his ridiculous way of doing so, and she tells Fabian to read it instead. We can imagine how Feste's professional pride would bridle at this rebuke, which coupled with the facts that it is to another clown the letter is given and that this rival has already supplanted him in Toby's affection, will do much to emphasize Feste's final bitter clash with Malvolio, as being the only person on whom he can vent his hurt feelings.

This interpretation will help, too, in making Feste's last song of the wind and the rain more poignant, for not only has he lost his place, but his successor has probably already been found.


I would like, at this point, to return to Feste as I said I would, and point out that although this song of the wind and the rain has a special poignancy when related to Feste's position, I do not want it sung sentimentally. Feste is not a sentimentalist. If fortune has dealt cruelly with him, he does not mope and die like Jack Point in The Yeomen of the Guard. He should attack it with a pace and bravado which make it all the more poignant, for we know that his situation belies his words. We must know, too, that this song is half-way between the realistic Feste, the licensed fool of Olivia, and the fantastic Feste, the commentator upon the play.

Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night with music sounding round him, and Feste with his songs is the author's principal instrument for introducing music into the play. To this extent, therefore, he has a role outside the normal characterization of his part. Moreover, the clown in the Elizabethan tradition was half-way between a straight actor and a licensed comedian, a relic of the devils of the mystery plays on the one hand and a borrowing from the Italian comedies on the other. I do not wish to pursue this theme beyond explaining why I intend to use Feste in his guise of Arlechino to punctuate the action. In this sort of dual role—realistic and fantastic—he is supported by the crowd of Illyria girls and boys who represent both the inhabitants of Illyria on the realistic side and convey, as creatures of fantasy, the atmosphere of music and dance which will characterize the treatment of this production.

To these people falls the task of conveying Viola on her journeys to and from Olivia's garden and at the same time changing the scenery as they pass along their route. At the same time, like Feste, they have a realistic role to play, and as Orsino's subjects they take part in the action, more especially in the latter part of the play, where the excitement of the final discoveries will be enhanced by their presence. Now the use of a crowd of this nature in Twelfth Night will need careful and tactful handling if it is not to degenerate into the chorus of a musical comedy. Our task will be to use the music and dances to enhance the fantasy without allowing them to become extraneous to the flow and action of the play. The success of their presence will depend on our ability to keep the whole play within the realms of the 'high fantastical' without losing touch with the true characterization of these delightful creatures.

This balance of fantasy and reality is important. I have already stressed that Twelfth Night is a lyrical comedy, not a comedy of manners. It Uves in the half-way house between reality and unreality, and although I have tried to describe the characters to you from the realistic point of view, I want you to play them with a lyrical approach so as to lift them off the ground and allow the whole play to move in the sphere of poetry.

For Twelfth Night is a magic play, written by the poet at the height of his powers before the intense bitterness of his great tragic period swept over him. It is withal a completely mature play. We do not have to contend with the obscure conceits and puns of Love's Labour's Lost, nor the paste-board characterization of The Shrew. The plot is carefully balanced, the characters warm and alive, the verse and prose have the rounded character of an author who is writing in full control of his pen. The playing of it is a challenge to our imagination and to our powers of delicate and subtle distinction of comedy. It demands the full intelligence and acting experience of a company—no more than that, of a team of first class players.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


John Gielgud • Shakespeare Memorial Theatre • 1955


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


John Gielgud's 1955 production at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was received with muted praise, despite the central performances of Laurence Olivier as Malvolio and Vivien Leigh as Viola. This staging also featured a witty, gay Feste, played by Paul Daneman, and a sombre Sir Toby Belch, enacted by Richard Burton. Despite a strong cast, critics charged Gielgud with failing to unify the romantic comedy of the play within his production's espousal of realistic characterization. This was particularly apparent in Olivier's Malvolio, which presented the steward as a self-made man who had carefully studied aristocratic ways and speech. Olivier lent the character a degree of seriousness and dignity that critics found wholly original. The reviewer for The Times nevertheless noted that this interpretation resulted in the miscarriage of Malvolio's comic scenes. Althought Leigh's Viola was complimented for her boyish charm, several critics faulted her handling of the verse. Other performances included Keith Micheli as Orsino, Alan Webb as Sir Toby, Michael Denison as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Maxine Audley as Olivia.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


Eric Keown (review date 20 April 1955)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Punch, Vol. 228, April 20, 1955, p. 507.

It seemed fair to expect a great deal of a Twelfth Night produced by John Gielgud and containing a Malvolio by Laurence Olivier, a Viola by Vivien Leigh. This opening production at Stratford is, of course, an improvement on anything we saw there in last year's meagre season, but considering the talents now assembled it remains strangely disappointing. Sir Laurence has chosen to give Malvolio a rather tortured lisp, as of an aspiring barrow-boy earnestly improving his English at night-school; and though the trick of speech is mastered with the utmost skill, it is difficult to see how it helps. Again, his Malvolio is subdued in the early scenes to nothing more than a reasonable disciplinarian, and is therefore not a man whose pretensions in any way justify the hatred of his fellows. He is very funny in the letter scene, and in his final interview with Olivia pathetic with a most touching dignity; but it is only intermittently the full Malvolio.

As a boy Miss Leigh is charming, as Viola herself curiously unromantic. Her performance is as clear as crystal, and as cold; it conveys with precision everything except emotion. Alan Webb's Sir Toby goes only some of the way; raffish and lovable, certainly, but on a minor scale that stops short of robustness. Michael Denison's Aguecheek is more complete, an amusing study of a jittery ninny that would seem better in a production where the interior scenes were lit well enough to get the effect of the actors' faces, and not so darkly as they are here. Neither Angela Baddeley's Maria nor Keith Michell's Orsino have the force one would have anticipated, the latter losing in an unnecessarily affected manner.

On the other side, a really beautiful Olivia from Maxine Audley, full of grace and feeling, and an honest Feste from Edward Atienza, who sings the songs memorably. And visually there is much to delight in Malcolm Pride's dresses and in his delicately architectural sets, where all kinds of gentle felicities can be discovered, such as the glow of light on the slanting roofs of shadowed buildings. This is exceptional work, refreshingly unobtrusive, and marred only by the lowering of the shipwreck gauze in front of a lovely curtain of the Illyrian seaport—a perplexing montage presumably intended, since it happened twice. Leslie Bridgewater's music adds to the pleasures of an evening which, judged on the level of such a cast, also misses a sad list of opportunities.

Peter Fleming (review date 22 April 1955)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in The Spectator, Vol. 194, No. 6617, April 22, 1955, p. 502.

There is a certain lack of heart about this elegant and well-paced production. The play (as Johnson very mildly put it) 'exhibits no just picture of life,' and we cannot expect to have our withers wrung by the pangs of the lovers or the humiliations which Malvolio brings upon himself. Yet we ought, at times, to be touched by them, however lightly or quizzically; and here we are not.

Miss Vivien Leigh's Viola is trim, pretty, poised and resourceful; but to the qualities which distinguish an air-hostess something must be added—warmth, uncertainty, a capacity for being embarrassed—if she is to lead this improbable dance through Illyria in the way it should be led, and Miss Leigh's performance, though talented and charming, has too strong a bias towards what politicians call non-involvement. Miss Maxine Audley's unashamedly romantic Olivia and Mr. Keith Michell's handsome Orsino are more partisan and more satisfactory.

Sir Laurence Olivier presents a brilliant and deeply considered study of Malvolio; yet here again some inner quality of reserve or detachment intervenes, like Cellophane, between actor and audience, so that we do not quite relish to the full either the folly or the pathos of the steward. It is a performance of extraordinary virtuosity, yet it leaves us feeling vaguely unsatisfied. Of the trio who gull Malvolio, Mr. Michael Denison's Aguecheek is easily the funniest and the best. Sir John Gielgud's production hardly makes the most of the class-distinctions with which Olivia's household is riddled. Maria, in dress and speech, is almost as great a lady as her mistress, and Mr. Alan Webb is allowed to make Sir Toby Belch a sort of bedizened and befuddled tramp. This is often, and I always think wrongly, done. The point about Sir Toby is that his position is precarious; the discreet, the instantly regretted hiccough is better comedy than the thunderous and unregarded belch, and it is more interesting to see how long a tipsy man can stand up than how often he can fall down.

Mr. Edward Atienza's Feste (for the cut of whose motley some acknowledgement ought, I feel, to have been made to Dr. Leslie Hotson) is serviceable and pleasant, and Mr. William Devlin's impulsive sea-captain seems to belong to a warmer-blooded world than this Illyria. Mr. Malcolm Pride's scenery has very great beauty and distinction, and altogether the Stratford season can be said to have opened with considerable grace and lustre.

The Times (review date 22 April 1955)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in The Times, London, April 22, 1955, p. 16.

Sir Laurence Olivier's interpretative resource is such that there was no guessing beforehand how he would choose to treat Malvolio; and the choice actually made—whether or not given theatrical validity—certainly took the Stratford first-night audience by surprise. It did not fall on the Puritan, whose portentous gravity is in itself a standing provocation to the fool-baiting Illyrians, a stiff spruce figure of preposterous pretensions. Nor on the insolent jackin-office, over-ambitious and overweening, properly put to his purgation. And not on the fantastic complex creature, twitching with distempered self-esteem and tortured by ambition, who gradually steals our sympathies from the over-zealous tricksters. The actor turned from these familiar personages to present a plain unlikeable man.

Sir Laurence's Malvolio is a shaven and cropped Round-head among laughing Cavaliers whose breeding he envies and whose frivolous manners he despises. He is an efficient steward who in the discharge of his duties may show ill-nature towards his fellow servants, but he is never preposterous. Those about him may dislike his starchiness; there is no particular reason why they (or we) should laugh at him. He hardly seems a natural butt. Even his manner of interrupting the midnight revels is more that of a man reasonably annoyed at being wakened from sleep than of an officers' steward. It requires the introduction of a red hot poker—manipulated with much realistic delicacy—to make the interrupter stir his comic stumps. While Malvolio's day-dreams swell towards realization the actor suggests the depths of social misgiving from which they rise at the artful Maria's enticement. He winds up the scene with an inimitable piece of by-play in which the grave steward after several wry attempts to smile into a mirror achieves a satisfied asinine grin. We have leave to laugh at him once more as "the yellow-legged stork," but it is not laughter but pathos that Sir Laurence is primarily concerned to produce—the pathos of a plain unlikeable man misplaced in a land of misrule and cruelly abused. Unfortunately the prison scene, with Malvolio lifting a stubbornly sensible head, crowned with a single straw, above floor level, miscarries. We have missed much of the laughter that springs from more conventional readings; we should miss the pathos also were Sir Laurence not able to cry "I'll be avenged on the whole pack of you" in a way that hushes the whole theatre. This cry, so exquisitely studied and so poignantly accusing, is one of the things—alas, not many—that we shall remember of a performance in which a well considered intention somehow fails of its full theatrical effect.

The scenery and the costumes of Mr. Malcolm Pride are always lovely to look at, and so is the Viola of Miss Vivien Leigh. She is like some happy hunting boy on her ways between Orsino and Olivia, but in speaking her contemptuous or tender rebukes of the lovers' poses she gets little variety into the verse. She is in her romantic way a little too "knowing" to convey the natural and transparent honesty which is designed for those who are the dupes of their own sentimentalism. Sir John Gielgud's production has to keep a difficult balance between his realistic Malvolio and the play's comic and romantic elements. He is inclined to hurry the roystering Illyrians. This is a pity since Mr. Alan Webb and Mr. Michael Denison are both wonderfully well suited as the two knights. Miss Angela Baddeley puts a somewhat shrewish edge on Maria's tongue. Delicate, imaginative grouping adds to the loveliness of the setting and costumes, and the romantics are well served by Miss Maxine Audley's gracious and elegant Olivia and by Mr. Keith Micheli as an Orsino who fairly revels in the pomp and circumstance of courtship. It must be said, however, that the loveliness of colour and the lightness of movement cannot altogether conceal the absence of feeling and humour that are of the essence of Twelfth Night.

J. C. Trewin (review date 23 April 1955)

SOURCE: "Matter for a May Morning," in The Illustrated London News, Vol. 226, No. 6053, April 23, 1955, p. 754.

Malvolio, Olivia's steward in that Illyrian world of May, has been many people on many stages: I have seen him as a sombre precisian, an icy Cardinal in reduced circumstances, a blend of bullfrog and fretful porpentine. None would have recognised any other. Indeed, we could have a whole cast of rival Malvolios; and fun it might be.

What, in a speech, is the true man? Maria has set him down for us:

The devil a Puritan that he is, or any thing constantly, but a time-pleaser, an affectioned ass that cons state without book, and utters it by great swarths; the best persuaded of himself, so crammed, as he thinks, with excellencies, that it is his ground of faith that all that look on him love him [II. iii. 147-52].

And Olivia said of her steward: "O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite."

I have been thinking of Malvolio in this early morning calm after the Twelfth Night that has opened the Festival season at Stratford-upon-Avon. With Sir John Gielgud to produce, and Sir Laurence and Lady Olivier (Vivien Leigh) as Malvolio and Viola, this has been the most eagerly-awaited première of the year. Now it is over I have been defending Sir Laurence's Malvolio—not that it needs any defence—against some of my colleagues, who have not found in him the Illyrian steward of their imaginations.

Let me say at once that it is a performance I shall remember for its fresh approach and its unselfishness. Malvolio, as Olivier acts him is not just a part for a comedian barnacled with antique "business." The man takes his proper place in the Illyrian household; he does not wantonly split the pattern of the play. Here, indeed, he is everything that Maria says he is: certainly an "affectioned ass" and a fellow that one (most properly) detests from his first appearance. He may be a competent steward, and no doubt anatomical dissection would show that his heart is in the right place. But, superficially, he is sour and thin-lipped; his eyes are contemptuous; he has a toxic glance for Feste, and he tastes with a distempered appetite. We realise at once why the household hates him; why Maria finds it easy to frame the plot. (If we consider it too deeply, the May-night plot for the May morning does lead to a scene, the imprisonment, that is as endearing as a bull-fight. Still, that was the Elizabethan sense of humour, and Twelfth Night has glory enough elsewhere for us to forget that sudden cruelty.)

The Stratford Malvolio has clearly worked his way up: an ambitious man whose ambitions still leap. Olivier suggests Malvolio's origin by his intonations, by the affected lisping veneer that flakes away suddenly to reveal the barrow-boy vowels. (I do not follow an argument that Sir Laurence should not have adopted this intricately-managed accent simply because it is intricate. Doubtless he would be criticised just as strongly if he did nothing. Do let us beware of fault-finding for its own sake.)

The supercilious fellow, day-dreaming about the respect to be shown by "my kinsmahn Tobay," turns naturally in the Letter scene to the turkey-cock blown by his imagination; the actor points subtly and richly the "affectioned ass" in his practice with the hand-mirror. From the first, Olivier has established the part firmly. He is theatrical without being blatantly so. Malvolio's character is as consistent as Shakespeare allows it to be: the vain, consequential prig, ashamed of his station, who can be transformed at a hint to the capering fool before the Countess ("Alas, poor fool! how have they baffled thee!"), and who moves to a figure oddly tragic when he is in the dark room and bound. Laurence Olivier has one great moment—and I observe the epithet—when, at the last, he comes from below in pitifully tattered dignity and blinking from the darkness. Cut to the heart, he asks for no more than revenge; it will be work indeed to entreat him to a peace.

I have seen Malvolios by the score. Some have been more immediately comic. None has been developed more logically and with less apparent effort. To those who say that Olivier toils for his humours, I can merely reply that there are as many variations in the "sense of humour" as there are in readings of Malvolio. Perversely, I refuse to believe that Olivier fails because he has not offered the part to us in poster-colours. He is, very simply, Malvolio: he takes us back to the man's past and makes us speculate about his future. (I have known younger images of Malvolio with the same contemptuous eyes, the same thin sneer, arrogant self-love.)

There is little more space. Sir John Gielgud, with settings by Malcolm Pride, has produced, lightly and elegantly, a romantic-wistful Illyria. The last moments, with the windows of the great house lit beneath the moon, are blessedly serene. Vivien Leigh's Viola has a still gravity; Maxine Audley hints at the shallowness of Olivia; Alan Webb—in a part that Sir Laurence once acted superbly—is an amiably ruffling Toby who never forgets that he is "consanguineous": he is also a good hand at mulling sack. The Andrew (Michael Denison) needs only a horse, a beehive and a useful little box to be another kind of knight. I did not much care for Keith Michell's Orsino, altogether too ardent a swooner even for the lovesick Duke, and the Feste (Edward Atienza) does not hold the mind. But I shall remember Malvolio and the May morning foolery; the "affectioned ass" wavering over the pronunciation of "slough"; Olivier's unfaltering technique, and the closing moment when I had the rare shiver one feels when a major personality is on the stage. It would be long before this Malvolio returned to his lady's house.

T. C. Worsley (review date 23 April 1955)

SOURCE: "The Stratford Opening," in The New Statesman & Nation, Vol. XLIX, No. 1259, April 23, 1955, pp. 575-76.

The new Stratford season which opened last week gives every promise of being extremely interesting. In contrast to last year the Directors have gathered a powerful cast to support the leading players, Sir Laurence Olivier and Miss Vivien Leigh: it is to include Angela Baddeley, Joyce Redman, Maxine Audley, Anthony Quayle, Alan Webb and Michael Denison. The two tragedies are to be the rarely staged Titus Andronicus as the last play and, as the third, Macbeth, in which there is good grounds for hoping that Sir Laurence will conquer a part which defeats so many good actors. The season has begun with a beautifully mounted Twelfth Night, elegantly and poetically produced by Sir John Gielgud. If, on the first night, there was some disappointment over this, the reason is to be found, I think, in expectations having been pitched a little out of key. Inevitably such a resounding first night creates a demand for the extra fizz of the great occasion. But Twelfth Night is not the right play to give that sort of satisfaction, and especially when, as here, the production is designed to stress and preserve a unified mood. In such a case there is no room for extravagances and fireworks, and individual performances must be toned down so that no excrescences are visible on the perfect polish of the surface.

I suppose the most obvious manifestation of this was in Mr. Alan Webb's Sir Toby Belch. Sir Toby, with a heavy actor playing the part, is often a dominating rollic, first cousin to Falstaff, and painted in the primary colours of knock-about. Mr. Alan Webb lost none of the points in scaling him down, and the play as a whole gained in cohesion. He and Miss Angela Baddeley and Mr. Michael Denison make a trio merry rather than noisy, credible servants of the grave Madonna in their off-hours. Perhaps in aiming at this they erred a little on the side of quietness; in the kitchen scene especially where they were placed very far back on the stage they lapsed into inaudibility—but they will soon get the feeling of the house and the expertness of all their timing and fooling will tell. The scaling down here meant a consequent muting of Malvolio, too. Sir Laurence Olivier is a superb comedian capable of those touches that take the breath away in admiration; and these touches were on show on all the edges of the part, lighting up some quite unemphatic phrase like "Madam, I will" with all the chiaroscuro of character—pomposity, self-importance, servility. We may have seen Malvolios who seem to make more of the part, but could anyone else make so much of it so unobtrusively, as loyalty to the general conception demanded?

For in this production the romantic element is to be kept dead centre, centre, and Mr. Malcolm Pride's decor, simple but sensuous, set the tone beautifully. (I personally rejoice to see Sir John breaking the fetish of the permanent set which has been responsible in its time for a full share of absurdities.) The rival houses are kept at just the right romantic pitch by Miss Maxine Audley's accomplished Olivia and Mr. Keith Michell's excellently spoken Orsino (though he alone in the cast was inclined, I though to "press" as they say of golfers). Miss Vivien Leigh achieved so exactly the stance and "set" of the page boy that she can afford to relax it a little as she plays herself in—an assured and valuable performance. Finally Mr. Edward Atienza, the excellent clown, pleasantly voiced, bridges the comedy and romance without any of the arty affectations which have lately overtaken our Festes. Altogether this was a most distinguished production with which to open.

Ronald Barker (review date June 1955)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Plays and Players, Vol. 2, No. 9, June, 1955, pp. 14-15, 17.

Even Nature combined with the Memorial Theatre to make this production of Twelfth Night an auspicious occasion and held back her blossom and fragrance until it had settled down. I saw the play in the third week of the season and found it one of the most interesting productions of the play I have seen.

John Gielgud, the director, has seen the play not as an Elizabethan romp but as a quiet romantic piece. The tone is set by the exquisite opening lines of Orsino and held until Feste has let the last notes of his song die away.

There is a sad dying fall about the production, sustained on almost a single note, which makes it an almost touching experience because we believe in everything that happens. The fight for love is a life and death struggle, with the clowns remaining human beings and not set pawns of pernicious fun.

When most of us have been prepared to accept this play as a rather dull Renaissance oil painting done in glowing tones with broad strokes, it has been cleaned and all the old paint is peeled away, leaving a tender water colour with each line carefully moulded to sustain the atmosphere. But this painting would have been more welcome at the court of Victoria than that of the first Elizabeth.

Gielgud, for his inspiration, has gone to Granville-Barker's preface and the recent study of the play by Leslie Hotson, who has with infinite pains and scholarship given an indication of the type of person who inspired the parts.

The one which most differs from pre-conceived notions is that of Malvolio. He is not seen as a pompous bore but as a tight-lipped effeminate Shylock with an inferiority complex. The Merchant of Venice presented in this light would be a revaluation.

The clowns have the riotous merriment knocked out of them. They are all basically well-bred people and we chuckle with them, rather more than at them.

As to the poetry, Gielgud has managed to retain most of the lovely music and given his actors time to let the words have their full significance.

The director, then, having determined the style of production and interpretation must accept responsibility for his actors. They have responded superbly. This is the most interesting production of Twelfth Night to be seen since Michel Saint Denis did it at the Phoenix before the war.

Laurence Olivier as Malvolio may not be the general conception of the character, but the part is played with such panache and style that it is bound to influence all future interpretations of the part. His timing and technical control could not be equalled by any other actor in England.

Vivien Leigh gives a technically irreproachable performance. With her studied grace she looks incredibly beautiful, but is without heart or humour.

Michael Denison makes Sir Andrew into a queer delicate type. He has a lot of funny business which suits the interpretation perfectly. It is the best performance I have seen from this actor.

Angela Baddeley's Maria and Alan Webb's Sir Toby have lost all of their vulgarity and earthiness, but remain always in the picture. Orsino is beautifully played by Keith Micheli, and Maxine Audley's Olivia is warm, human and always feminine. Feste is played as a dull-witted clown.

But having accepted the romantic dominance, surely it was a mistake not to make more of the last song. Each verse should get slower and more profound until the sad end is reached.

This is a production that London should have the opportunity of seeing. It is a credit to our theatre.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


Tyrone Guthrie•Stratford Festival, Ontario•1957


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


Guthrie's 1957 production at the Stratford Festival, Ontario succeeded in integrating the romantic and comic plots of the drama. Critics such as Henry Hewes felt this had been achieved by a careful fleshing out of the comic roles. In praising Christopher Plummer's portrayal of Sir Andrew Aguecheek, for example, Hewes commented that "making Shakespeare's clowns into real people instead of mere affectations has the advantage of keeping the audience ready to laugh as they see each new situation approaching." Guthrie further innovated in his handling of Feste, played by Bruno Gerussi, who became, according to Arnold Edinbo-rough, "a sad, ageing fool full of the pathos of his position where he is retained not for his wit but for his length of service." A similar sensitivity to the romantic roles characterized the production. Edinborough maintained that "as the bright-eyed and shrewdly naive Viola, Siobhan McKenna was entrancing and her swaggering self-importance was beautifully undermined by the sensitive playing of Frances Hyland as Olivia." Commentators further praised the performances of Lloyd Bochner as Orsino, Douglas Campbell as Sir Toby, and Douglas Rain as Malvolio.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


Brooks Atkinson (review date 4 July 1957)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in The New York Times, July 4, 1957, p. 16.

Give Tyrone Guthrie a trap door and he is as happy as two larks. In Twelfth Night, which opened in the new Festival Theatre last evening, he has a heavy, thumping trap door in the center of the platform stage and four of his actors put on a harlequinade around, in and out of it—into it feet first at a headlong speed that is always good for a roar from the audience.

Don't expect much from the romantic scenes. Although they are affably played by Siobhan McKenna as Viola and Frances Hyland as Olivia, Mr. Guthrie is not much interested in them when he has a buffoon like Douglas Campbell on the staff. Inevitably, Mr. Campbell is Sir Toby Belch, top banana of the revels; and inevitably Mr. Campbell is very funny. No one can immerse himself more cheerfully in drunken festivity—a little weary from long dissipation and no sleep but always ready for one more tankard of ale and one more prank.

He is in good company. Christopher Plummer's gangling, chuckleheaded Sir Andrew Aguecheek, whose eyes are as befuddled as his brain; Amelia Hall's tiny, insinuating, mischief-making Maria; Bruno Gerussi's convivial Feste with good singing voice and more enterprise than is usual to the part—all these reeling characters conspire with Sir Toby in keeping the humors low, slapdash and entertaining.

Mr. Guthrie does go on endlessly. This is a Twelfth Night that runs to three hours and a quarter, if the two intermissions are included. Having made his points two or three times, Mr. Guthrie makes them two or three times more with the same boyish enthusiasm. When the comic mood is on him, Mr. Guthrie can never bear to stop. This time he has conspired in long pantomime when Feste is taunting Malvolio in the dungeon. It is fairly unintelligible all the way through; it is also longer than Mr. Guthrie, who is the tallest stage director in the Western Hemisphere.

In the circumstances, the poetic interludes in Twelfth Night get short shrift. It is a pity. In the first place, they complete the symphonic or operatic design of this artificial comedy. In the second place, the actors are capable of making them charming. Miss McKenna is a pleasant Viola. There is something of the stolid St. Joan peasant in Miss McKenna's Illyrian maiden, which doubtless the author did not foresee, for he was a great toadier of ladies and gentlemen. But Miss McKenna's Viola has an expansive good humor that is good for the play. And Miss Hyland's Olivia—frail but willful, all grace and womanliness—gives the romantic scenes a core of meaning.

Douglas Rain's Malvolio is the finest piece of acting in the performance. The character is drawn at full length with admirable economy of means—rigid, neat, superior, lonely, this Malvolio, like Shylock, has a keen mind in a company of idlers and triflers. At a time when a theatregoer is just convincing himself that faulty theatre acoustics are responsible for the unintelligibility of parts of the performance, here comes Mr. Rain with perfect speaking. Every word is clear, precise, fully-formed and articulated.

Not being as heartless as the Elizabethans, Mr. Guthrie gives Malvolio a few moments of sobering dignity in the last scene. Both Malvolio and Mr. Rain deserve them. But Mr. Guthrie is chiefly interested in the comedy; he has lost his heart to the rolls and clowns, which results in a Twelfth Night that is funny but also formless, over-extended and tone-deaf.

Tanya Moiseiwitsch has designed costumes that seem to be in the Charles II period when men wore spiked beards and lace shoulder ruffs. It is an interesting period and Miss Moiseiwitsch's costumes are lively. An independent-minded director, Mr. Guthrie is a great hand for shifting centuries. If memory serves, he has only the eighteenth left.

Henry Hewes (review date 20 July 1957)

SOURCE: "Master Hamlet and Saint Viola," in The Saturday Review, New York, Vol. XL, No. 29, July 20, 1957, p. 26.

The fifth summer of the Shakespeare Festival Theatre of Canada is notable, not only because the most unique and exciting theatre in North America has moved from a temporary tent to a beautiful permanent building, but also because it presents two stars many consider the finest classic performers of the younger generation. One, twenty-eight-year-old Christopher Plummer, is instantly recognizable as a potential Sir Laurence Olivier. He is even recognizable as such in this, his first Hamlet, which, though deficient in some important respects, courageously explores the softer side of the role and its opportunities for humor.…

The second star, whose Saint Joan has already earned her stage immortality, is Siobhan McKenna. As Viola in Tyrone Guthrie's production of Twelfth Night, Miss McKenna successfully applies some of the qualities that made her Joan so great. With economical grace and shining eye she creates Illyria out of bare boards as divinely as if she had had a vision of Heaven. When she disguises herself as a man or as half a man, there is the familiar boyish pleasure at being free of the necessity to act feminine. When she falls in love with Orsino it is as complete as a religious conversion, and when she prays that her brother may still be alive God would answer if Shakespeare didn't. Finally, when near the end of the play she volunteers to be tortured and killed by Orsino if it will bring him comfort she walks through him into the hearts of the audience.

Dr. Guthrie has astutely used the Irish actress's unrivaled capacity for sudden surges of spirit to transfuse high emotional voltage into a rather arbitrary love-masque. He has bid her use a higher than natural voice, which helps us to differentiate between this role and Joan. Vocally, Miss McKenna is at her best in the short speeches which she fills with intense emotion and sadness. Her "Was not this love indeed?" is unforgettably moving. Somewhat less effective is her delivery of the famous "willow-cabin speech, for by trying to fill each line with personal truth her own highly-individual rhythms and emphases sometimes clash with Shakespeare's measured lyrical flow.

With the security of Miss McKenna's power, Dr. Guthrie feels free to play his clowns as less silly than is the lamentable tradition. Sir Toby, Maria, and Sir Andrew are well-defined characters. In the latter role Mr. Plummer is again reminiscent of Olivier, as he balances comic tricks with a characterization we can believe in. Really funny is the moment when Sir Andrew says of fooling "But I do it more natural," and involuntarily demonstrates by suddenly plummeting out of sight through an open trap-door. Making Shakespeare's clowns into real people instead of mere affectations has the advantage of keeping the audience ready to laugh as they see each new situation approaching. However, Dr. Guthrie does not completely abandon his predilection for the superimposed piece of farcical business. In this Twelfth Night his niftiest invention is a double stairway one-and-a-half take. By having Viola coming down one side while her twin brother is whisking up the other, and allowing Malvolio to see both just a fraction of a second too far apart to realize that he has seen not one but two, he creates a quick stunning laugh and adds a feeling of speed to the proceedings.

Another fine innovation is Dr. Guthrie's decision not to play Feste as an effete, prancing jester. Bruno Gerussi's wise fool is earthy and never lets us forget that he has a daily problem of earning food and shelter in a world that can be very cruel. Since the puritanical Malvolio threatens his livelihood, Feste is partially justified in his cruelty to him, just as Shylock was in his hatred of Antonio. Douglas Rain plays the pompous steward very straight, which though it detracts somewhat from the hilarity improves the balance of the play. When at the evening's end the cast joins with Feste in the singing of "the rain it raineth every day" (with new music by John Cook that makes it resemble a rhythmic Yiddish lament) we feel we are experiencing life instead of the traditional cultural exercise that Shakespeare's plays so often become.

Arnold Edinborough (review date Autumn 1957)

SOURCE: "Canada's Permanent Elizabethan Theatre," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. VIII, No. 4, Autumn, 1957, pp. 511-14.

After four very successful years in a tent, the Shakespeare Festival at Stratford, Ontario, is now housed in an exciting new theatre. From the outside, with its circular scalloped roof fluting into deep folds like some great nun's coif and topped by a jaunty coronet flying two flags, it still retains the carnival atmosphere which the tent had. Inside, the stage designed by Tanya Moiseiwitsch and Tyrone Guthrie remains relatively unchanged.

There is a large main stage jutting thirty-four feet into the audience and a triangular balcony at the back with steps leading up to it on each side. There are four large steps round the main stage and two platforms halfway up the stairs. There are thus seven levels of playing in the open and a large trapdoor which gives access to an invisible but very effective eighth.

The auditorium has been enlarged by the addition of an 858-seat balcony, but the arc of the pit has been slightly lessened so that no spectator has his sightline interrupted by the pillars of the balcony. Surprisingly enough, though the theatre now seats over two thousand people, no one in the audience is more than 70 feet from the stage.

The aisles through the audience are used for entrances and exits, three aisles running down to the stage and two running down from the stage under the audience. This makes a total of nine major entrances to playing areas on seven different levels.

In a word, then, this is an Elizabethan theatre. It does not slavishly follow Hodges or Cranford Adams or any other of the scholars who have taught us so much about the Globe and its fellows, but it does reconstruct a stage which has the essential facilities for the production, in its own idiom, of a drama which demands close identification of the actor with the audience, a variety of levels for the playing of eavesdropping and discovery scenes, ease of entrance from all sides to cope with the rapid swirl of battle or the more stately pomp of royalty in progress, and a sufficient cellarage for ghosts, prisoners, and other infernal beings.

Walter Kerr, summing up the theatre in his review in the New York Herald Tribune on July 7th, said: "The authorities responsible for the Canadian Festival have created something more than a dazzlingly handsome and superbly functional playhouse. They have given us the only really new stage and the only really new actor-audience experience of the last hundred years on this continent."

Those same authorities were aware that they must this season offer a program worthy of their new playhouse. So far, they had staged the less popular comedies, All's Well and Measure for Measure; they had given us a pantomime production of The Taming of the Shrew; there had been two histories, Richard III and Henry V. The nearest Stratford had been so far to a major play was a superb production of The Merchant of Venice in 1955 with the late Frederick Valk as Shylock.

The choice this year could not have been more "major". No Shakespearian theatre could aim higher than to baptise itself with Hamlet and bless its future with Twelfth Night. And both productions in their respective fashions were notable: the comedy for its overall direction by Tyrone Guthrie, the tragedy for its concentration on the story relieved by some sparkling individual performances

Twelfth Night is a blend of poetry and prose with the prosiest of all Shakespeare's fools linking the two groups of characters. More than in any other of the great comedies, it is possible to divorce the comic scenes from the romantic ones completely, making a self-sufficient sub-plot out of the gulling of Malvolio and the antics of the roisterers who arrange it. Such a director's trick, all too commonly done, forces Sir Toby and Sir Andrew to become lowlife clowns despite their titles, makes Maria's part cheap and Feste's unplayable. Another result is that the romantics are left to survive on the poetry alone—a diet on which the modern appetite can soon surfeit and its interest so die.

Tyrone Guthrie, who has done strange and wild violence to the text at Stratford on occasion, chose to integrate the play in a manner which is rare and delightful. Feste became a sad, ageing fool full of the pathos of his position where he is retained not for his wit but for bis length of service. His melancholy, honestly come by, thus makes Malvolio's even more priggish, rendering his gulling and final turning-off not only poignant, which it always is, but even credible, which it seldom is.

On the opposite side of the court we have Viola retained with no recommendation other than her wit and youth, qualities which get her, without asking, the same licence as Feste has to plead for in the first scene with his mistress.

Thus Viola and Feste link together, and through that link the Duke and Olivia are seen to be alike in humanity if not in affection. This humanity goes on to embrace the comics who, though foolish, are yet nobly born. In their own way Sir Andrew and Sir Toby are no more nor less self-indulgent than Olivia in her rejection of love and the Duke in his advancing of it.

With this solid pattern behind the production, Twelfth Night was one of the best comic performances that many people will ever see. As the bright-eyed and shrewdly naive Viola, Siobhan McKenna was entrancing and her swaggering self-importance was beautifully undermined by the sensitive playing of Frances Hyland as Olivia. Lloyd Bochner made even the opening lines sound fresh and there was a clarity of diction and a poetic timbre in these three voices which was a joy to hear.

The sheer inventive fun of Douglas Campbell as Sir Toby and Christopher Plummer as Sir Andrew was inspired. Sir Toby was a rich portrait somewhat in the Rubens tradition with, from time to time, a Franz Hals fastidiousness which reminded us of his kinship with Olivia and of his knighthood. Sir Andrew was a ninny nonpareil. His falling into the trapdoor at the end of the cakes and ale scene and his massively ineffectual interruptions as Malvolio read the limed letter, on more than one occasion lifted the circular roof, even on the opening night when one assumes that dignity is more often indulged in than delight.

Bruno Gerussi, linking them all as Feste, was sad but industrious. True, his industry consisted mainly of tieing invisible pieces of string from one stage pillar to the next, but this symbolic web was spun all round the play and the separate scenes glowed like dewdrops on it.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


Peter Hall•Shakespeare Memorial Theatre•1958


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


Hall's revival of Twelfth Night at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre sought to give equal weight to the comic lightness and melancholic heaviness in the drama through a combination of visual effects and innovative characterization. Lila de Nobili's set designs were described by Robert Speaight as "a rich symphony in russet," and the court of Illyria was reminiscent of Charles IPs, with costumes patterned after the portraits of Van Dyck and Rubens. Most noteworthy among the principal roles was Geraldine McEwan's Olivia, which portrayed the Countess as a sharply satirical figure incapable of seriousness. Dorothy Tutin's Viola received unanimous approval; Peter Jackson commented that her portrayal was "wonderfully boyish, breathless, and bewildered and always completely audible." Other performances included Richard Johnson as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Cyril Luckham as Feste, Michael Meacham as Orsino, Miranda Connell as Maria, and Douglas Rain as Malvolio. While this staging pleased audiences, critics such as Roy Walker voiced certain objections: "This was a Twelfth Night that did not altogether succeed, but a production that continually threw fresh light on a comedy about which most of us have long ceased to think freshly." The production was revived by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1960 with several major cast changes.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


John Wain (review date 27 April 1958)

SOURCE: "Stratford Razzmatazz," in The Observer, April 27, 1958, p. 8.

In the world of the cinema, the pundits are fond of telling us, a technical advance has usually been accompanied by a backslide in imagination and intelligence. I hope it won't turn out to be true of the theatre as well.

Last Tuesday's Twelfth Night (Stratford on Avon: director, Peter Hall) was a perfect example of how a Shakespeare play can be ripped apart by the twin steel claws of naturalism and gimmickry. The basic assumption of the modern Shakespearean theatre ("We've got to put on this dull stuff, which most people—ourselves included—find only half-intelligible; so let's see how we can import some fun into it") was evident from the first moment.

It isn't the actors' fault; that should be said at once. They all played quite brilliantly, and the packed audience seemed as delighted by their virtuosity as by the sumptuous staging and handsome scene-painting. Mr. Richard Johnson's Aguecheek was one of the cleverest studies I have ever seen; he turned the character into a paranoid manic-depressive, strongly reminiscent at times of Lucky in Waiting for Godot. His interpretation was a splendidly original play-within-the-play, besides making the perfect foil to Mr. Patrick Wymark's Sir Toby—a more robustly conventional interpretation, this, meaty and zestful.

Even those performances which most set one's teeth on edge were, as acting, very intelligent; in any other setting—as a series of revue turns, for instance—they would have been most enjoyable. Miss Geraldine McEwan's Olivia, played as a kittenish typist on holiday from a City office, was a charming study; it isn't her fault that Shakespeare made Olivia a countess, full of authority and aristocratic hauteur. Mr. Hall presumably told her to be coy and simpering, and coy and simpering she was. Just what his motives were in getting her to use her professional skill against the play, rather than for it, must remain his own secret; she did her job.

As for naturalism, it ran riot throughout. Even Miss Dorothy Tutin, whose instinctive grace and intelligence protected her, for the most part, against the over-literalness of the production, was side-tracked into playing the first of the scenes in which Viola acts as emissary to Olivia as if it had been written by Tennessee Williams. It was fascinating; but the scene would have made its own impact if it had been spoken quite simply—and that impact would have been Shakespeare's. And if the all-pervading naturalism handicapped even Miss Tutin, what it did to the scenes in which she did not take part is simply indescribable. Malvolio in his dungeon was allowed to give us ten minutes of pure tragedy, complete with hysterical laughter, anguished groaning and broken appeals for pity.

Feste, singing his final song, had to break down and sob in case anyone had missed the point that his character was meant to be rather sombre. When Sir Andrew offered to give Cesario his horse. I half expected to see a real one trot on to the stage.

It remains only to say that the audience showed every sign of being pleased; the applause was thunderous, the curtain-calls infinite; this production, clearly, will be a money-spinner. But does Stratford need to compete on this level? The next morning, the sky was pale blue, the sun warmed every stone, the town seemed one enchanting garden, the swans floated on the river, the beer flowed in the pubs—and it was Shakespeare's birthday. Wouldn't people (I mused) still come here even if they had to watch the plays put on quite straight?

Alan Brien (review date 2 May 1958)

SOURCE: "Taking Liberties," in The Spectator, Vol. 200, No. 6775, May 2, 1958, p. 558.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if our bright young directors took the same impertinent liberties with the work of other dramatists which they now invariably take with Shakespeare. Early Noàl Coward could be played as Restoration comedy. Ibsen could be played as Aldwych farce on a permanent set with nine doors. Accept the principle that the less the audience understand of the dialogue the more they will enjoy the horseplay, and any play can be treated as an abandoned old clothes shop only fit to be burgled by the next band of strolling players.

There is no doubt that much of our drama would be vastly improved by being set aside as a training area for the young commandos of the theatre. But what are they training for? To alter the period of the action, to rejig the entrances and exits of the characters, to distribute among the cast an ingenious assortment of grotesque mannerisms, is really a kind of forgery. If a producer is so confident in his ability as a renovator, he should have the courage to start with the text and rewrite the whole play as Dryden did with Antony and Cleopatra.

At Stratford, Mr. Peter Hall has set out to revarnish and retouch the surface of an old peeling canvas known as Twelfth Night. He has pushed it forward into the Caroline age—but it is the Caroline age seen through the eyes of a Victorian anecdotal painter so that among all the pageboy bobs, coaching-inn furniture and greetings-card flower gardens the unspoken question always seems to be 'When Did You Last See Your Father?' Olivia and Orsino should be a parody pair of aristocratic Arcadian lovers out of Sir Philip Sidney who drop their masks and fumble their lines when their conventional charade gets mixed up with real passion. Both their gentility and their genteelity are clearly signposted in the lines they are given. But under Mr. Hall's guidance Geraldine McEwan plays Olivia like some pert, perky middle-class flapper out of The Boy Friend. Michael Meachum's Orsino is nearer the target—but he is still a romantic Edwardian schoolboy Duke who has not yet quite made the transference from girlish boys to boyish girls.

The subplot of Malvolio, Aguecheek, Sir Toby and Maria was intended as a bass counterpoint theme to the tremulo treble passions of Orsino and Olivia. It is Shakespeare's method of giving depth of focus and an extra dimension to the nonrealistic, almost operatic, lay figures of a dramatic poem. Here again Mr. Hall has obtained brilliant performances from his cast and each individual character is theatrically a striking creation. Mark Dignam's vowel-gargling, proud-nosed Malvolio is a degraded pro-consul exiled among the white trash, Lord Curzon gulled by the beachcombers. Richard Johnson's stricken mental defective, with his heron legs akimbo and sheep face aghast, gives Aguecheek an insane pathos which the part can hardly bear. Such ingenious interpretations can hardly exist side by side. Once more Mr. Hall's determination to avoid dullness succeeds in atomising Shakespeare's play.

Mr. Hall is wrong and I am right. And yet how I enjoyed every moment of his wrongness. Scene after scene explodes like a Roman candle—the patterns are arbitrary, unconnected, perverse and dazzling. And throughout it all, defying Shakespeare with every gesture, struts the funny, touching, huggable, nervous Viola, triumphantly incarnated in Dorothy Tutin.

Peter Jackson (review date June 1958)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Plays and Players, Vol. 5, No. 9, June, 1958, p. 13.

What a rib-tickling, refreshing Twelfth Night Peter Hall has conjured up for the second production of the Stratford season; a production that is smooth and gay and brimming with new ways to play old tricks.

Dorothy Tutin's golden Viola is wonderfully boyish, breathless and bewildered and always completely audible. She is alive, and to be alive in a cast like this means working double overtime.

To force Olivia to play for laughs while surrounded on all sides by comedians with far better lines does not give the actress a fighting chance, but Geraldine McEwan, with her piping voice and plaintive little gestures, draws such sympathy from the audience that the approach is almost justified.

Richard Johnson plunges from the high tragedy of Romeo to the foppish, foolish Andrew Aguecheek and scores brilliantly, creating—by movement and facial expression as much as by words—such a sad schoolboy of a knight that we have to weep with him.

Everyone in this cast is full of youth and vigour, even Patrick Wymark's Toby Belch; not a scrufly old dotard with one foot in the ale barrel but a pot-bellied musketeer with a clear mind and a good sword wrist. Miranda Connell's Maria is a delicious impression of fresh-faced laughter and sparkles at the expense of the stove-hatted, white-rufled pompous prig of Mark Dignam's Malvolio.

The Feste of Cyril Luckham has grown old and grey in service and puts away ducats for his retirement but he is so deep in song and prose that I thought he must know every secret of life. As Orsino, Michael Meacham is suitably handsome, gallant and melancholy.

Lila de Nobili is an Italian and Italy is reflected in her mellow settings by rich blends of browns and golds, like old Renaissance tapestries.

On the first night of this revival the happy couples danced away into nothingness behind the gauze while Feste closed the chapter and then came such a well-won storm of applause that the illuminations by the river must have shaken in their sockets.

Roy Walker (review date 1959)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night, in Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespearian Study and Production, Vol. 12, 1959, pp. 126-29.

[Twelfth Night] has not a 'personal' title, and it hardly seems to have a central character, prominent or retired, unless we follow, as most star actors and modern productions do, the theatrical logic of opportunity that led to the comedy's being called, as early as 1623, 'Malvolio'. It has, of course, the two elements usual in a Shakespeare comedy, a romantic plot and a comic plot, usually played for contrast and counterpoint rather than brought to any final resolution and harmony. In the programme note to Peter Hall's production at Stratford in 1958, Ivor Brown speaks of the comic plot as 'secondary' but that hardly does justice to what may have been the producer's intention in keeping Malvolio in his place. Yet to select any one of the endearingly familiar characters as central and to balance the comic and romantic plots accordingly may seem, at best, an arbitrary attempt at novelty. Something of the sort, however, was what Hall seemed to be attempting. In making Feste the centre of the whirligig of time that brings in its revenges he had, at any rate, the authority of the New Cambridge edition. "We must hold," declared [New Cambridge editor A. Quiller-Couch], "and insist on holding Feste, Master of the Revels, to be the master-mind and controller of Twelfth Night, its comic spirit and president.…" In the absence of a full supporting argument the assertion may seem arbitrary. A parallel to stimulate imagination in this direction might be found in the comparison of the bitter-sweet figure of Feste alone on the stage at the end, when the three couples go off, with that of the Merchant at the end of the earlier comedy when three other couples go off leaving alone the man to whom they owe, in some degree, their wedded happiness. There is also the fact that the title of Twelfth Night may be more indicative than it seems to us, who have lost any sense of twelfth night as a red-letter day in the calendar, the time of the Saturnalia which was also once the true date of Christmas. As John Stow tells us [in The Survey of London, 1912],

In the feast of Christmas, there was in the king's house, wheresoever he was lodged, a lord of misrule, or master of merry disports; and the like had ye in the house of every noble man of honour, or good worship, were he spiritual or temporal.

Is there more to that ubiquitous comic-sad spirit of Feste, a fool who lives by the church and masquerades as a veritable Abbot of Unreason, in this saturnalian comic romance of the snobbish steward who aspires to be his mistress' master and the faithful servant who becomes her master's mistress, than was apparent to Pepys when he wrote it off as "not related at all to the name or day" (and as "a silly play") and to such moderns as J. Q. Adams when they agree with him, on the first point at any rate? The merit of Peter Hall's production, tentative rather than definitive, aspiring rather than assured, was that it gave new life to such a question. Perhaps Feste, whose song of the wind and the rain is heard next on the lips of Lear's Fool, has grown in the succession of Shakespeare's jesters, from the Touchstone who matches the motley of court and country to something more like the sadly wise Old Clown of such a modern Christian artist as Rouault?

Peter Hall's focus on Feste met the audience entering the theatre, on the drop-curtain painted by Lila de Nobili, who designed his 1957 Stratford production of Cymbeline. The central feature was a silvery aureoled figure in clown's costume descending into a dark world in which the faces of other characters seen in shadow were touched with the radiance. With his ass's ears he might well have been a disguised Mercury whose winged cap enabled him to go into whatever part of the universe he pleased with the greatest celerity. As music sounded a front spot focused on this coolly glowing figure, which dissolved as lights came up behind to make the curtain transparent. There a small group of musicians harmonized the music which is the food of love and, on the forestage, a group of gentlemen stood motionless in silhouette. The tableau of the drop had been transposed from the vertical to the horizontal, but nothing went well for love until Feste (Cyril Luckham) appeared. As soon as his quicksilver wit proved his young and feather-brained Olivia (Geraldine McEwan) a fool, this mature Feste gave us a shrewd hint that this was not altogether fool. "There is no slander in an allowed fool" [I. v. 94] and "Now Mercury endue thee with leasing, for thou speakest well of fools" [I. v. 97] responds the wise fool whom Mercury's winged cap fits.

From the romantic mistress to the comic kinsman; at the end of the first 'act' Feste found out the bully-boy Sir Toby (Patrick Wymark) and the fool absolute, Sir Andrew (Richard Johnson) for the drinking-scene, set not in a wine-cellar but in a glowing Warwickshire walled garden where these laughing cavaliers were rebuked by Malvolio (Mark Dignam)—"the devil a puritan that he is" [II. iii. 147]—kill-joy of comic and romantic plots. As has been observed [by New Cambridge editor J. Dover Wilson], Maria's plan to 'let the fool make a third' [II. iii. 174] in the gulling of this peacock is contradicted later, in the letter scene, when Fabian unaccountably deputizes for Feste. This production minimized the inconsistency by letting Feste feign sleep, head on arm, at a table. As the others went out he raised his head and stared thoughtfully after them. The stage darkened rapidly on this picture, wood-pigeons cooing amorously in the distance, for the 'act' interval. That at least left the emphasis on Feste, but what could he have been thinking so seriously about, unless it was why Fabian had been allowed to usurp his place later in the play? The present writer wonders if this was not the actors' doing at some time before 1623. Might not an actor of Malvolio object that besides having more than his share of the comedy, and songs besides, Feste was stealing his best scene by business behind the box-tree? All Fabian's lines and entrances are somewhat suspect, and the problem is not solved, as in this production, by introducing him with Olivia in I, v.

The second 'act' began with the Duke's "Give me some music …" acceptably echoing the opening of the first. Feste's sad song seemed to woo Orsino to accept the death of a hopeless love that new and true love might be born, he is lost unless the melancholy god make his doublet of changeable taffeta. After the letter scene, from which Feste was so unaccountably absent, Viola met the fellow "wise enough to play the fool" [III. i. 60] whose keen eyes seemed to penetrate her disguise. But then Feste was, as usual, missing from the mock duel. Surely he, and not Fabian, was to be Viola's second, well assured this cock would not fight? Was not that the point of Feste's shock when, taking Sebastian for his sister in the next scene, he finds the young man now has mettle enough? This scene, ending with Olivia suddenly smitten with Sebastian, closed the second 'act' and the brief final 'act' began with an abbreviated version of Feste's visitation of Malvolio, in rapid succession as Sir Topas and as himself, the dungeon being a cellar in the garden.

The play ended as it began, with music, all the romantic and comic characters, except Malvolio, dancing together in a golden distance behind a gauze curtain in love's now triumphant harmony, with Feste, the goer-between of the worlds of romance and comedy, and perhaps also of the gods and human kind, seated on the fore-stage in gathering dusk, sadly remembering how the world began. Now it was their light that just touched his figure, forlorn at the thought that there was no more for him to do in this world. Even a god who plays the wise fool may be left lonely at the dance of human love.

The producer had made the romantic plot more consistently light comedy by treating Olivia as a feather-brained little goose; he had kept the comics well on the subtle side of farce, and so made it possible for his Mercury to modulate between the two worlds of the play and make them one. His choice of Cavalier costume gave the maximum thematic contrast with Malvolio's Puritan habit, served the opposition of amours and austerity, and brought out what is most English in Shakespeare's Never-Never Land of Illyria. It also eased the problem of the identical twins with a hair-style equally suitable to boy and girl. He had, in Dorothy Tutin, a Viola of irresistible freshness and charm. The rest of a Stratford company for once not starstudded was of its own fairly high standard with none out-standing. This was a Twelfth Night that did not altogether succeed, but a production that continually threw fresh light on a comedy about which most of us have long ceased to think freshly, which we too easily accept as a cherished but somewhat shapeless romantic-comic routine.

Eric Keown (review date 25 May 1960)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Punch, Vol. CCXXXVIII, No. 6244, May 25, 1960, p. 737.

It is always interesting to see a successful production revived with a different cast, and from Peter Hall's 1958 Stratford Twelfth Night only Dorothy Tutin, Patrick Wy-mark and Ian Holm remain. This makes the third in Mr. Hall's sequence of Shakespearian comedies. Its performance is considerably stronger than it was two years ago.

In particular Miss Tutin's Viola has grown up immeasurably. I admire very much the way she has overcome her inability to speak verse. To the most taking sincerity which is natural to her she now adds maturity and confidence; her Viola, fresh and spirited and full of humour, is altogether delightful. From Eric Porter Malvolio gets a new complexion. Instead of the fantasticated butt who must always have been a poor steward, he plays him as a grave and responsible administrator with no shred of levity in his composition but with all the signs of ruthless efficiency; one can imagine him going through the housekeeper's accounts with a fine comb. Mr. Porter makes this reading very funny, and his threat of general revenge at the end has a chilling ring, for this Malvolio clearly means business.

Patrick Wymark's Sir Toby is younger than the average, and all the better for that; his enjoyment in baiting Malvolio is the more robust, and he carries off Maria with greater conviction. The Aguecheek is another triumph for Ian Richardson, a recruit to Stratford who is making his name rapidly. He avoids the extremes of eccentricity, and, not working too hard for laughs, gets them all the time. Derek Godfrey makes an admirably romantic figure of the lovesick Duke, and Max Adrian a haunting Feste who seems, in his engulfing sadness, beyond comfort. As Maria, Frances Cuka is improved.

The weakness of this production is the Olivia. In 1958 Mr. Hall, greatly daring, allowed Geraldine McEwan to chirp her way through the part, and being Miss McEwan, and an original, she brought something to it that had never been there before. Trying the same line again with Barbara Barnett, he fails. This Olivia is simply a minx without dignity, and not at all the sort of girl to command a household and engage in steadfast mourning.

For me a very minor weakness is the gauze hung about midstage for most of the scenes. This has a door cut in it, through which the actors stream on their way downstage, and the pattern of their movement through this bottleneck becomes monotonous. But on balance the production is another winner for Stratford, and Lila de Nobili's sets and seventeenth century dresses stand up well to a further inspection.

A. Alvarez (review date May 1960)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in New Statesman, Vol. LIX, No. 1524, May, 1960, p. 788.

The revival of his 1958 production of Twelfth Night shows Peter Hall settling more comfortably than before on the throne of the Stratford Memorial Theatre. And it looks like being a good reign. When the season started, I suggested that his great virtue was his prime concern for Shakespeare's poetry. This means that the verse-speaking is neither hammed into rant and ripe elocutionism nor is it ironed out into prose; it is, instead, a medium for the feeling intelligence and demands nothing less from the actors. So the plays emerge less as galleries of types and characters than as creative statements, worlds of values. But at the same time, Hall is a great one for technical panache and high production: elaborate costumes and stage business, dim facades, period music—he proliferates the theatrical means into a kind of visual parallel of the play's complexities. The results are always striking but can easily slip into the fussy and merely ornamental.

Twelfth Night, however, is a good example of a production controlled by a critical reaction to the poetry. Like Lila de Nobili's Caroline costumes, it is geared to the play's faint air of over-lushness: speeches so cadenced and beautiful that the speakers sound as though they were not so much expressing what they felt as exploiting the moods they would like to feel, and jokes pushed so far that they slide close to brutality. Hall makes his cast keep tight control over the excesses. Derek Godfrey's Orsino is less romantic than romanticising, faintly comic under all his folds of dignity. Barbara Barnett tries to do the same for Olivia, but hasn't, for the time being, the acting resources; so she grimaces, twists her hands and bites her lip like some graceless Joyce Grenfell schoolgirl in fancy dress, more farce than fantasy and the only wrong note in the play. In contrast, Eric Porter as Malvolio resisted every easy temptation to parody the part: he was conceited, full of self-righteous Puritanism, insufferable in his way, but with an undercurrent of seriousness that made him genuinely moving at the end. In the same way, Patrick Wymark's Sir Toby Belch was tougher, more drunken, less amiable than the usual thigh-slapping chunk of Merrie England, and Ian Richardson managed to slow down Aguecheek so that he could be comic without ever twittering.

The prizes, however, go to Dorothy Tutin and Max Adrian. Miss Tutin has exactly the odd combination of sensibility and immaturity that Viola needs. She is bright and cheeky, yet full of feeling and poetry. Where her Portia lacked weight and substance, her Viola is simply light in touch, all youthful fine feeling and delicacy. She is the nearest one will probably see to the original conception of a boy-actor playing a girl playing a boy.

Max Adrian's Feste was the reverse of all this. No clown has ever been so melancholy. He hovered permanently on the edge of weeping, stricken, desolate, like King Lear after his madness. It seemed, heaven knows, disproportionate to the part, as though one had walked into the middle of things and missed a whole private tragedy. But granted Feste might conceivably be a man with a history—a neurotic case-history, in this instance—the rest came naturally and with extraordinary coherence of melancholy detail. And he certainly set the tone of the production: of comedy become wistful and enervated, of the lyric falling into the decadent, of jokes on the edge of turning sour. It was not for nothing that every scene was played through a filter of gauze drops; the play, too, came across darkened and unexpectedly serious. It was an impressive interpretation.

Caryl Brahms (review date July 1960)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Plays and Players, Vol. 7, No. 10, July, 1960, pp. 9, 11.

I Wish I could quote the whole of Hazlitt's analysis of the character of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, the whole of Agate's Brief Chronicle of Miss Jean Forbes-Robertson's Viola (and of that I would sacrifice the rest, if need be, for the three words in which this great critic lights a candle to her quality for all time: "This grave baby"). I wish that I had read CE . Montague for your delight. And that good crusty (in the sense that he will surely have produced some judgements for us to chew on) critic, Alan Dent, must sometime, somewhere, have written passages that would be infinitely quotable. And then too, the illuminating first string of The Times—to read him is always to be dumb-founded by his quiet authority, perception and thoroughness. (No skipping the plot at Printing House Square where it will be recounted in such a manner as to form a comment.) And has not Kenneth Tynan anything of pith and vision to say of this zany piece? Well, then, I wish I could quote the lot of them, preferably in toto, and leave it at that for they would write like all the angels where I shall carp and complain and tear a strip off what was rarely less than enchantment.


But perhaps more than any of these sensitive and accomplished quill-dippers I would like to quote one who was not professionally a critic in the Theatre at all; one who was torn between reading Twelfth Night in the garden "with no sound but the thud of an apple falling to the earth, or of the wind ruffling the branches of the tree…" and seeing it enacted at the Old Vic 1933—the year of Colonel de Basil's Baby Ballerinas; the year, recalled Old Vic-wise, of Leon Quartermain's Malvolio and Athene Seyler's Maria. The year I read about (but did not see, fool that I was) Madame Lopokova's Olivia. What a grave baby this great artist would have been had she played Viola—grave and gay by turns, like any baby pushed out in a pram, ignoring the world. "Many apples might fall without being heard in the Waterloo Road." mourns the writer, who is of course Virginia Woolf (that "of course" is just the Present Writer being maddeningly superior). Her essay is to be read in English Dramatic Criticism published by the University of Oxford Press in the quietly handsome, dark blue uniformity of the World's Classics, which I shall give to everyone I know this Christmas if it is still in print.

No one knew better than Shakespeare that every comedy is a day in May in England with overtones of April showers; that every silver lining has its cloud. No producer is more aware of this soft spring sunshine and the changing skies than Mr. Peter Hall. And if Twelfth Night were nothing but a poem how acceptable would we find this revival of the 1958 production at Stratford-upon-Avon. (Now that the Stratford-Atte-Bowe has its Theatre Workshop, and those at Toronto and Connecticut their festivals, we have to be a little pedantic about locations.)

The scenes which take us with them to a Warwickshire Illyria are seen in a smudge of trees as, lifted by the breeze, they shift and whisper and return to basking, each one a bronzed enchantment by Lila de Nobili, through which the burnished costumes gleam. These costumes may be something too lush, like a plum at the plop or a tea-rose with all its golden wealth extended and about to fall.

"Let there be light" was the order on a certain great occasion in the world outside the theatre. Inside the theatre. Mr. Peter Hall no doubt commanded "Let there be Mr. Michael Northen". And there he is, stopping time to catch a moment for us, making a minute memorable, gilding not the lily but the mood.

Add to this Mr. Eric Porter's Malvolio, the best that I have seen since Gielgud's puritanical steward; a very real and fiery Sebastian (Ian Holm), spoiling to be up and at 'em; and Mr. Dinsdale Landen's clearly-etched Fabian, The Threat to Feste. And what more do I want?


Well, first a Viola whose appearance does not remind me of the picture of the little boy standing before the Round-head at the table: "When did you last see your father?" Agate called Jean Forbes-Robertson's Viola "this grave baby", as we have seen: I would say of Miss Tutin's Viola that she is "this ginned-up dove". She is not my Viola—it is only fair to say she seemed to be everyone else's in the intervals—since to my mind quite the most perfect Viola I have ever seen was that of Miss Barbara Jefford at the Old Vic, being boyish and girlish, staunch and true and merry and grave and so very much in love and brimming over with the fun of it all. Miss Tutin was a huntress out for her man from the moment they carried her ashore and laid her safe on his soil. An only child, Miss Tutin, play-acting weddings up in the attic with all the confidence of one who is born to be and means to be and has no other aim than to be the bride. And the sooner the better. And yet, the memory of the poetry, the little show-off found in the part persists and is still with me. Ah well, let's dot her down as a bride who takes a book of poems on her honey-moon, having been with difficulty coaxed to leave her dog in the porch.

And the Olivia—what can I find to say that is not too discouraging to a young actress about this miscasting of Miss Barbara Barnett in the part? Well, I could begin by saying that Miss Barnett is not Virginia Woolf's Olivia:


"Our Olivia is a stately lady of sombre complexion, slow-moving and of few sympathies." (All, you will note, what Madame Lopokova, who prompted the analysis, is not likely to have been.) The Stratford-upon-Avon Olivia was a dizzy girl—and though this may have worked in the case of Miss Geraldine McEwan, the 1958 Olivia I did not see, it certainly did not work in the 1960 variorum, in less accomplished hands. And but for disheartening a pretty young player who was, I suspect, obeying her producer, I would leave the matter to Olivia there. Fortunately, there is a part of another kind to which Miss Barnett would be admirably suited and any management looking for a juvenile lead to enter the drawing-room with a tennis racket in Act I and leave it with a cocktail in Act III, need search no further.

The Orsino of Mr. Derek Godfrey found its true length at once. He made a fine striding figure of a lover who would certainly have had the guts to do his own wooing with that persuasive voice.

And now, we must come to Mr. Max Adrian, the most neurasthenic Feste since Mr. Robert Eddison was manicdepressive at the Old Vic.


Mr. Adrian clearly subscribes to the school of thought that sees its Feste as an old man. He did his best to wring these iron withers with his old fool who is past playing the fool. And was it that he could not sing or that he did not wish to sing Feste's difficult songs but characterised and acted them instead? Be the reason what you will, on the first night Come Away Death was death.

But it is not Miss Barnett nor Mr. Adrian who are to blame for the off-key notes they pipe—it is the producer. Why did a director of Mr. Hall's distinction and gifts go in for 'amusing' casting? Did he remain amused, I wonder, when he took his place in the auditorium on the first night and saw what he had done? Mr. Adrian was born to play Aguecheek (Mr. Ian Richardson did more than well in the part and though it may seem to weaken my argument I must in fairness emphasise this) but he is cast in the one part that calls for an actor who can sing (as distinct from an actor who can "put over a number"). This wilful casting comes so often between the brilliant vision Mr. Hall has of his play and the effect he finally achieves in it. And yet so gifted a producer is he that he could make a bare stage sing and play a consort of viols in an ecstasy of harmony if he so minded. He is perhaps less able with a laugh—but this does not mean that he is a solemn producer—just, I suspect, blind and bone-headed when it comes to his cast-lists.


Still, he might take time off to chide Miss Frances Cuka gently away from the easy laugh she gets by sending up the accents of Maria's betters and all the artificial effects she cannot yet command and bid her content herself with honest, earthy fun. No young actress can be funnier than Miss Cuka in a natural way and that way is Maria's way and Shakespeare's way with Maria.

Have I left anyone out? The friendly, rather everyday Sir Toby of Mr. Patrick Wymark. But Sir Toby is Olivia's close kinsman and as such should have at least a silken lining to his nature, an inner aristocracy, even though it may be ivied-over with crummy cakes, and stale ale and the hiccoughs. Yet so friendly an understanding with his audience has Mr. Wymark that I was won over to him, seamy side and all.

Remains Mr. Raymond Leppard, Music Adviser to the Theatre, and composer of the incidental music. Hey there! You with the stars in your eyes and a cast of actors to write songs for—not singers who can act or even actors who can sing, as must be all too clear to you by now—won't you play a little safer until they can spare time for you to coach them?

And yet …

And yet I came away like a gourmet from a single perfect dish, knowing that this night I had feasted even though the feast was served al fresco in an autumnal garden something under the cloud.

"Viola, Malvolio, Olivia, the Duke—the mind," wrote Virginia Woolf, "so brims and spills over with all that we know and guess about them, as they move in and out among the shadows of the mind's stage" …

I do not doubt but that a large portion of Mr. Peter Hall's mind—and heart—is a stage, a shadowed stage; and that he dwells much thereon. And he has set his Illyria a lui, not in cloud cuckoo land, perhaps, but under a cloud; nor yet in Lopokova's land where everything suffers, not a sea-change, but "a change into light, into gaiety:" where "birds sing, the sheep are garlanded, the air rings with melody and human beings dance towards each other on the tips of their toes possessed of an exquisite friendliness, sympathy and delight". For though the garlands and the birds are there, we see them in the dim light that is shaded from the psychiatrist's couch. On it lies Feste. And what Mr. Hall has shown us may be the sweet and bitter memories of Feste's ailing world which once was young.

Robert Speaight (review date Autumn 1960)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. XI, No. 4, Autumn, 1960, pp. 449-51.

Twelfth Night was the first of the productions that I saw this year, and on it I began to form the general impressions that I am recording here. I had seen the production two years ago, when it left me divided between delight and dissatisfaction. Mr. Hall, as it seemed to me, had started off with a good idea and had then gone some way to spoil it. All those cavaliers grouped around Orsino in a panelled hall straight out of Nash's English Mansions—this announced a Twelfth Night very much to my taste. And it is still a lovely thing to look upon, thanks in great part to Miss de Nobili's designs—a rich symphony in russet. But Mr. Hall, as usual, had plenty of surprises up his sleeve. The first was Miss Tutin. Not that one ever imagined she would be anything but an exquisite Viola, but the seasoned playgoer was hardly prepared for her entrance. Violas usually enter in a voluminous maternity gown from Dior, concealing the immaculate doublet and hose in which they will appear five minutes later, and a graceful hood protecting an unruffled wig. Miss Tutin went to the astonishing length of wearing two wigs, one of which showed distinct signs of having been touched by salt water. And instead of landing in Illyria like a leading lady, she actually clambered ashore as if she were in some doubt as to whether she would ever get there.

Just as Nash's panelling had easily given way to the cloud-capped towers of a transitory Adriatic, so these quickly dissolved into an English garden; and there was Mr. Wy-mark enjoying an obviously continental breakfast. The scene is always difficult to get under weigh, and Toby needs his cue. He gets it here from the chaplain to Olivia's household processing through the garden, followed by two dévotes, and singing the "Gloria in excelsis". Now it is highly probable that Olivia had ordered a Mass for her brother's soul that morning; but if so, she would certainly have attended it hereself. And it is inconceivable that the chaplain would have emerged from it singing the Gloria which is carefully excluded from the Liturgy for the Dead. If Mr. Hall had got hold of the right end of his bright idea, he would first of all have given Olivia her place in the procession, and then he would have set them all chanting the "De Profundis", antiphonally, as they walked back to the house and to a breakfast even more continental than Sir Toby's.

If Olivia had been to Mass that morning, Sir Toby would just as certainly have not, and Mr. Wymark got things moving briskly in the contrary direction, reminding us that however thickly the late September mists might be gathering, ginger would be hot i' the mouth before the night was over. And it was in the second garden scene that Mr. Hall sprang his next surprises. Mr. Adrian's Feste had drawn his pathos from a canvas by Georges Rouault. Here was the saddest but one of Shakespeare's clowns nursing the secret of an insoluble melancholy. I wondered if Mr. Adrian had found the clue to Feste where I have always found it—in his remark to Viola that he lives "by the church" [III. i. 3]. In other words, Feste is neither of Olivia's world, nor of Orsino's. He drifts from one to the other, inhabiting a world wholly of his own. In the end he is left to sing his melancholy envoi, casting a shadow behind him on to a distant and elegant pavane, and perhaps a slight doubt as to whether Miss Turin's Viola will ever settle down in Illyria. I thought Mr. Adrian might have made his point with a little more speed and a shade lighter emphasis, but his performance was one of exceptional originality and power.

The second surprise was Miss Bennett's Olivia. Here, once again, I felt that Mr. Hall was letting a good idea run away with him. I understood what he was aiming at—to inject melancholy into the comic scenes and comedy into the serious ones. I also realize what he was reacting against—the stately contraltos whom a sudden bereavement has distracted from the organization of the Hunt Ball. Miss Bennett would have been incapable of opening a Flower Show, and that, as they say, was the point of the operation. But Olivia should be the competent mistress of a great household; a serious young woman capable of great silliness—or, if you prefer, a silly young woman capable of sudden seriousness. What we were shown was a silly young woman incapable of any seriousness whatever. And this makes nonsense of Viola's impact on her fantasy. It is right that she should appear younger than Viola, but to play her persistently for comic effect is to rob the "roses of the spring" of all their perfume—and I cannot believe that this was Shakespeare's intention. In here casting passion with sentiment to the wings, Mr. Hall came near to cutting out the heart of his play.

That it still continued to beat was largely due to Miss Tutin. She steered her way to Orsino's bosom, a creature not altogether of his element even when her gaze was anchored on him. The recognition of Sebastian was beautifully managed—no stage can ever be wide enough for that miraculous coming together. And, for once, Mr. Ian Holm provided a plausible twin. Mr. Porter, playing a less stiff Malvolio than usual, gave us a genuinely human being; he won our sympathy by not asking for it. Mr. Allen was a splendid Antonio. Rarely can this short but significant part have been adorned with such an appropriate panache. And Mr. Godfrey's Orsino, as so often happens, came into its own in the last act.

The minor tactics of the production were full of good things; Sebastian and Viola nearly meeting in the street, and the chaplain's tactful and embarrassed aversion of the head while Sebastian and Olivia are exchanging their first kiss, and Malvolio's exit from the drinking scene. So, in the end, they all go their separate ways—Antonio to refit his galleys in Cork or Limerick, and Feste to vanish into an eccentric solitude. It is the measure of Shakespeare's genius that however neatly his plays are rounded off, his characters live on to perplex our questioning. This is increasingly true as he approaches the meridian of his achievement; and it was the merit of Mr. Hall's production that he allowed one or two of the shadows to gather here.…

T. C. Worsley (review date 20 December 1960)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Financial Times, December 20, 1960, p. 15.

For the Christmas season (up only until February 1) the Stratford Company bring into the Aldwych the Twelfth Night from the 1958 and 1960 seasons. The production is one of Mr. Peter Hall's, and, in my view, one of his best. But it flouts some of the traditions, and has to pay the penalty of being disliked by the Old Guard, not all of whom it may be found are very old.

It is a Caroline Twelfth Night, and this works very well for the "breeches parts." Miss Dorothy Tutin, who has now learned to speak beautifully, makes a thoroughly convincing Caroline page boy. Then, Miss Lila de Nobili had produced a lyrical décor, but it glows with autumnal browns and golds and greens, and the tradition stresses that this is a spring-like comedy.

These, however, are only minor counts against Mr. Hall. The major one is that he has allowed a spirit of gentle guying to pervade a comedy which is commonly taken very seriously indeed. Traditionally Twelfth Night is sharply divided into two moods. An intensely serious poetic mood in the love passages (The Orsino-Olivia sections) interposed with low comedy scenes from Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and the rest, with Malvolio left somewhere in the middle.

The disadvantage of this traditional handling is that the two parts never come together and that none of the disguise scenes ever quite makes convincing sense. Mr. Hall's solution is not to take the lovers half so seriously at one end of the comedy fine and to cut down on the buffoonery at the other. And, for me, it works admirably. There is a cohesion in the performance now that is not often there.


The treatment is shown at either end of the extreme by the handling of Olivia and Sir Andrew Aguecheek respectively. Miss Geraldine McEwan's Olivia is pert, gay and sly. She is very far from the usual sloppy love-lorn drooper. She is agile-witted and alert for laughs. Unlike the traditional character she is in fact the kind of person whom we can readily believe would instantly swap a Sebastian for a Caesario. I might allow the criticism that Miss McEwan sometimes plays it a little too pert. But the conception seems to mean interesting solution of difficulties which the Old Guard often shut their eyes to.

At the other end of the scale, Mr. Richard Johnson, makes Sir Andrew Aguecheek a figure of pathos as well as a figure of fun. Every now and then there are flashes when this ridiculous poop suddenly realises what a ridiculous poop he is, and we get a laugh on the other side of our faces.

The pathos is to be found among the clowns (in Mr. Max Adrian's highly intelligent superbly articulated Feste, too): and comedy is discovered among the lovers: for Mr. Hall is surely right in reminding us that Orsino's form of hopeless love is not "serious" at all: it is the acting out of a period convention. He is right to mock it gently: and by doing so he produces in the whole play a tone into which the absurdities of the plot fit congruously, and he unifies the different elements.

Needless to say these minutiae of criticism, important though they in fact are, will not affect an average audience. They, blissfully unaware of traditions broken and sacred principles violated, will enjoy this Twelfth Night immensely. It is beautiful to look at, it is gay, it is swift. Mr. Eric Porter repeats his excellent Malvolio and Mr. Patrick Wymark his excellent Sir Toby. Miss Patsy Byrne comes in to bring great high spirits to Maria.

Peter Hall (essay date 1966)

SOURCE: "Twelfth Night," in Introductions to Shakespeare: Being the Introductions to the Individual Plays in the Folio Society Edition, 1950-76, edited by Charles Ede, Michael Joseph, 1978, pp. 136-42.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1966, Hall describes his handling of Twelfth Night on the stage, commenting that it is "impossible to cut a word" of the play.]

It is impossible to cut a word of Twelfth Night. Even its obscure jokes are brought alive by the exuberant rhythm of the scenes. It belongs to that small group of Shakespeare's plays (Macbeth and the Dream are others) that are sinewy and compact. They have no excess fat. Twelfth Night is complex, ambiguous, and heartbreakingly funny. It is the masterwork among the comedies.

It was written in 1600—or so we think—the date is only important in understanding its place in the canon. Its mood is ripe and rich. It springs from a heart now fully capable of compassion—an emotion which is rare in the earlier works. Twelfth Night has a view of men which is objective and realistic. But it can be terrible in its honesty because it is so understanding—just like Shakespeare's presentation of that uncontrollable Vice-figure, Falstaff.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, and the national epic of the histories are in the past. We are moving into maturity; the great tragedies, the romances, and those plays of such ambiguity (Measure for Measure, All's Well, and Troilus and Cressida) that scholars have always found them 'Problems'. A bitterness of spirit is about to inflame the rest of Shakespeare's work.

Twelfth Night is significant as a transitional play, and there is something of this bitterness in its comedy. But the comedy is rich, because there is darkness and disturbance. The comedy is defined by tragedy, the folly and the illusions by sincerity, the joy by anguish.

The play deals with the theme common to all Shakespeare's comedies: the journey by means of experience to maturity—a maturity which it is necessary to crown by a marriage. Twelfth Night is a critique of illusions. A very young countess (Olivia), who is more in love with grief than with the true memory of her dead brother, is courted by a duke (Orsino) who is more in love with the idea of love than with the countess. Both of them have emotions which are modish and self-regarding. Their lives are invaded by a young girl (Viola), a realist who is in love with life, and has been freshly rescued from the sea and from the true anguish which she feels for the loss of her brother. Her presence when she becomes an illusion herself, a girl disguised as a boy, forces Olivia and Orsino, and all the self-deceivers who surround them into an understanding of reality. By the end of the play the deceivers have all suffered retribution for their faults. They are then capable of maturity.

This is the main and comic action of the play. It is set in a never-never land suited to such heady illusions, Illyria; a place, whatever its actual geography, that is a complete country of Shakespeare's imagination. It has music and flowers, buttery-bars, ancient monuments, box-trees, a very London puritan, Elizabethan court-jokes, and an abundance of cakes and ale. It has a relaxed climate in which sharp practice can easily disguise itself as friendship, and hypocrisy can masquerade as idealism. And it is all lapped by the sea, that image of opposites that haunted Shakespeare throughout his life. Tempest and sudden death are countered by calm seas, miraculous salvation and regeneration.

All Shakespeare's thinking, whether religious, political or moral, is based on his concept of Order. There is a just proportion, a necessary balance, in all things; Man above Beast, King above Man, God above King. It is the job of existence to seek out this order and abide by it. Revolution, whether in the family, the State or the heavens, breathes disorder and ultimate anarchy. Sometimes this chaos may be necessary, as the fever of rebellion is the way to health for the sick state, or as the young must repudiate their parents to reach maturity. But the action is still wrong, and some retribution will follow any act of disorder. Bolingbroke has to depose Richard II to weed the garden of England, but he and his family will suffer for the action.

For it is wrong to depose a king; just as it is wrong for the heart to rule the head, or for extremes in anything to be victorious. Balance is the only sure basis of life. Cakes and ale are just as dangerous in excess as the intolerant zeal of a high puritan.

It follows, then, that Man must govern himself as precisely as an army or a state, and strive for the just balance of opposites, the mean:

Take but degree away, untune that string,
And hark what discord follows.
[Troilus and Cressida, I.iii. 109-10]

All the characters of Twelfth Night save Viola are creatures of excess, agents of disorder. Orsino is in love with love, Olivia is in love with grief, and Sir Toby is overdrinking, behaving merrily below-stairs, and gulling a fool of his money. Sir Andrew is blinded by pretension, and Malvolio by egotism and hypocrisy. Even the cryptic Feste is self-indulgent in his bitterness and his melancholy. Sebastian is unwittingly churlish to the man who loves him and does not know how to express it. And we feel some criticism of Antonio because of the secrecy of his private and public life. Fabian and Maria lack tact; they behave out of their station and are thus disorderly.

All the main characters are treated critically, even Viola herself, overzealous to disguise herself as a man, suffers from the reality. But none of the critical spirit kills the joy of the comedy. It is for the audience to enjoy and then judge. For these characters are rich and complex. They are not simple Jonsonian humours.

I have space only to talk of one character in depth. I pick what is to me the most important character in the play—Feste. He is a deliberate enigma, poised uneasily between the two worlds of the court and the great house:

A fool that my Lady Olivia's father took much delight in.

[II. iv. 12]

He is bitter, insecure, singing the old half-forgotten songs to the Duke (for nostalgia is predictably the Duke's favou-rite musical companion), his jokes now tarnished and not very successful. He is the creation of a professional entertainer, and we may perhaps remotely relate him to John Osborne's Archie Rice, or to that fearful misanthropy which overtakes most comics when they begin to despise their audience. He is suffered by all, and liked by few. He is the most perceptive and formidable character in the play. Viola brings reality to the play by her instinct, but Feste could often do it if he wished by his shrewdness. I believe he penetrates Viola's disguise:

Now Jove, in his next commodity of hair, send thee a beard!

[III. i. 49]

He is left alone at the end of the play singing bitterly, and more obscenely than most people realize, about the transient nature of life.

And he is the main character of the play's most extraordinary scene. He is a strange kind of fool, when disguised as Sir Topas he cruelly tortures the imprisoned Malvolio. He is very perceptive about Orsino, and offers a penetrating judgement:

Now the melancholy god protect thee, and the tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, For thy mind is a very opal.

[II. iv. 74-5]

Feste is the critical centre of the play, the Thersites, the Jacques without eloquence, the malcontent, the man who sees all and says little, the cynic. It takes an idealist to be such a cynic.

I would like now to speculate. It is known that many of the professional fools were, in fact, defrocked priests. If the poor boy who was educated up to be a cleric failed to get a benefice, or if his reason or his morals dragged him away from the true faith, there was not much open to this medieval outsider except professional foolery. The education, the mental agility, and the Latin tags could all find a professional use. The destructive resentment of the failure could help his professional personality. Such a hypothesis is impossible to prove, but it is certainly a useful background to the actor playing Feste. It leads him without difficulty to the malice of Sir Topas's scene. Men are very bitter about the professions that fail them.

Only one of the other characters of the play, in my opinion, lacks three dimensions, and the life-enhancing inconsistency with which Shakespeare regularly surprises us. This is Malvolio—after Viola, the most famous character in the play. I find the character drawn from the outside and slightly caricatured. The plot makes it appear a great part—or at least offers an actor of genius the opportunity of making it flesh. But it is two-dimensional. Shakespeare's professional enemies were plagues and puritans. Perhaps he could not be objective; perhaps his hatred was too intense.

The structure of Twelfth Night repays careful study. There is no play with a surer exposition. In forty lines we meet the Duke, learn of his frustrated love for Olivia, and savour his court of music and flowers. His opening speech is justly one of the famous lyrics of our language. But when it is spoken by Orsino, the love-sick character in action, it is ironic because it is so beautiful. This capricious man ('Enough. No more! Tis not so sweet now as it was before'), with his indulgent love of fancy, is hardly fit to rule a state when he cannot rule himself. The excessive beauty of this first scene reveals all.

There is, in fact, very little that is purely lyrical in dramatic Shakespeare. Henry VI's pathetic yearnings to be a shepherd on the battlefield, or Oberon's lustful and malicious 'I know a bank', are critical of the characters who utter them.

In the second scene of Twelfth Night, the storm delivers a grieving and sincere Viola to this country of false love. But she has courage, and springs quickly to new life. She resolves on disguise—as a man. Then, with the tempo of the play still racing, we meet the sunshine comedy of Sir Toby and the foolish Sir Andrew (a contrast to the stormy sea coast). The tone is reckless, dangerously irresponsible.

One scene with Viola in the court hoist with her own disguise—

Yet a barful strife!
Who e'er I woo, myself would be his wife,
                                  [I. iv. 41-2]

and we are back in Olivia's house meeting the strange clown, Feste, the superior Malvolio with his promise of a comic fall to come and Olivia herself.

The comic exposition is now complete. Shakespeare has dealt himself a perfect hand for misunderstanding and complication. We expect the arrival of Viola's twin brother, and a pattern of misunderstanding, just as we expect the pretensions of these comic characters to be exposed.

Let us also look at the last scene, where predictably all the follies come home to roost, and all the misunderstandings are cleared up. Everything can then end in the fullness of marriage, and only Feste is left outside with his bitter song.

Shakespeare relishes denouements. His last scenes in which order is restored have the counterpoint and balance of music. In Cymbeline, indeed, he permits himself the delights of some two score discoveries. This is no incompetence. Information is withheld and arranged so that the dance can go on as long as possible.

The most beautiful thing in the last scene of Twelfth Night is the twin recognition of Viola and Sebastian. Each knows that the other is truly their nearest and dearest, yet their joy is deliberately prolonged while they confirm to each other what each already knows.

This is the lyrical heart of the scene, and around it is woven a comic pattern of discovery and retribution until all is known:

and golden time convents,
A solemn combination shall be made
Of our dear souls …
                       [V. i. 382-84]

The imagery of Twelfth Night is as rich as its humanity. It is drawn from music, from the appetites (their yearnings and their uneasy surfeits), and, of course, from the inevitable image of human love, 'the worm i' the bud'. The imagery is sensual but transitory. The predominant image is that of the sea. It is an image of life and love, ranging from 'capacity receiveth as the sea' through the colloquialisms of 'board her', 'hoist sail', the prose precision of 'determinate voyage is mere extravagancy' and finally to the joy of 'share in this most happy wreck'.

The play is deliberately and delightfully erotic. We must remind ourselves that the original Viola and Olivia were boys, and that Shakespeare conceived his play in these terms. The pattern is then as follows: a boy playing a girl disguised as a boy is sent on a mission of love to a boy playing a girl, when his real emotions must be centred on playing a girl who is in love with Orsino. The second boy-girl then falls in love with the boy-girl-boy. Aphrodite can ask for no richer situation. Shakespeare had explored the possibilities of such a situation in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, but here he uses it to the full. It is hard on a modern actress to find this deliberate ambivalence.

The play bored Samuel Pepys, but in spite of this has held the stage successfully ever since. There are three dangerous traditions of the stage. Malvolio is by custom played by the leading actor. But the star in this role cannot help playing for sympathy, and even if he wishes to avoid it his public will insist upon giving it. A sympathetic Malvolio raises questions which should never be asked. We must still laugh at his final exit. The play only works if a brilliant actor can play the part in order to be completely detested, laughed at, and finally understood.

Olivia is generally played too old: doubtless a tradition which comes from the stock companies where the part belonged by right to the character lady who also played Gertrude. Twelfth Night is a play of youth and Olivia must be much younger in wisdom and experience than Viola.

The other dangerous stage tradition prevents us from clearly seeing Sir Andrew Aguecheek. He is always played as an effeminate. The text would rather indicate the opposite. He is a man with manure on his boots rather than ribbons in his hair. He is an unattractive, pretentious knight from the country—a man of money who loves dogs and hunting and who yearns to make a good match, though he is too much of a coward to try. Elizabethan literature is full of such empty roaring boys, such gentlemen bumpkins.

But the stage has not dealt badly with the play, and assuredly the play has always brought joy to the theatres. If the comedy is kept true to character and the lyrical emotions are expressed clearly and musically, but with no false resonance or oversentiment (unless the character positively demands it), then the miracle will always work. The period of the play should not be specific. But in Shakespeare's Illyria you must not think it strange to meet Sea Captains and Puritans, Counts, Priests, Fools, Country Parsons and English aristocrats.

These ideas of mine cannot pretend to be original, I write this short essay from a study of the play over more than twenty years, and the happy experience of three stage productions. I cannot honestly remember whether the ideas I have expressed are my own or somebody else's. But I do know they have stood the test of experience. To those that I have pillaged, I therefore offer my apologies and thanks.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


Clifford Williams • RSC • 1966


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


Williams's 1966 revival dispensed with a serious approach to Twelfth Night, "presenting it," wrote the critic for The Times, "as a hard-edged almost Italianate comedy firmly steeled against pathos and poetry." For this very reason, most critics responded without enthusiasm to the production. Hilary Spurling maintained that the set design, which evoked the Italian High Renaissance, lacked the fanciful quality typically associated with Shakespeare's Illyria. Additionally, most critics felt the performances to have been unmemorable. J. C. Trewin asserted that "Mr. Williams has been at pains … to mock the affectation of Orsino (Alan Howard) and of Olivia (Estelle Kohler), the first a near-burlesque of romantic passion, the second a mere kitten." Jeremy Kingston, however, praised the strong performances of Diana Rigg as Viola and Ian Holm as Malvolio, hailing them as the "chief pleasures of the evening." For the critic of The Times, Rigg's Viola was a "delicious" fusion of "comic embarrassment and vulnerable feminity." Holm played Malvolio as a petty and irascible bureaucrat "swelling," in the words of J. C. Trewin, "with bullfrog fury, obsequious to his betters, a bully to his inferiors, and drilling the language until it must shriek for mercy." Despite wishing for a tenderer Twelfth Night, Robert Speaight concluded that "it would be priggish not to admit that this production was enormously diverting, even if now and then it won its laughs at rather too high a price."


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


The Times (review date 17 June 1966)

SOURCE: "Twelfth Night without Pathos," in The Times, London, June 17, 1966, p. 8.

Clifford Williams, who directed the Royal Shakespeare's vastly successful Comedy of Errors has now tackled Twelfth Night on similar lines, presenting it as a hard-edged almost Italianate comedy firmly steeled against pathos and poetry.

This may seem a perverse style to adopt for one of the most musical of the comedies, but at least it is carried through consistently. Sally Jacobs's set establishes the tone exactly: a simple facade of four up-stage arches, and, above them, a musicians' gallery whose occupants behave more like a town band than a courtly ensemble. This is no atmosphere for voluptuous fancy; and, sure enough, Orsino (Alan Howard) enters the first scene at a run and conducts his campaign against Olivia's affections more in a military than romantic spirit.

As a whole, the production is distinguished by its cleanness of line. For major changes in situation, such as Olivia's declaration to Cesario and the final reunion, the stage is cleared to allow maximum freedom of movement and concentration on the essentials. There is no superfluous business (the drinking scene, for instance, is hardly given a chance to get under way): but what there is has strong dramatic point. Viola's duel is an excellently elaborated set piece (with Aguecheek going down, convinced he has been killed), and another well imagined stroke comes in the dungeon scene when Feste addresses his lines to a puppet fitted over Malvolio's hand through the bars.

There are no outstanding performances, though Diana Rigg, returning to base after her television spree is a delicious Viola: she alone brings some music into the production, and sheds the armour of Emma Peel to display her old gifts of comic embarrassment and vulnerable femininity.

Ian Holm's Malvolio, made up to resemble the Droeshout Shakespeare, cultivates a complex mongrel accent—with a top-dressing of eccentric gentility and a basis of raw bullying cockney—that also has unmistakable echoes of Olivier. His, nevertheless, is the strongest male performance.

Brewster Mason's Sir Toby and David Warner's Ague-cheek do little more than go through the accepted motions of the parts; and Norman Rodway's Feste, in the anti-poetic context, is out in the cold. There is an unusual and persuasive Olivia by Estelle Kohler; not, this time; a gracious lady, but a vain and conquettish girl recently released from male protection and briefly favouring the novelty of power before submitting once again to male authority.

Hilary Spurling (review date 24 June 1966)

SOURCE: "Another Playwright Misunderstood," in The Spectator, Vol. 218, No. 7200, June 24, 1966, pp. 789-90.

Columns are to architecture what melody is to music,' says Stendhal somewhere on his travels through Italy, and would have been pleased with both in the first minutes of Twelfth Night at Stratford: Orsino stands before a row of slender columns, listening in an attitude of conscious ecstasy—a rose in one outstretched hand, one foot poised on a stool in the centre of an empty, polished marble floor—to 'That strain again; it had a dying fall.' Orsino is a prince of the Renaissance; and Clifford Williams's production is built round that assumption, which is perhaps why it has been received with such a notable lack of enthusiasm. The chief complaint seems to be that it lacks 'poetry and pathos'; the answer is that this is not our kind of poetry, nor our kind of pathos.

Part of the trouble is no doubt a sentimental disappointment. There is nothing fanciful about this particular Illyria: that severe colonnade, that gleaming floor, the tall, slim, sallow-featured gentlemen of Orsino's court, all belong specifically to the Italian High Renaissance. Even the lighting, by John Bradley, recalls the soft, powdery light of quattrocento Tuscan painters, and Sally Jacobs has used their warm reds and browns, with an odd splash of peacock blue or a painted orange tree, for her sets and costumes. And Alan Howard's delivery of the famous first speech—dealing out the syllables as Beerbohm would have said—shows a Renaissance delight in luxury and artifice. Also more than a hint, in his glistening eyes and sensuous lips, of Renaissance barbarity—'my desires, like fell and cruel hounds, E'er since pursue me.'

Twelfth Night down the ages has acquired a misleading reputation as an elegant and amiable piece of nonsense, 'never straying into lewdness, as Quiller-Couch has it, a romp in short and wishy-washy to boot. It is an impression this production should go far to counteract. The play was, after all, as Dr Hotson argues, very likely first performed on January 6, 1601, before Queen Elizabeth and in honour of the real Duke Orsino—who, as a child of four, had watched Webster's hideous tragedy of The White Devil acted out in real life; who was son to Brachiano and his murdered duchess, stepson of the White Devil herself; and who was passing through London on his way home to the Pitti Palace in Florence after accompanying Maria de'Medici on her bridal journey into France. At all events, Twelfth Night was written for a magnificent and a savage age. One is apt to forget that it ends with bloody coxcombs and broken heads and a surgeon blind drunk at eight in the morning; that of the two sea-captains who happen to land in Illyria, one is swiftly imprisoned and the other goes in well-justified fear of his life; also that strange, prophetic passage near the end of the play, when Orsino's 'thoughts are ripe in mischief and, like Othello and in much the same words, he threatens to kill the thing he loves. Viola's reply is not Desdemona's but it is given in the same spirit: 'most jocund, apt and willingly's she accepts death at her lover's hands.

The difference is, of course, that Orsino is only playing at jealousy, as he has played all along at love. It is not even clear whether it is Olivia or Viola he means to kill. But, throughout, their triangular relationship—delicately brought out, on two sides at least, in this production—is the central ambiguity of this strangely ambiguous play. An aura of desire, narrowly and deliciously averted, hangs over all the scenes between Orsino and his 'dear lad,' Viola/Cesario. At one point, as his page, she undresses him, draws off his gloves, takes his hat and cloak, half-caressing, half-shrinking from the touch. For both, pleasure and pain are intensified by the ràle she plays as go-between in his formal courtship of Olivia.

The cruelty latent in Orsino is blatant in Brewster Mason's Toby—none of your tedious, potbellied knights, this Sir Toby is a dangerous smooth man, much given to cocking one booted thigh across the other as he lounges in his large armchair. Jolly he may be, but there is nothing innocent in his jollity. If Sir Toby says it is the moneybags he wants from Aguecheek, Mr Mason makes it plain it is, in fact, the exercise of power. Drink with him is a prelude to a peculiarly subtle form of baiting, in which Sir Andrew is his victim and Feste both audience and partner.

Norman Rodway is a white-haired Fool, still agile but with a suspicion of stiffness in the joints; he gives the impression that the wind and the rain can't hold off for long. The favourite device, in their mutual pastime of twitting Sir Andrew, is, of course, the innuendo. It is perfectly possible to miss much in this play, but, faced with this Feste, even the most gullible would be hard put to it to share 'Q's' faith that he is 'the cleanest-mouthed' of Shakespeare's fools. In what strikes me as a distinctly Hotsonian production, Mr Rodway and his bauble have found double meanings where even Dr Hotson saw none. They fly to and fro above the head of David Warner's Sir Andrew—an anxious beanpole, following with dog-like eyes the shafts he can't follow with his mind. It is not for nothing that Sir Toby chooses to go through life under the sign 'legs and thighs.'

Not that this production is either goatish or brutal. But precisely because these two elements are present—and the three performances, Orsino, Toby, Feste, do more than anything else to set the tone—other, simpler charms come up brighter, like colours in a newly-restored picture. Chief of these is Diana Rigg's Viola, an exquisite performance which justifies all the compliments paid her within the play. 'Dian's lip is not more smooth and rubious' indeed. Shakespeare was, so far as can be guessed, thirty-seven when he wrote Twelfth Night, last of his comedies before the great tragedies. Mr Williams's production—and here the comparison which has been so freely bandied about, with the same director's Comedy of Errors, is meaningless; an obvious parallel is Peter Wood's sour and sweet Love for Love at the National Theatre—gives above all the Proustian impression, of looking back across time at the sweetness and self-deceptions of youth, equivocal, evanescent and all the more piercing for being beyond recall.

'I am not what I am,' says Viola. But nothing that is, is (to reverse what the old hermit of Prague so wittily said to a niece of King Gorboduc), and they are none of them what they think they are—save only Sir Andrew who promptly and proudly recognises himself in Malvolio's description: 'I knew 'twas I, for many do call me fool.' Anyone who, seeing this production, can still think Twelfth Night a simple play might do worse than try Sir Andrew's cap to see if it fits.

I have no room for the remaining trio—Olivia, Maria, Malvolio. Ian Holm's Malvolio, an amazing performance, has been done justice elsewhere; Patsy Byrne is more of a Mopsa or a Dorcas than a Maria, but she has a pleasant line in hearty laughter; Estelle Kohler's Olivia is unfortunate, a boisterous, pushing schoolgirl—a born games captain in fact—disastrously out of her depths among this collection of wry sophisticates.

J. C. Trewin (review date 25 June 1966)

SOURCE: "Cakes, Ale and Soup," in The Illustrated London News, Vol 248, No. 6621, June 25, 1966, p. 36.

I used, in the primeval years, to attend a parish council meeting with a member who was so like Ian Holm's Malvolio that when this actor appeared in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Twelfth Night at Stratford-upon-Avon, I expected him to make an impassioned speech about footpaths. The aspect was similar: the same baldness with the straggling lock, the same smudge of moustache, the odd comic resemblance—as of a very distant cousin—to the Shakespeare portrait.

Most of all, the likeness to my lost parish councillor was vocal. When Malvolio ballooned the ends of his sentences, pinched his vowels, barked suddenly like a choleric sergeant-major, or pressed the Letter speech through the mangle of his idiosyncratic pronunciation, I suddenly heard again those forgotten debates in which a village senate would send defiant resolutions to the Rural District Council. The resolutions never did any good, but at least they let off a good deal of steam.…

Malvolio, in this production by Clifford Williams, blows off steam furiously. He is a small man who, like some other small men, is resolved to be seen and heard: he goes through life, as it were, on tiptoe, snarling officiously when anyone larger impedes him. How he has trampled a path towards his current post, as Olivia's steward, nobody can really suggest. But there he is, always present, swelling with bullfrog fury, obsequious to his betters, a bully to his inferiors, and drilling the language until it must shriek for mercy. We do not sympathise with him, as we have to with some Malvolios: there is no room for regret even when, constricted by his cross-gartering, he moves before Olivia like a goose-stepping robot. And I cannot say that I felt strongly for him at the première when, having cried "I'll be revenged upon the whole pack of you," he plunged away in the Illyrian sunlight, one shoe on the other off, in a kind of urgent shamble. What the man's revenge will be, I have no idea. Possibly, red with rage, he will propose a devastating motion in some dim conclave or other, strutting stiffly to the front of the platform, every vowel and consonant jangling.

It is a comfort to think of this dire fellow because he is among the pleasures in a Twelfth Night that never gets very far. Visually, it has a certain elegance. The stage looks well, an uncluttered acting space with its musicians' gallery and its imaginative lighting. Besides Malvolio, the revival has Diana Rigg (back from television) as Viola, an actress who is loving, spirited, and true, even if she lacks the wistfulness of Jean Forbes-Robertson that must stay forever in the mind.

This said, little of the other acting will remain permanently burnished. Mr Williams has been at pains, I think, to mock the affectation of Orsino (Alan Howard) and of Olivia (Estelle Kohler), the first a near-burlesque of romantic passion, the second a mere kitten. Neither performance really works for me; and I cannot report that the Illyrian humorists are overwhelming in their sport royal. Sir Toby (Brewster Mason) and Maria (Patsy Byrne) are, for once, of the right Shakespearean rank—it is a relief to get away from the housemaid-Marias—but they are not particularly funny, in spite of Mr Mason's bright eye and Miss Byrne's contagiously shrilling laugh. David Warner's Sir Andrew is meagrely commonplace, except in the duel, when he and Miss Rigg seem to do everything but swallow their swords, and the musicians above look on with enthusiasm.

Though any collector of Twelfth Nights must cheer a new revival, I do wish that this one had more for the record book. It is not enough just to see Toby scribbling in haste a postscript to the letter from the Fortunate-Unhappy, or Andrew growling his way out to write the challenge to Viola. The speaking, generally, is mediocre. Possibly the night's most fruitful notion is the use of the musicians who are always there to observe the play and to aid its progress when needed.

Jeremy Kingston (review date 29 June 1966)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Punch, Vol. 250, No. 6564, June 29, 1966, p. 961.

Clifford Williams directed a joyous Comedy of Errors a few years back and more recently extracted much hilarity from Marlowe's Jew of Malta. His Twelfth Night (Stratford-upon-Avon), altogether a trickier play, comes across as an uneven, rather lolloping affair. Excellently inventive at times—even making fresh sense of some obscure Shakespeare allusions—too many scenes give an impression of under-rehearsal. It was as if we were watching a run-through a week before opening night at the end of which the director would hop on to the stage with a file of notes and advise the cast where to give what bits the extra fillip. Perhaps in a week or two the fillips and the finish will be there.

Sally Jacobs' setting is a courtyard bounded by a line of high arches with a minstrels' gallery above. This leaves a large, generally bare acting area which the drawing of tapestries or the introduction of bushes or statues transforms into an inner room, garden or public square. So far, so sensible. Oddities of the production are an excessively languid Orsino and a far from proud Olivia (Estelle Kohler), coy, actively coquettish from the start, who literally flings herself at Viola/Cesario. I didn't care for the intention behind either of these interpretations. Brewster Mason's Sir Toby is a rounded performance but in a more restrained and thoughtful, more courtly vein than is customary. (Since he is Olivia's uncle, incidentally, there must be a fifty-fifty chance that her surname is Belch too, I suppose.)

The chief pleasures of the evening are provided by Diana Rigg's Viola and Ian Holm's Malvolio. Returning to the stage after her Emma Peel activities, Miss Rigg is persuasively shy and sweet and touchingly disarming in her direct addresses to the audience. Ian Holm is made up with bald dome and wispy whiskers to look like the Shakespeare head in the current "Heads of Fame" series on a well-known breakfast cereal packet. His strangled vowels and sharp barks of command are those of a diminutive sergeant-major who will always be passed over for RSM. I can't remember a Malvolio so short in stature—there is some comic byplay between him and David Warner's lofty Sir Andrew—and Mr. Holm's interpretation of the part as a man embittered by his lack of inches as much as by his lack of breeding is convincing as well as new. His resentment of festivity and heartiness is the envy of a wouldbe athlete too puny to jump over the horse, too unsure of his calf muscles to turn a cartwheel.

Hugh Leonard (review date August 1966)

SOURCE: "All Styles Go," in Plays and Players, Vol. 13, No. 11, August, 1966, pp. 16-17.

An heroic Sir Toby, a grimly disenchanted Feste, a Snudge-like Malvolio, and a Viola who strides boyfully around Illyria with the bemusement of a twentieth-century Alice in a medieval rabbit warren: these are the ingredients of Clifford Williams' new production of Twelfth Night at Stratford-upon-Avon. Shakespeare's alternative title for Twelfth Night was What You Will: which Mr Williams has evidently taken as a message personally intended for himself. It is not that he mixes his styles—at least not any more than Shakespeare did in inventing a fairyland with back-streets: what he has done is not to elect for any style in particular … certainly insofar as ensemble acting is concerned. An ill-assorted bunch of fools, decadents, swingers, melancholies, time-servers and transvestites is dropped into the deep end to sink or swim in defiance not only of dramatic unity but of the guiding principles of the Royal Shakespeare Company. The immorality of it all is that the mixture succeeds. Apart from the very occasional dull patch, the evening is an enchantment.

Illyria is England as seen through the eyes of a happy drunkard: or, rather, two drunkards—one above stairs, the other in the kitchen. (Despite the stage instruction which reads 'A room in Olivia's house', I have always imagined the Belch-Aguecheek-Maria scenes as happening deep in the sunless bowels of the house, under beamed ceilings and with the firelight glinting on pewter; everything here should be as darkly brown as ale.) Sally Jacobs' setting was most unEnglish: a coolly austere row of Roman arches which combined the merits of elegance and utility, and—more important—acted as a drawstring, so that the wildly incompatible elements of the play were united in a kind of shotgun marriage. The only real incongruity was that the musicians, although delightfully placed on what looked like the upper level of the aqueduct at Tarragona, found themselves pressed into service as the town band, given to playing in all the local stately homes in their spare time. No ale-brown corners here; but the set, if not atmospheric, was one of the things that saved Mr Williams' Bacon.

There were some magnificent touches: Sir Andrew's ecstatic dance, for example, which ended when he discovered that he was somehow partnering the enraged Malvolio. And when Maria says of Malvolio: '… he will come to her in yellow stockings, and 'tis a colour she abhors', everyone looked sorrowfully at Aguecheek, who at that moment realised that he had been fruitlessly wooing Olivia while dressed from head to foot in vilest yellow. Somehow, most of the innovations seemed to concern Sir Andrew, who was beautifully played by David Warner as a sheep that had been overlooked at slaughter-time. It is impossible to assess Mr Warner's performance without considering Brewster Mason's Sir Toby and Patsy Byrne's Maria. Mr Mason unaccountably chose to play Sir Toby as a nobleman first and a drunkard second. The fact is that, as suggested by his name, Belch is a malicious old swine, as illiterate as most of the nobility were in Shakespeare's day and for long afterwards. Mr Mason plays him like Sir Francis Drake between voyages … far too knightly and too British to provide any sort of comic contrast with Mr Warner's visiting Englishman. And Miss Byrne's Maria was over-familiar: we seem to have seen this performance from Miss Byrne before: and perhaps it is time for the RSC to start casting her against type. In the low-comedy scenes it was left to Mr Williams' inventiveness, to Mr Warner and to Ian Holm's Malvolio to get the laughs.

Mr Holm—whether revealed mercilessly in hair-curlers, paralysed by vicious cross-gartering or convulsing us with a phoney-genteel accent which Paul Scofield's government inspector would have envied—was magnificent. This Malvolio was not so far removed from the joyless little time-server who yelps for silence in a public house and is savagely beaten up, simply because his tone of voice begged for it. Mr Holm managed to be hateful, comic and tragic all at once, which is quite a feat. Norman Rodway as Feste gave us a man halfway out of a job. In his battle between expediency and principle, he almost taunts Olivia into dismissing him. His jokes are double-edged; he is saying to the observes: 'See how uncaring I am,' and, to Olivia: 'See how my humour suits your sadness'. Mr Rodway's performance is geared towards his dungeon scene with Malvolio: an acrid sequence which strikes a proper balance for the whole production. It is a nastily excellent piece of work, which began shakily as if Mr Rodway had temporarily forgotten just how fine an actor he is.

Then there was Diana Rigg as Viola. Nearly all of the critics have taken pleasure in reminding us that since Miss Rigg has played in a more ephemeral entertainment than Twelfth Night her performance here must be accorded the same indulgence as that shown to Samuel Johnson's walking dog. It is true that she is a modern Viola, just as Ian Holm has given us a modern Henry V. And so what? If her tightly-tailored behind is not that of a pageboy, Miss Rigg is all too comically aware of the fact. She speaks verse beautifully, precisely and with intelligence, and was far too good for the gloomy Orsino: she should have gone off with Malvolio and taught him a few songs and how to drink ale. Alan Howard's Orsino was fine, considering how dull the part is; as Olivia, Estelle Kohler showed plenty of life, but lacked polish; while there was a nicely dumbfounded Antonio from Godfrey Quigley. Guy Woolfenden's musical settings were splendid, as always.

The critics have complained that this production is variously too languorous, too harsh, too downbeat, too leisurely and too knockabout (one who apparently can't count described the setting as consisting of four arches). The play does, in fact, contain all these alleged shortcomings: they were in it when Shakespeare wrote it. If Mr Williams deserves criticism it is not for mixing his styles, but for failing to make palatable the mixture that was there to begin with. In the last analysis, what Shakespeare wrote was a superb piece of entertainment; and this, or very nearly, is what Mr Williams, his cast, musicians and designer have given us.

Robert Speaight (review date Autumn 1966)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. XVII, No. 4, Autumn, 1966, pp. 396-98.

Nothing that I had heard or read suggested that Mr. Clifford Williams' production of Twelfth Night was a good one. It seemed that he was trying to repeat his success with The Comedy of Errors by applying the same method to very different material. If you are out to debunk romanticism—a fashionable pastime in the contemporary theater—you will find that Shakespeare has already gone a good way in this direction, and that it is dangerous to out-pace him. As always, Shakespeare holds the balance, and the first business of the director—before he gives rein to his invention, and Mr. Williams' invention is exceedingly fertile—must be to hold the scales even. In this production they were not held quite evenly. There was no doubt of Viola's love for Orsino or of his for her—though he doesn't know it; no doubt, either, of Antonio's love for Sebastian' or of Viola's and Sebastian's for each other. Viola was quite right to play the "ring" soliloquy for high comedy; but Olivia's infatuation should be seen in three slightly different perspectives; as it appears to Viola, as it appears to the audience, and as it appears to herself. She must not be so absurd that we resist the notion of Sebastian succumbing to her charms, because Sebastian is an entirely serious person. The truth is that Olivia is a very solemn and very charming young woman with little sense of humor and rather more money than is good for her. Like many such people, she is something of a fool. Miss Kohler was less ostentatiously foolish than Miss Geraldine McEwan in the last Stratford production, but I still thought she could have done with an inch or two more of dignity and a more imperative hint of the chàtelaine.

In the first part of the play the comedy was happily unforced, but there were moments, later, when it was either misplaced or toppled over into farce. Sebastian's bewilderment must be transformed into pure rapture by the time Olivia is leading him to that clandestine marriage. The duel can arguably be treated as slapstick, but not to the extent of turning these very real people into marionettes. Similarly, in the letter scene there must be some lingering pretence that the conspirators are neither seen nor over-heard. So the bias of Mr. Williams' production was certainly towards comedy, broader than the purist would approve of. That the balance was not altogether upset was mainly due to Miss Diana Rigg's gallant and resourceful Viola. At once vulnerable and adventurous, humorous and high-spirited, she had a kind of helpless humility which I found extremely moving. Only a tendency to start a sentence at the top of her voice and end it inaudibly marred the perfect execution of what had been perfectly imagined.

The best Viola is always worth more than the best Orsino, but here Mr. Alan Howard was a shade "o'erparted". Orsino is a difficult and not altogether rewarding role, and it demands a certain maturity of personality and technique, a certain elegance of address, a certain effortless authority. Mr. Rodway's Feste very wisely did not ask us to think that he was funny, for the whole point of Feste is that he exhausted his jokes years ago and has been sensibly pensioned off in a cottage for retired clowns. Having played the part myself, I sympathize with anyone attacking it who is not a singer. Mr. Rodway's discreet recitative was at least in tune, which mine was not. Mr. Mason's Toby was genially well-bred, and even when it was light in the head was never too heavy in the hand. In fact it could have done with rather more weight; one never quite felt that Toby was in charge. Mr. Warner's Aguecheek would have been better for "straighter" playing—this was casting such as a director dreams of, and it needed little or no embellishment. Miss Patsy Byrne was a splendid Maria, and there was a quite remarkable Fabian from Mr. Wylton. Fabian is as dull a part as Shakespeare wrote; yet here was Mr. Wylton lighting up not only his own corner of the stage, but several square yards around him. And what an example he set of rich, racy, rightly characterized, flexible, and easily audible speech!

Mr. Quigley's Antonio had a fine resonant romanticism, and for once the idea occurred to someone that if you are a pirate hoping to escape arrest the last thing you do is to look piratical. So instead of Long John Silver with both his legs on, we had a nondescript appearance and an anything but nondescript performance. But the masterpiece, and also in a sense the key, to this production was Mr. Holm's Malvolio. An old theatrical convention used to insist that Malvolio must be tall. This was knocked on the head some years ago at the Old Vic by Mr. Alec McOwen. His Malvolio was a fussy little wasp of a man; but where he suggested the sudden sting of a wasp, Mr. Holm, with even fewer inches, suggested the murmur of innumerable bees. He had his sting, of course, but it was anything but sudden. It emerged from a mysterious vocal gestation, of which Mr. Holm's larynx alone has the prescription. The new convention insists that Malvolio comes from the "suburbs by the Elephant". This was conceived by Maurice Evans in 1939: carried on at Stratford by Sir Laurence Olivier; and has now been consummated, with sublime comic effect, by Mr. Holm. The result is that the play oscillates between an exchange of vows and an exchange of vowels.

We were promised, in one of the theater publications, "a deeper look" into Twelfth Night. Mr. Williams had not looked as deeply or as subtly as Mr. Hall in 1961, and my own taste is for a tenderer Twelfth Night. Where Mr. Hall was prepared to be as romantic as Shakespeare would let him, Mr. Williams did not avail himself of all the necessary permissions. But it would be priggish not to admit that this production was enormously diverting, even if now and then it won its laughs at rather too high a price. Miss Sally Jacobs' décor and costumes were rightly and handsomely Elizabethan, although they lacked Miss Lila de Nobili's russet autumnal glow; and it was a pleasure both to see and hear the musicians. I have never seen the conventions of the Elizabethan stage more dexterously adapted to modern usage.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


John Barton • RSC • 1969-70


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


Barton's 1969-70 production took the course of providing what Gareth Lloyd Evans termed a "gravely lyrical interpretation of Shakespeare's work that derived from the text itself." Irving Wardle qualified his praise by stating "this is not the funniest or most inventive Twelfth Night I have seen; but I can remember no production that held all the comedy's elements in such harmony." For many critics, the focal point of the production was Emrys James's Feste, which Simon Gray declared "a theatrical triumph." Donald Sinden's Malvolio was similarly praised by the majority of commentators. Speaight noted that Sinden's handling of the role in the vein of high comedy left "the right bitterness in the mouth when the play's flight from realism might have seemed too precipitate." Critics further praised Judi Dench's Viola and the Scottish eccentricity of Barry Jackson's Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Most reviewers, however, faulted Lisa Harrow's Olivia as a depressing portrayal that jarred with Illyria's reputation as a "sunny place." In judging the production as a whole, Benedict Nightingale concluded that it was "Barton's peculiar and perverse achievement to send us out of Shakespeare's 'happiest comedy' feeling that neither [Olivia and Orsino] nor anyone else will live happily ever after." In 1970 the production was transferred to the Aldwych Theatre in London with several cast changes, including Richard Pasco as Orsino, and Tony Church as Sir Toby Belch.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


Irving Wardle (review date 22 August 1969)

SOURCE: "Twelfth Night as Seen by a Fool," in The Times, London, August 22, 1969, p. 11.

Having shown Troilus and Cressida through the eyes of Thersites, John Barton now gives us Feste's version of Twelfth Night: and again the fool proves himself the best guide to the play.

This is not the funniest or most inventive Twelfth Night I have seen; but I can remember no production that held all the comedy's elements in such harmony. Played amid fragile white properties, against a sombre background, it is in key with Feste's last song: its humour and melancholy both springing from a sense of transcience underscored with music and the sound of the waves that lodged the two castaways on Illyria.

At present some parts of the production are not fully assimilated in the general pattern. Muted though the atmosphere may be, it could stand a less subdued Sir Toby than Bill Fraser's whose big moment comes only with the wintry dismissal of Aguecheek (which almost suggests Fal-staff rejecting Hal). Conversely Donald Sinden's Malvolio seems to have wandered in from another production. It is an extremely knowing performance, avoiding the old tricks and finding new ways of getting laughs (struggling to get Olivia's ring off his finger): but anything as actorish as this jarrs against the prevailing mood.

A Scottish Aguecheek also stirred initial doubts. Why turn a prodigal into a bagpipe-toting tightwad grudgingly rummaging in his sporran for tips? However, Barrie Ingham amply justifies this reading by turning the Knight into a fully fledged clown capable of gymnastic feats (including a sensational back-fall) and for ever trudging after Olivia (Lisa Harrow) with pathetic little bunches of flowers. The presence of Feste is felt even in his absence. When he does appear he polarizes the action, creating those moments at which Shakespeare touches hands with Chekhov as in the "Catch" scene, which reduces Sir Andrew to tears and brings back Brenda Bruce's aging Maria after a false goodnight in the hope of luring Sir Toby to bed; or in the Tabour scene with Viola, where cross-talk gives way to music and unspoken communion, as the two characters sprawl out together ruefully surveying the human scene from some other plane.

Emrys James's grizzled Feste would hardly have commanded such effects, if the rest of the show had not been working for him: but he gives a most musical performance that blends the senses of long-term melancholy, and present pleasure. Judi Dench's Viola, suited seductively in olive green, is attuned to the same broken harmony and matches it with her characteristic inflections, that combine a chuckle with a catch in the throat.

Simon Gray (review date 29 August 1969)

SOURCE: "Morally Superior," in New Statesman, Vol. 78, No. 2007, August 29, 1969, pp. 285-86.

Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek sit collapsed, their eyes rheumy with retrospection, while Feste, as he sings 'What is love?' Tis not hereafter', watches them with tender irony. Later the three of them, spurred on by a Maria of real feeling, are baiting Malvolio when suddenly, as if overcome by shame, they pause to stare at each other aghast. Finally, at the end of his performance as Sir Topas, Feste takes off his beard with a weary disgust, and so permits the audience to be completely charmed by him once more. In other words John Barton, who has achieved at Stratford an intelligent and sensitive account of this notoriously difficult play, has done so by filtering into its darkest corners some of the spirit that moves his fool, a fool so touching in his lapses that we easily forgive him his complicity in the Malvolio plot, and so enchanting in his tone that we forgive him even his appalling jokes. But Mr Barton's production is more than morally good and unusually coherent. It is also robust, funny and warm, full of shrewd observations and genuinely poignant moments. His conception of Feste has led him to a theatrical triumph.

Nevertheless his Feste is not Shakespeare's. The fool of the text is in places wryly wise and always consciously a dependent, a hack with a spiritual life; and his songs, of course, are beautiful. He is also malicious, with the malice of a man who cannot tolerate others knowing what he knows about himself. This Feste enjoys tormenting Malvolio, whose cold insights ('I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a tavern rascal … unless you laugh and minister to him, he's gagged') constitute a real threat to his powers of enchantment, and thus to his vanity. Mr Barton's Feste agrees in a tone of self-redeeming compassion to bring 'the light and paper, and ink' for Malvolio's letter, and so helps us to forget that Shakespeare's fool subsequently and callously fails to deliver the letter itself. Mr Barton's Feste touches us into more than tolerance with his gesture of shame, and so helps us to forget that Shakespeare's Feste crows triumphantly over the released and now publicly humiliated Malvolio. It is not that in these places Mr Barton has molested the text—rather that by placing the stress elsewhere, by humanely filling in Shakespeare's brutal blanks, he has created a fool who is incapable of doing and saying what he actually says and does; and the audience, like the production, can then pretend he hasn't.

As it is with Feste, so it is with every character in the production. Judi Dench's Viola, for instance, is far too delightful to take advantage of Olivia or in any other way embarrass the audience. When she comes to woo for Orsino's sake, she chortles out the great love passage in a spirit of exuberant parody; and when Malvolio brings her the ring, she receives it with an innocent astonishment that deftly prepares the way for her tremulous 'Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness'. From then on, and perfectly consistently, she reacts to Olivia's overtures with a cleansingly comic gaucheness. But that initial speech—'Make me a willow cabin'—is not a classic of romantic persuasiveness for nothing. If it is ironic in its exaggerations, it is also insidiously enticing in its rhythms—rhythms that Miss Dench's rendering inevitably coarsens. And though Shakespeare's Viola may act out a sly astonishment when she is left alone to contemplate Olivia's confusion, she has already been too revealingly quick-witted with Malvolio—'She took the ring of me, I'll none of it'—and given something about herself away. Shakespeare's Viola, in fact, is a much more knowing girl than Mr Barton's, much more complex, and consequently the comedy in her relationship with Olivia is both more intensely erotic and altogether more dangerous—it's a comedy that cuts cynically through all our illusions about the nature of romantic love to the amoral and chaotic emotions that merely adopt romantic postures as a disguise and for self-disguise. Only Shakespeare's nerve, the elegant confidence with which he defines the limits of his Illyria and the aplomb with which he converts his analysis into seeming playfulness, prevents us from finding the comedy as a whole repellent. We are, in other words, seduced into believing that the instinct for order in comic art will always prevail over the anarchy of our inner lives. And so in a sense it does, on the stage—for there, after all, even poor Antonio, hopelessly in love with another man and with no substitute of the 'correct' sex to be flourished out of the cast list or the wrong clothes, can still be made to rejoice in those flip and inconsequential pairings with which the play concludes. But still he lingers in the memory to remind us that Illyria is after all an illusion that has been fashioned out of much potential, and some actual, pain.

Well, it probably seems perverse to blame Mr Barton for not going far enough into the dark when almost every other review has only qualified its praise in wondering whether he hasn't gone too far. And above all it would be ungracious to end without again saluting a production that is informed in its every moment, and by every member of its cast, with intelligence and humanity. If we haven't got a Twelfth Night that has met the play's most distressing challenges head on, then we can at least be grateful that we have been given one that has profited richly from the way in which it has avoided them.

Hilary Spurting (review date 30 August 1969)

SOURCE: "Nightfall," in The Spectator, Vol. 223, No. 7366, August 30, 1969, pp. 279-80.

Devotees of the spectacular, or for that matter of pantomime and magic spangles, must have been especially pleased by the light, fantastic style devised this year at Stratford for Pericles and The Winter's Tale. Clearly a scheme based on these two plays, with Henry VIII to come, should ideally have included Cymbeline or, failing that, The Tempest and preferably both. Clearly, on the other hand, the kind of audiences who flock enthusiastically to Stratford might reasonably be expected to stand for only so much of Shakespeare's unfamiliar, and comparatively abstruse, last things. However entrancing they may be in practice, in theory the late romances are not what one might call box office gold. And so we have Twelfth Night which, one can't help feeling, must have been envisaged as something of a spanner in this season's works.

Whatever the reason, John Barton's production shows sinister signs of compromise. 'This comedy prefigures the final romances', explains a programme note; and, in the sense that the plot turns on freaks of time, on storm and shipwreck, supposed death and a family reunion at the end, it well may do. But the play's gaiety is not much enhanced by Mr Barton's jettisoning all the simpler jokes in favour of a kind of wintry melancholy. The gravity which, against the opulent stagings of the earlier productions, seemed delicately austere, here seems merely drab, not to say pedantic. And I cannot see that, just because the sea pervades Pericles and figures largely in The Winter's Tale, that is any reason why waves should pound and gurgle in the wings throughout Twelfth Night.

Admittedly, this device works handsomely the first time: when, after the music of the opening scene, Orsino vanishes, the court is whisked away and doors fly open at the back on Viola, appearing in a puff of smoke—which, on second thoughts, turns out to be a wisp of sea spray curling round her ankles. Christopher Morley's set is a magnificent great hall, receding according to the symmetrical perspective of which the Renaissance was so fond, dwindling to a point and built of wooden slats. Barred sunlight, trellised walks and neat silvery trees in tubs suggest the costly artificiality of Illyrian manners, in sharp contrast to Viola coming ashore in rags, attended by a captain and two seamen, all piratically louche. This moment, like the plot itself, has an unreality at once theatrical, mysterious and fetchingly bizarre. One has glimmerings of what might have been—indeed, considering this company's flair for reshaping its productions in performance, what still may be—a remarkable conception.

Certainly Charles Thomas, as Orsino, has the right combination of sensual grace and elaborate fatigue, of youth and spirits hopefully concealed beneath a studiously frowsy front. And Judi Dench's Viola, so humorous and dapper, so attentive to her master and so composedly distressed, is a charming creature. As for Donald Sinden's Malvolio—a portly soul struggling to get out of an absurdly spindly body—it is the masterpiece of this production. To switch, as Mr Sinden has done in the past three years, from Lord Foppington to Not Now Darling—in which he was an incomparably smooth and bland farceur—and now Malvolio argues him, in every sense, a man of truly formidable parts.

But even Mr Sinden's road winds uphill much of the way in Olivia's unaccountably depressed, and often positively morbid, household. Brenda Bruce's Maria—a leathery lady with scraggy bun and snappish voice—shows small sign of the pert flirt; her advances to Sir Toby suggest rather the despondency of one sinking fast into a lonely and embittered spinsterhood. Bill Fraser as a despised, unwanted and dependant elderly relative is both accurate and sad but not, I think, Sir Toby Belch. Emrys James's Feste is picturesque and wistful, as well he might be on this job, and Lisa Harrow makes a shrill and unimpressive Olivia. The best of this glum bunch is Barrie Ingham's Andrew Aguecheek, a lank Scotsman nourishing the huge, secret and surprising vanity which sometimes breeds in northern parts.

Nothing, in short, becomes this production—unless perhaps its magical opening sequence—like the leaving of it: a splendid formal confrontation in which, when Viola finds Sebastian, she also finds, in this gay and dashing brother (Gordon Reid), for once her mirror image.

Jeremy Kingston (review date 3 September 1969)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Punch, Vol. 257, No. 6730, September 3, 1969, pp. 393.

For the young lovers in Twelfth Night the last scene brings them all their hearts desire. Twins are reunited, boys turn out to be girls, a double marriage is arranged. Then the mood is interrupted—though not so much interrupted as permanently modulated into something profounder than the conventional happy end of romance. With one terse, tremendous line—"I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you!"—Malvolio flings himself out of the play. And lest we think this scene merely is an interruption in the happy story the clown Feste stays on the otherwise emptied stage to give us his ambiguous song about the wind and the rain, man's estate and the sadness of life.

Because Twelfth Night, a play full of mirth, is shot through with sadness. John Barton's superb production at Strat-ford-upon-Avon realises this melancholy chiefly through the person of Feste, the white-faced clown wandering between Orsino's court and Olivia's household, commenting upon their follies in banter and song. The other characters are all familiar with his songs; they hum the tunes quietly to themselves when alone. Emrys James's "Come, mistress mine," brings tears to the eyes of the knights. His "Come away, death," does the same to Orsino. During the second verse of this song Mr. James circles Charles Thomas (Orsino) with a curious dragging walk, pressing his hand to his brow, excessively underlining the melancholy until one realises that the grief expressed is excessive. He is using the song as a reproof. Orsino, of course, is too wrapped up in self-pity to notice but Judi Dench's Viola is sharp enough to see what he's on about.

Miss Dench's Viola is a beautifully imagined performance. Brave and firm from her first appearance on the Illyrian shore she shows touchingly her understanding of love's sorrows, whirling the poignancy away by following a catch in her throat with a light laugh—smiling at grief, something this actress has always been able to do perfectly. Tender comedy sparkles between her and Lisa Harrow's gravely charming Olivia.

The knightly revels are sad too. Barrie Ingham's Sir Andrew is a knight of a woeful countenance. Bill Fraser's Toby is more often gloomy than not. Even Maria (Brenda Bruce) trails pensively after him, always hoping he will raise her from mistress to wife.

The comedy chiefly accompanies Donald Sinden's Malvolio. Absurdly humorous in his demand for formality his characterisation can be guessed from his reaction to Olivia's, "Run after that same peevish messenger." "Run?" he echoes (a director's addition) in accents of appalled amazement. Then slowly, high-stepping, he runs. Mr. Sinden is so powerful a comic actor he must adorn and decorate any part he plays. The result is very funny indeed but by making us enjoy his company so much he goes dangerously near tearing the play open.

The sourest joke in Shakespeare is the locking of Malvolio in the dark cellar but it indicates (as does the title) that Shakespeare's golden view of the world has come to an end. Twelfth Night is the last in a string of comedies and histories: after it comes Hamlet. At the end of this production Mr. Barton shows the four lovers stepping back along the airy tunnel of wicker lattices to their own happy wonderland. Malvolio, Antonio, Feste veer sideways into the wings.

Robert Cushman (review date October 1969)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night, in Plays and Players, Vol. 17, No. 1, October, 1969, pp. 20-23.

But tell me true' asks Feste of Malvolio 'are you not mad indeed or doyou but counterfeit? A strange emphasis, and not, I think, one which many actors would employ of their own accord. It jerked me out of the stupor into which I had been cast by the slackest Sir Topas scene in my recollection, and set me wondering what Feste could possibly mean by it. A reference to bis own masquerade as Master Parson perhaps, but Malvolio is hardly in a position to see the joke. Anyway that seemed much too simple, too specific. There was about the delivery the weighty self-consciousness which Royal Shakespeare actors are apt to signal that though they cannot quite fit this reading into their characterisation they will do it this way to oblige the director who thinks that it has great thematic significance.

What in fact was happening, I decided, was that John Barton was digging me in the ribs and remarking that this was a play in which everyone was a madman or a pretender or both, and in which sanity and frenzy, reality and illusion, were so intermixed that only a jester could hope to distinguish them. All of which is true but out, surely, of Feste's ken (I would say consciousness but the word is overworn) as a participant in the action, which is how, when engaged in discourse with another character, he must be regarded. For moments like these the actors should perhaps be equipped with portable 'thinks' bubbles.

The madness theme is assiduously pursued. When Sebastian enters and canvasses (weakly) the possibility of his own or Olivia's insanity his meditations are counterpointed by the offstage howling of the madly-used Malvolio. When Olivia appears to waft him to the altar she brings with her, as the priest demanded by the text, the very Sir Topas Feste has just impersonated. I would rather it had been the old hermit of Prague that never saw pen and ink, but Sir Topas will do. During the final scene all references to madness or to being and seeming are approached with wary reverence while any mention of the sea (and, give them their due, I had never realised before just how many there are in Twelfth Night) is enough to bring the proceedings to a dead stop.

In turning on the sound-effects even for such fleeting references as Orsino's description of his love ('as hungry as the sea, And can digest as much') Barton is taking Shakespeare's Imagery and What It Tells Us altogether too solemnly. Such punctilious underlining can only render the words ridiculous. (And if that is the idea it is hardly necessary in a production which already has Charles Thomas as Orsino writhing on the ground in an ecstasy of love-sick self-indulgence so heavily accentuated as to outpace the text.) But even those who find the device acceptable must grant that it bulks larger than it should, not so much through its own forcefulness as through lack of challenging interest elsewhere.

For if you take Twelfth Night to be a dramatised Feast of Misrule, if you carefully emphasise all the relevant lines, and if your learned lady-wife backs you up in a closely-argued programme note, the one quality your production cannot afford is tameness. But here inertia, so to speak, runs riot. Sir Toby (Bill Fraser) enters, turns downstage, and informs the world in general that he is sure care's an enemy to life. That's him taped, but at no point thereafter does he behave as though he believed in his admirable axiom. His best moment is his very last, his scornful rejection of Sir Andrew. In accordance with current Stratford practice this is played to the hilt; but how much crueller it could have seemed, with half the effort, had there been any contrasting warmth in their earlier scenes. Barrie Ingham's Andrew, a scion of the clan MacAguecheek, is at first blush an admirable conception; he is clearly marked out as a stranger in town (London must have been full of him as the Tudors gave place to the Stuarts) and he does some funny things with bagpipes. But where Shakespeare intended dialect comedy he invariably made ample phonetic provision in the lines.

Brenda Bruce is a tart, efficient Maria. Incidentally, how does Mrs Barton work out that her marriage to Toby is 'the coldest of off-stage bargains'? Since it does take place off-stage, we are hardly in a position to judge of its warmth anyway, but Toby makes enough admiring not to say possessive remarks about the future Lady Belch for us to assume some willingness on his part. The match is announced in a speech whose general tone is festive and conciliatory. The Barton view gives Miss Bruce a whole new man-trapping subtext to play out; she is plainly out to provide for her old age, only too well aware that youth's a stuff will not endure. Feste's warning is hardly needed; indeed, finely though Emrys James speaks and sings the part, he is doomed in this company to seem a tireless stater of the obvious.

But Feste's fate is nothing compared to what has befallen Malvolio. Pity the killjoy without a sport to spoil. The whole comic balance of the play has been tilted for there is more joyousness in Donald Sinden's pride of office than in any of those who oppose him. His first word—a massive, sneering 'Yes'—rocked the theatre; not only was it magnificently funny, it was the first laugh of the evening, a cathartic release for the entire audience. The Puritan, it was evident, was our true Lord of Misrule and to him alone could we look for cakes and ale. Here, if only by default, was a reading of staggering subtlety. There were more jewels to come but they were strung increasingly thin; lacking adequate support (the box-tree conspiracy can never have gone for less) the performance foundered. It serves though as an interesting reminder of the extent to which this company depends on virtuoso performances (by Sinden or Ian Richardson or David Waller) for success in broad comedy. As a group they're no fun at all.

In the comedy of sentiment they are generally much more adroit, and doubtless when Orsino has picked himself up and Olivia has developed a firmer line and Sebastian has been replaced, these scenes will come into their own.

Judi Dench is ahead already; her untarnished freshness has never been more welcome. She alone is fully mistress of those strange RSC inflections: 'Who'er I woo myself would be his … WIFE' she exclaims and for once we are listening not to an academic demonstration of the paradox of Viola's situation but to the girl herself. The rest of the production owes it to her to improve.

Robert W. Speaight (review date Winter 1969)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. XX, No. 1, Winter, 1969, pp. 438-39.

When after 50 years of playgoing you cast your eye down a program of Twelfth Night, pick out the characters of Orsino, Feste, Maria, Aguecheek, Malvolio, Viola, and Olivia, and conclude that you have never seen these parts better played, and rarely played as well—when you leave the theater with tears in your eyes and laughter on your lips—then the performance you have seen bids fair to be definitive. Of course the bid fails because there are always other things to say, and another generation of actors and directors knocking on the door to say them. But John Barton's Twelfth Night of 1969 was the best, absolutely, that I remember. Peter Hall, in the first year of his directorate, was aiming at very much the same effect, but in the case of Olivia and Feste pushed his theory too far. Olivia was silly, but she was not as silly as all that. Feste was passé, but he was still a professional clown—knowing his business well enough to amuse Olivia, enrage Malvolio, and earn a testril from Aguecheek. If you push Olivia too far in the direction of silliness, and Feste too far in the direction of melancholy, you distort the balance of the play.

Mr. Barton's production has been described as Twelfth Night seen through the eyes of Feste. It is the right perspective. The mood was autumnal, the costumes Elizabe-than, and the place a purely fanciful Illyria with white trees and perfectly contemporary garden chairs in a gold setting—as timeless as the play itself. Here Emrys James's Feste was quietly in command—seeing everything and through everything, and singing with delicate accomplishment about many of the things that he saw. Lisa Harrow's Olivia was a spoilt innocent, whom Viola and Sebastian between them matriculated into life. Judi Dench's Viola, vulnerable, resourceful, gallant and gay, brought the realities of emotional as well as physical shipwreck into a world where Orsino was reading too much Spenser and Sidney for the good of his soul, and where Olivia had too much money. Charles Thomas brought out better than I have ever seen it brought out before the therapeutic effect of Viola's arrival at his court; and Judi Dench—who is one of the half dozen best actresses on the English stage—stabbed his heart, and ours, with a matador's certainty of aim. One is always waiting, in any production of Twelfth Night, for the great moments—Aguecheek's "I was adored once too" [II. iii. 181] Viola's "Willow cabin" and "It gives a very echo to the seat where love is throned" [II. iv. 22] the recognition of Sebastian—and each time the blade struck home.

If the mood of this production was autumnal, and therefore attuned both to poetry and emotion, the humours were given hilarious rein. Feste earned his laughs as well as his testrils, and a Scots Aguecheek trailing his bagpipes was a brilliant invention, and brilliantly executed by Barrie Ingham. Brenda Bruce was a sparkling, and properly mature, Maria—accepting Sir Toby with certain legitimate misgivings. In a sense more than physical, Donald Sinden's Malvolio towered above his persecutors—a bigger man than they, for all his grotesque infatuation. This was a superb performance in the vein of high comedy, leaving the right bitterness in the mouth when the play's flight from realism might have seemed too precipitate. Toby's repudiation of Aguecheek had the same salutary sting. It was one of many original touches which brought the play to us as if we were seeing it for the first time—like the howling of the gale outside the gilded cage of Orsino's palace; reality at odds with romanticism—each claiming its rights. They were distributed here with a quite exquisite impartiality, meaning distilled and melody carefully conveying it. All comedies are comedies of errors, and in Twelfth Night the mistaken identities are only the least of them. Mr. Barton and the Royal Shakespeare Company left us thinking very hard about the others.

Irving Wardle (review date 7 August 1970)

SOURCE: "Austerity and Sensitivity," in The Times, London, August 7, 1970, p. 10.

Substantially recast since its first appearance a year ago, John Barton's Twelfth Night arrives at the Aldwych having undergone one of those transformations that often overtake productions on the road from Stratford to London.

Originally this seemed to be Feste's Twelfth Night: a shifting perspective of romantic ardour and romantic folly seen through the eyes of the Fool against an everpresent sense of the effects of time.

The main emphasis has been displaced to a contrast between the play's lyricism and broad comedy: and with much of the fun knocked out of the comedy. You might almost describe the result as an economic interpretation: on one side Orsino and Viola with money enough to surrender to delicate emotion; and on the other, the creatures of Olivia's household, all (including Barrie Ingham's Scottish skinflint Aguecheek) materially enslaved to the queen bee.

If anyone earns the central place it is Donald Sinden's Malvolio: the agent of so much fear in the household, and finally the most wounded member of all—broken double under the weight of his humiliation, and stumbling off stage after handing Olivia his chain of office. It is not a happy household.

Aguecheek trudging hopelessly after Olivia with a withered bunch of flowers is a dilapidated, balding wreck, at least as pathetic as comic. While Leslie Sands's Sir Toby (replacing Bill Fraser) is a joker as much obsessed with profit as Feste: a broken-winded old pug who exerts himself as little as possible (he is continually reaching out a great paw to grab passing victims without himself moving an inch) and drops all pretence of fun as soon as there is no more to be gained from it: as in his collapse into fearful apprehension in the Sir Topas scene, and in his final vindictive casting-off of his wretched companion.

Most startling and persuasive of the group is Elizabeth Spriggs's Maria: no longer the usual bundle of fun, but a prim Edinburgh housekeeper in gold rimmed spectacles, besotted with Sir Toby and only mounting the Malvolio intrigue with the purpose of luring him into marriage. She has sudden, instantly suppressed, burst of indecorous humour.

But the essence of the reading appears after the carousel scene where she steals back hoping to catch Sir Toby alone, only to be packed off blubbering by the selfish old brute ("It is too late to go to bed"); or, right at the end, in the glare of possessive indignation she throws at Sebastian for having clobbered her hero.

Blindly supervising this fearful, mean-spirited household is Lisa Harrow's Olivia: a Shakespearian Marie Antoinette, quite oblivious of everything taking place outside the range of her amorous obsession, and caressing her people like stray dogs.

This is the most austere Twelfth Night I have seen. It does permit an all-out comic treatment of some passages: notably Malvolio's letter scene, which Mr. Sinden has worked out in beautiful fresh detail, picking out the commas for clues in M.O.A.I., and automatically correcting the sun-dial in the midst of his fantasies of greatness. It does not fare too well with the romance.

Richard Pascos Orsino gives that awkward part a welcome male vigour. But Judi Dench's Viola, although backed up with a murmuring ocean and seductively set off in olive velvet, works too hard to extract new harmonics from the familiar lines. She responds with great sensitivity to the continual changes of mood and colour: but it is all done in slow motion, and for much of the time one just longs for her to get on with it. In the surrounding context, though, she has to put up a solo fight against the dominant anti-romantic bias.

Christopher Morley's set, a latticed cell illuminates from outside, undergoes beautiful transformations from pannelled interior to pastoral sunshine. It is one of the RSC's happiest variations on its current visual model.

Benedict Nightingale (review date 21 August 1970)

SOURCE: "Sad Party," in New Statesman, Vol. 80, No. 2057, August 21, 1970, pp. 218-19.

If we're to believe Simon Gray, who reviewed it for the NS from Stratford last year, John Barton's Twelfth Night was a notably gloomy business, dominated by a Feste so black and brooding he'd make Lear's Fool look like a maypole. The production has now moved south, to the Aldwych, and thawed; though not quite enough, perhaps, or not in the right places. Illyria is not yet the cosy, irresponsible place Shakespeare is generally agreed to have postulated. Indeed, there's no difference in kind between the visiting twins and the natives of the place. Those who would take them to stand for realism and romanticism respectively will not receive much comfort from Barton's production. Everyone exists on or near some middle level of feeling: there are no extremes of gaiety or torment, no highs or horrible lows. The atmosphere is that of a party after the most amusing guests have left, and the survivors are beginning to sober up—edgy, querulous, still slightly sottish, but no longer sottishly happy.

It is Olivia's household that seizes the attention and sets the tone. Leslie Sands's lumbering Belch has a half-drowned look, and carouses more from habit than enthusiasm. He feels his age, and so do Barrie Ingham's Ague-cheek, a scrawny, loveless highlander, dandling bagpipes, and Elizabeth Spriggs's Maria, a governess from the genteel lowlands. All this Scotmanship is no more than a lazy way of tickling gratuitous laughter out of a situation that ought to be funny enough already; nevertheless, Miss Spriggs's performance does have distinct merits of its own.

The 'beagle, true-bred' is usually played as a game young bitch whose affection for Toby is entirely inexplicable: why burden herself with a lopsided old soak, even if he has a title of sorts? But Miss Spriggs's beagle is older, plainer and visibly hunting for a man, any man. Sands's Toby knows this, and bullies her meanly; she tricks Malvolio into his yellow stockings, less for revenge than to ingratiate herself with this insensitive lover. Miss Spriggs's achievement is to reconcile all this with a ladylike, indeed prim exterior. She is the kind of embryo old maid who wears a hip-flask under her garter and daydreams of bawling 'bloody' at her employer; if her spectacles glint, so do the eyes underneath them. One senses depths of vulgarity in her, long repressed, determined to find expression.

It is somewhat the same with Emrys James's malicious, gleeful Feste and Donald Sinden's Malvolio, who looks and sounds like some archetypally Eminent Victorian, heavy, stern and physically unable to smile. Both are well individualised performances, but neither they nor the others generate much fun. Barton seems not nearly so interested in mounting entertaining practical jokes as in exploring the character of their inventors and emphasising the cruelty of their effects. He makes far less of Sinden's amorous posturing before Olivia than of Sinden imprisoned: a great black bull, tethered and roaring from his pen; and then half-emerging, white-faced and disconcertingly human, to rail, like Dr Arnold, at those who ought to be his prefects' fags. But then Barton is an unusually serious-minded director, even by the solemn standards of today, and we should not be surprised by this—or, for that matter, by his handling of Orsino's court.

This is even more depressing than Olivia's household fundamentally is. She, Olivia, is played by Lisa Harrow as a skittish, smug girl who would scarcely command the respect she's inexplicably accorded by her brawling retinue; he, Orsino, played by Richard Pasco, sits hunched among candles, scowling unhappily at the darkness beyond him and thoroughly bewildering such as Judi Dench's Viola. Is this really the pleasant country her father told her of? The love-sickness of this Orsino, if less than suicidal, certainly seems greater and madder than that of the conventional swain Shakespeare actually created. His threat at the end to 'kill what I love' isn't just another romantic excrescence: it looks genuinely murderous for a moment. Well may Miss Dench, a vivid, sweet, pained, misused girl, steel herself for the slaughter. It doesn't happen, of course: they get married instead—but for what? It is Barton's peculiar and perverse achievement to send us out of Shakespeare's 'happiest comedy' feeling that neither they nor anyone else will live happily ever after.

Peter Roberts (review date October 1970)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Plays and Players, Vol. 18, No. 1, October 1970, pp. 47-9.

A Freak Thunderstorm on the second night of the London showing of John Barton's revival of Twelfth Night at least ensured one experienced the production in a way denied the many enthusiasts who had queued to see it at last year's Stratford-on-Avon season. And if they think they were fortunate not to have to sit in the Aldwych with empty ice cream cartons bobbing like miniature gondolas around their damp feet, as Malvolio (Donald Sinden) stood, fearful of being electrocuted, waist deep in the water engulfing his pit, then all I can say is they never had it so good.

At least, I doubt very much whether any of them found themselves being applauded at the end of the performance by the cast. I doubt, too, whether their appreciation of the revival's use of seacoast sound effects could have been quite as extraordinary as ours when it was realised that nature had taken over from art: that the thunderclaps out-side the theatre had replaced the taped sound of an Illyrian sea coast inside. In the circumstances a unique audience/actor contact was understandably set up as the play closed to the familiar words:

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
       With hey, ho, the wind and the
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

Well, they don't make such perfectly timed rain like that every day in London just as revivals such as this Twelfth Night are a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

Its subtlety is what I am going to have to settle reluctantly for as the overall quality that makes this revival so satisfying. I say 'reluctantly', because subtlety is a hard quality to convey in a few hundred words as well as sounding awfully like an OK word for implying you enjoyed something in a complex way without being bright enough to explain the hows and whys.

Anyway here goes. Christopher Morley's slatted set is subtle because it seems to be merely an enclosed empty space of the sort approved by Peter Brook. In fact, it serves many purposes. At times exterior lighting transforms it from a solid Tudor Chamber into a frail fairytale structure that looks as though it might float away on the next whiff of poetry. Stephanie Howard's Tudor costumes, Michael Tubbs' music arranged from traditional sources and Brian Harris' impression of candle-lit presentation all help to reinforce the suggestion of an Elizabethan production in one of the capital's Great Halls, whilst at the same time avoiding a cumbersome reproduction of some imaginary revival of Twelfth Night that might have been watched by the Virgin Queen herself or perhaps her successor who, of course, was no virgin.

John Barton's direction is subtle, because he has thrown no one blanket interpretation over the play and forced the words and the cast to conform to that single viewpoint. Rather he and his cast keep a tight rein on the more familiarly beautiful passages so that the production's highlights are not confined to sections that find their way into Golden Treasuries or Anthologies of The Best of Shakespeare. Sometimes the lines are emphasised to underscore points that tend to get lost in productions more bent on bringing out the mellow beauty of the verse. For example the parallel of Olivia's lamenting the death of a brother and Viola's trying not to grieve the loss of hers is pointedly made. Elsewhere the lines are stretched to accommodate meanings they do not obviously hold. The example here is that Sir Toby and Maria (a vulnerable middle-aged country housekeeper in Elizabeth Spriggs' performance) have slept together for years and their plot-tying marriage in the play is thus the making official of something that's long been looked at with a blind eye.

The play's manic-depressives go to Lisa Harrow and Richard Pasco. The torment Olivia has already begun to experience a sharp swing of the pendulum when Judi Dench's sunny Viola comes to perk her out of her gloom, whilst Richard Pasco's Orsino remains in heavy-lidded and long-coated abstraction until the flurry of weddings at the play's close. The sane man, taken for mad, Malvolio, is given interesting treatment by Donald Sinden who makes the fellow look like Michael Hordern, though the audience, which is taken into the character's confidence in an uncamp Frankie Howerd style, gets the treatment in Sinden's best basso register.

There are no weak links in the cast, though one has to say that Emrys James, who made so notable an impression as the Boss in The Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising, now shows that he has the versatility to make an impressively gentle Feste. And Barrie Ingham, currently this season's Leontes in The Winter's Tale, switches effortlessly to Sir Andrew Aguecheek who is given bagpipes and a Scottish accent, and works wonders with them without resort to scene-stealing eccentricities.

Go and see this production, then, for though I cannot promise you rain other than that mentioned in the text, I think you will be struck by Barton's subtle treatment of the androgynous paths here depicted for love's fulfilment, which I have not even mentioned crudely here.…

Gareth Lloyd Evans (review date 1970)

SOURCE: "Interpretation or Experience? Shakespeare at Stratford," in Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespearian Study and Production, Vol 23, 1970, pp. 131-35.

The penultimate production of the season—Twelfth Night—was awaited with interest and perhaps some trepidation, in view of the published announcements that it was to be linked with the last plays. Expectation was utterly confounded. John Barton has created the most visually graceful, most intelligently ordered production of this season. The vast stage area is gone, replaced by an elegant set, resembling an angular tunnel in perspective, but, with its candelabra and suggestion of wattle, redolent of an Elizabethan Hall. Illyria, unlike Bohemia, is somewhere. No musique concrète or 'pop' astound the air; the aural background to Orsino's part of Illyria is the dim sound of the sea and curlews crying.

Mr Barton has taken his interpretation from the text and not dressed it in contemporary reach-me-up-or-downs. It seems a simple thing to declare that when Shakespeare is allowed to speak to the director, the actors themselves seem to find it easier to 'give' without worrying about how much of Shakespeare they are expected to withhold; yet, on the evidence of Twelfth Night this would seem to be almost a law of nature. There is indeed a distinct contrast between the general acting standard of this production and the others of the season—much to the detriment of the latter.

The tone of the interpretation is gravely lyrical. The comedy is an obbligato and not a raison d'àtre. Andrew Aguecheek's zanniness is here encased in a Scots accent—a procedure which itself gives a quality of lurking melancholy to the character. His by-play with the bagpipes is stridently funny, but always controlled. This Aguecheek (Barrie Ingham's finest performance at this theatre) is no mere daft gull. His hopeless affection for Olivia is emphasized by pathetic gifts of flowers; his need for friendship, devoid of Toby's commodity, is suggested by his pathetic but curiously dignified appeals in the eyes and his occasional snatching up of the nearest female hand to kiss. Toby Belch is very much the black sheep of a noble family, aware of his precarious station and, indeed, of his alcoholic fecklessness. He spends his time in Illyria on a slippery slope and has much of self-reproach in him. Maria stands, either actually or in spirit, at his side, throughout. She herself, is ageing, left on the shelf; she waits desperately for the word from him, and what she often gets is a dusty answer. The words 'Tis too late to go to bed, now' are spoken to her. Olivia is bewildered and very young, giving the sense that unexpected family responsibility has sapped her youth of the opportunity to learn judgement and, indeed, real love. Orsino broods upon his love with dark melancholic brows. In the end he seizes his chance, not like a covetous and peremptory prince, but like a youngster (a Romeo) who has mewled about ideal love and compromises with a sweet actuality which, unknown to him, is as near to the ideal as he will ever achieve.

Love, of all kinds, gravely finds its own places in Barton's Illyria. Even Viola seems to be part of an inevitability rather than, as is customary, a prime agent in the ordering of Illyria's heart.

Time and time again the production illuminates the text, not only by the intelligent and lyrical speaking and the sharpness with which the wit is observed, but in by-play and the intelligent placing of lines. Malvolio (who, alone, is unsought by the spirit of love and therefore Illyria can have none of him) cannot remove the ring from his finger to give to Viola; 'We three' are hear, speak and see no evil; Viola's hand intermittently pulls her doublet down over her pubic areas with shy fright.

This production is a superb demonstration of the difference between imposed and acquired interpretation. The truth is that, in this case, because the director himself has 'experienced' the text rather than forced it to experience him, we in the audience 'share' the production. This 'sharing' is an important matter. One of the weaknesses of the kind of directorial interpretation which is more imposed upon, than acquired from, the text, is that it often places a gap between audience and realized performance. On a simple level this can be described as a process in which the audience is forced to come to conclusions on matters which do not grow from the text—hence they are sometimes left darkling. On another level, an audience sometimes feels that, after leaving the theatre, something has been 'taken away' rather than 'added to' them. Imposed interpretation almost always diminishes not only the quality of audience experience but also the potency of the play.

Twelfth Night is not the sort of play which induces actors to make the fire bells ring and the horses run. Yet, in Barton's production, because the play is respected, the actors find faith in themselves, and we hear, from them, the sounds of lutes and viols—this is as it should be.

Donald Sinden (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: "Malvolio in Twelfth Night," in Players of Shakespeare: Essays in Shakespearean Performance, edited by Philip Brockbank, Cambridge University Press, 1985, pp. 41-66.

[In the following essay, Sinden analyzes his performance as Malvolio for Barton's 1969-70 production of Twelfth Night.]

Why is it so difficult to record in words a theatrical performance? Critics such as Hazlitt, Coleridge, Agate and Tynan have given us their own responses to certain performances; and we have some heavily annotated scripts of actors and actresses such as Sarah Siddons and Ellen Terry. But I cannot recall an attempt by an actor to analyse his own performance, to set down what he thought and did, what he tried to achieve, where and how he succeeded, move by move. That is what I am attempting here. Not that I think my interpretation of Malvolio in 1970 was definitive—no Shakespearean performance ever is. I do think it fitted John Barton's conception of Twelfth Night, however, and it was well received by the public.

I first saw Twelfth Night at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1947, and in the following year appeared as Sebastian in the Old Vic production directed by Sir Alec Guinness. I fully appreciated the charm of this delightful play, so much so that when early in 1969 John Barton telephoned to ask me to play Malvolio I unhesitatingly said 'yes'. It was to be the penultimate production of the season, to be followed by Henry VIII in which I was to play the King. Rehearsals were begun two days after I left my current play Not Now Darling. When I reread Twelfth Night, however, I soon realized that this was not the play I thought I knew. Troubled, I telephoned John Barton: 'I am afraid you may have to recast Malvolio—I find him tragic.' 'Thank God for that', he replied, T thought I would have to talk you round to it.' I was committed. Before rehearsals started I read the play some ten times. Slowly, oh so slowly I hammer myself into the character until by the time of the first performance I can step in and out of his shoes. I look for any character-building phrase in the script, and try to analyse his attitudes to circumstances both in the play and out of it. Though I have read most books on the theory of acting, I subscribe to no one method but try to judge performances by a tenet of Ellen Terry's: 'To act you must make the thing written your own; you must steal the words, steal the thoughts, and convey the stolen treasure to others with great art.'

What kind of man is Malvolio? What is his background? I see him as a military man; unpopular at school, he joins the army and, while he displays no quality of leadership, he is so damned efficient that he now finds himself, at forty-five, a Colonel in the Pay Corps, embittered, with no prospect of further promotion. He has bored every woman he has met and he stays unmarried. A certain widowed Count I suppose needed a major-domo to manage his Mediterranean estate, and who better than this totally efficient and honest teetotaller? When Malvolio arrives in Illyria he is shocked by its asolare mood and its spongeing layabouts. There is Sir Toby (perhaps the English brother of the dead Countess), but there is nothing easier to manage than a drunk; then the Fool, whose tasteless jokes fail to amuse Malvolio, who goes Absent Without Leave, and must be disciplined; and Maria (aged fifty in Barton's production and sometime governess to the Count's daughter) could be brought to heel if only she wouldn't consort with people above her station. As for the suitors, Aguecheek, that eccentric fifty-year-old Scot (Barton's version), and the arty Count Orsino—but I am already thinking as Malvolio!

As I rehearse, the muscles of my face and my whole body begin to react to the tensions within Malvolio. The military years have left their mark: an erect stance, nearly always at 'Attention', and when 'At Ease' never fully relaxed. Originally I had wanted to carry a short cane, but being persuaded that it would evoke quite the wrong period I settled for the long staff of office, but always felt that to Malvolio it was an encumbrance. He has a small, tight, mean mouth, the corners of which turn down. The inner ends of his eyebrows are elevated and the outer pulled down in an expression of permanent supercilious scorn for his minions. He is thin—too thin—from his years of austerity. Now, I as an actor am not thin enough! Yet the actor in the comedy must tell the audience as much as he can at his first entrance. What can make-up and costume do for me? I spend a great deal of time observing my fellow creatures, trying to find 'copy' for the character I play, and frequently I find my 'face' in an art gallery. On this occasion I visited the Tate and found my Malvolio in Graham Sutherland's splendid elongated portrait of Somerset Maugham. The eyebrows, the mouth, the wrinkles—every one of them vertical, and that is what I must be: vertical—the knees close together, the hair very thin on top but grown long in an attempt to cover the balding pate, above all the colour—yellow, jaundiced. I take a postcard; I have my make-up.

Now for the costume. The designer has placed the setting for this production at about the year 1603. Late Elizabe-than, early Jacobean. The costume designer and I agree that Malvolio should be dressed in black: high-heeled shoes (adding height), black stockings (shmming), breeches, doublet (very tight), and the black only relieved by very narrow, plain, white collar and cuffs. I choose a period hat like a black flower pot (height again and vertical line), and an overcoat with a large raised collar which in silhouette continues the line from hat-to-shoulders-to-hip. Malvolio must have a chain of office (a thin one with a large circular disc). This could run across the chest, but no—better run it round the neck and down as near vertical as possible. Somerset Maugham's hair would be quite out of period so we make a wig with long straight hair faintly curled at the bottom all round the head, with a few strands to cover the dome, now padded to give an egg-like look. All this was not thought up in advance, of course, but day by day as rehearsals were under way.

In performance the character must move in specific stage conditions, in this instance on a permanent set designed by Christopher Morley. It represented a long room or gallery running away from the audience in deep perspective, with double doors at the far end and entrance Downstage Left and Right. I have always thought that a stage should be mapped out on graph paper so that a prompt-script could denote somewhat more precise positions. As it is we merely write, for example, 'X D R' which assumes the knowledge (previously recorded) that we were formerly 'U C. Quite often one will shift weight from one foot to the other; while this can change emphasis it is very rarely recorded. In the account that follows I have used this simplified convention but have added one of my own. Laughs are not normally recorded, but the comic actor is always striving for them, and I would like to be able to rate their size from 1-9, between the largest that can be expected (9) and the smallest (1) still worth trying for.

'If music be the food of love'—the play has started, and I shall try to give you my thoughts and Malvolio's, objective and subjective, at key points of its performance.

Before the start of Act 1, Scene 3 the Olivia household is returning from church; entering Left and straight to the centre of the stage, a sharp Right turn, Up and out of the door U C leaving Toby behind with his first line. As I move toward the centre carrying my staff I look to my left—people! What are they doing there? (Laugh 3.) Again leading a procession in Scene 5, but no coat and hat, I enter this time R. I glower at Feste, for I have persuaded Ohvia that he must go and she has promised to dismiss him; I assist Olivia to her chair D R. None of this is exaggerated and only a tiny fraction of the audience notices it. Fabian and another servant are in attendance slightly Up-stage C. Fabian has a drink on a tray which he hands me and which I proffer to Olivia; she doesn't want it so I return it to Fabian, take a book from him and give it to Olivia, glance at its cover and see it is not at all suitable. 'Take the Fool away', says Olivia. If only she wouldn't personally give orders to the servants. She ought to do it through me. But with a quick jerk of my staff to them I think I can make it appear that that was the original intention. But what is the Fool saying? 'Take away the Lady.' Good God, he should be shot. What a bore he is, but she gives in to him and I walk L and turn my back to the populace, who again seem to have gathered. 'What think you of this Fool, Malvolio? doth he not mend?' Wham! Right into my court and in front of all these people. What can I say? The most grudging, sour, nasal 'Nyeas' (laugh 4). The actor needs a laugh there, as his next line is vicious, 'and shall do till the pangs of death shake him'. Feste answers with a feeble joke at which Maria dares to laugh—a glower, a rap on the floor and a jerk of my staff and she is sent scurrying. 'How say you to that, Malvolio?' From a great height and with positive delight I can reply 'he is out of his guard already, unless you laugh' (pronounced as one might say 'vomit'). Then, with a look across the theatre circle, 'I take these wise men that crow so … no better than the fool's zanies.' Did I see a smile on Fabian's face? 'I'll have his guts for garters.' I am now one-hundred-percent Malvolio, but in a comedy I, the actor, must remain one-hundred-percent myself, standing out-side my character, my ears out on stalks listening for the very slightest sound from the audience, controlling them, so that I am able to steer a 'cue', 'punch' or 'tag' line clear of any interruption. If on any night Malvolio takes over, the precision, the immaculate timing, the control suffer. If the actor takes over, the performance becomes 'technical' and the audience is always aware of it. (This last is often a fault of mine and my wife lets me know it.)

Malvolio's next entrance shows him at a loss, foot faulted, off-guard, vulnerable, outfaced by a mere chit of a boy. Ostensibly to ask for further instructions I enter from L rapidly, the staff now out of control, and on arriving C my mouth opens—but to say what? My finger tips to my lips (does he bite his nails?) and Olivia is looking at me waiting. I must try to say something, pull myself together: 'Madam' (pronounced Mairdom; laugh 3), producing it from a stutter of B's D's T's and P's to make the word much more incongruous. I finish in desperation, 'What is to be said to him, Lady?—he's fortified against any denial.' She answers, 'Tell him he shall not speak with me.' This solution seems never to have occurred to me. With a civil inclination I start off quickly L but after four steps I am caught in mid-air and turn towards Olivia, for I had quite forgotten. 'H'as been told so' (laugh 3). 'What kind of man is he?' What an extraordinary question! 'Why, of mankind' (laugh 1). 'What manner of man', 'Of very ill manner' (laugh 2). I look off L. Then Olivia, as to a child, 'Of what personage and years is he?' A great light dawns—at last I see what she is getting at. Here I interpose 'Ahhh!' (laugh 2), and speak grudgingly on. But Olivia answers, 'Let him approach.' I must obey; I turn and begin to exit quickly L but I am again caught in mid-air by 'Call in my gentlewoman!' Oh dear! One thing at a time, please. A sharp about turn and my staff is Jove-like banged on the floor and the voice that roars 'Gentlewoman' is of the parade-ground (laugh 4). Maria comes scuttling on from R. 'May Lady calls', I explain, with the implication that the voice that thundered 'Gentlewoman' was Olivia's (laugh 4). With scornful dignity and elegant use of my staff, I exit L. No sooner out of 'the presence' I am faced with that maddening Cesario again. As I return to announce 'him', before I can utter a word, I am shaken to discover that Olivia and Maria have both lowered their veils.

As Cesario is shortly to play upon this point, I must not as an actor forestall it; however, as Malvolio, I cannot allow it to go unnoticed; my reaction is therefore infinitesimal.

While I am still undetermined about whom I should speak to, Cesario enters and says to Olivia: 'The honourable lady of the house, which is she?' Can I believe what I hear? This chit of a boy takes incredible liberties, and suddenly Olivia says: 'Give us the place alone.' Leave a young man and young girl alone! But that is an order, so a rap with my staff and pointing it R, I indicate that Maria must leave—and before me. She does so and I look Cesario over from head to foot and slowly, very slowly; with efficient use of my staff exit R.

Every night at this point I would wait in the wings for my next entrance—partly because I personally enjoyed listening to the enchanting scene between Cesario and Olivia and partly because I felt that Malvolio would do precisely the same—his ear glued to the keyhole. 'What ho, Malvolio!' His military reflex action is to reply: 'Here, Madam', patently betraying the fact that he is, to say the least, lurking (laugh 2). I came into view from the R entrance and under cover of a laugh from the audience I made my way to C. Malvolio recovers dignity en route—his attention riveted on the 'door' L through which Cesario has just left. He is hardly aware that he then adds: 'At your service.' Olivia begins: 'Run after that same …' This is too much! Never in my life—at least not for many years have I been ordered to do anything so indecorous; shocked, shattered, I echo: 'Run?!' (laugh 8). John Barton always disapproved of this. He did not mind my reaction or that I should mouth 'Run', but I was not to vocalize it. The difference for me was between a titter and a theatre-shaking belly laugh. We finally agreed, 'Matinées only'. Subsequently in Australia Trevor Nunn found himself having to rehearse some replacements to the cast—John Barton being detained in Stratford-upon-Avon. When we came to this scene he asked me why I no longer got a laugh at this point of the play. I explained that John Barton had said that my 'run' was not in the text. 'Ah; but', said Nunn equivocally, 'it is in the subtext.' So back it went for the rest of the tour! Malvolio only half hears the rest of her instructions and is not quite sure when she has finished. She gives him the ring which he has to almost force on to his much larger finger while couching the staff in the crook of his elbow. A pause, then she adds: 'Hie thee, Malvolio.' I am deeply hurt that she should speak thus to me—but what am I to do? Pained and distressed I reply: 'Madam' (I'm sorry you should behave like this) 'I will.' I turn L, the staff is held by its centre, horizontally, in the right hand and I execute what must be the slowest run ever (one critic called it 'a Zulu lope'), as if crossing a series of puddles just wider than an extended pace. I exit L (laugh 8, and round of applause).

John Barton here transposed Act 2, Scenes 1 and 2. The chair and sunshade were replaced by a long bench, the door U C opened and we are in a street. Cesario enters Up-stage having come straight from the house and seats herself, perplexed by her own encounter with Olivia. Immediately Malvolio appears from the same U entrance; still 'running', he is tiring visibly (laugh 2); he 'runs' down to the R corner of the stage and stops; he looks out towards the audience 'Where can be?—not there.' He 'runs' across below Cesario to the L (laugh 2), and is about to exit when he becomes aware that Cesario has risen and is now standing. It looks like him, but is it? I point the top end of my staff: 'Were not you e'en now with the Countess Olivia?' 'On a moderate pace I have since arrived but hither.' (Is that a veiled criticism that he walks faster than I run?) However, 'She returns this ring to you, sir.' The staff regains its normal vertical position but upside down—damned thing! Reverse it, embarrassing (laugh 1), and again couched at the left elbow to facilitate the removal of the ring while saying, 'You might have saved me my pains to have taken it away yourself.' But the ring has stuck (laugh 3). A heave. No good. A quick look to Cesario, don't let him think I am embarrassed; 'She adds moreover that you should put your Lord into a desperate' (that word is coloured by his own desperation) 'assurance she will none of him.' Another tug and an attempt to un-screw the ring—but it is still stuck. What a terrible thing to happen! (Laugh 5.) But play for time: 'And one thing more …' The mind has raced: he remembers his mother removing a ring by sucking it and the surrounding finger and so lubricating it; he does so. He succeeds, and by the end of 'unless it be to report your Lord's taking of this' it is off!—'Receive it so.' I hold it out at arm's length with R hand finger tips, but Cesario says, 'She took the ring of me, I'll none of it' and he crosses D R. Out of all patience I shout, 'Come, sir!' He turns back. 'You peevishly threw it to her and her will is it should be so' (i. e. 'peevishly') 'returned' (laugh 4). Affecting a 'peevish' stance, L foot raised and L arm half-raised for a rather feminine throw he inadvertently appears effeminate as he throws the ring at Cesario's feet. Cesario makes no move. 'If it be worth the stooping for, there it lies [lays] in your eye [aye]; if not, be it his' (and I know very well that you will pick it up the moment I am out of sight) 'that "finds" it.' Staff to the horizontal position and I eject myself into the air to continue 'running'—Upstage. It takes three or four steps to realize that I no longer have to run; put on the brakes! A quick look back to glare at Cesario for a moment of embarrassment (laugh 4) which of course I won't admit and with more dignity than at any other time in the play I stride, like a galleon in full sail, straight U and off centre.

Lying in bed that night, having read a few pages of St Thomas Aquinas and wondering what attitude to take to the proposed new Prayer Book, at around midnight I hear sounds coming from the garden; they increase in volume: what is it—a riot? I leap out of bed wearing my new night-gown. It reaches just to my knees. Slippers on, putting my chain of office around my neck, symbol of authority, what would I be without it? my fur-collared coat over the top and my hat on my head—it's a cold night and I am bald—I race off down the stairs and out to the garden. I can now see Sir Toby and Maria dancing and singing while Feste plays his wretched guitar and Sir Andrew his bagpipes!! At my very fastest walk I eject myself from the R (in fact I always stood several paces offstage at the 'start' position in order to achieve maximum propulsion at the moment of entry onstage). Arriving in the centre of the group, Feste on my left, Aguecheek D C, Sir Toby U C and Maria standing on the chair R, the 'music' continues until one by one they become aware of my presence (laugh 8); first Feste, then Maria who signals to Toby who sits C, then Aguecheek who subsides on to the floor. Again, John Barton disapproved of the hat in this scene, but I felt it quite legitimate to wear it. Malvolio would have felt un-dressed without hat and coat. I am furious! Passing my glower from Aguecheek back to Feste I suddenly become aware that my coat has flown open exposing my 'shorty' nightgown and my bare legs beneath it! With a lightning movement I cross the coat over my shame (at the same moment one knee slightly crosses the other resulting in an 'unintentional' attitude of effeminacy (laugh 6)—a middle-aged Susannah surprised at her bath). A snatched look at them all—did they see my nightgown? I cannot openly attack Sir Toby or Sir Andrew, but I can attack Feste and Maria, my minions, and through them the other two, so I address Feste. He has gone too far. Far too far. I walk above him to C and strike an attitude, left hand on the back of the deck-chair and right hand pulls back my coat and rests on my right hip (laugh 6). Quite forgetting that I now expose nightgown and legs and look totally absurd while telling Sir Toby I must be round with him. Sir Toby and Feste are untamed. Right, then—I will break it up by removing their supplies. Andrew has placed his drinking vessel on the floor as he subsided, so on my way to collect it, moving round L and D C, I pass Feste and say, 'Is it even so?' (if it is, that is your lot). I pick it up—Good God! it is one of my Lady's best glass goblets. I say to Sir Andrew, 'This is much credit to you:' I take the glass U and behind the table where I find that they have all been using glass goblets—not only that, but also one of my Lady's best decanters and a silver tray and a silver candelabra on which are burning three candles. They cost a great deal of money and I am responsible for the household accounts! This will never happen again! I pick up the tray and all its contents. Suddenly I hear Sir Toby at my L saying, 'Art any more than a steward?' My lips tighten, my eyes narrow (stop before you go too far). 'Rub your chain with crumbs', he says, and 'A stoop of wine, Maria.' My chance. He cannot, he shall not, involve my servants. My head lashes round to Maria who is about to follow Sir Toby's request. 'Mistress Mary' is spoken quietly but menacingly; there is no doubt about it meaning 'stand still'. 'She shall know of it' (tell-tale) 'by this hand.' A final sneer at them all—particularly Sir Toby, for my last remarks were as much for his benefit as Maria's; my head erect, tray held carefully, sharp R turn I march off R (an imperceptible half step backwards before L, R, L, R) (laugh 5).

I like to think that the letter scene (2.5) was originally played with Toby, Andrew and Fabian (where does he spring from?) hidden in the upper balcony over an inner stage. Maria could then get a laugh with, 'Get you all three into the box—tree.' The box tree has been treated in different ways; sometimes three individual trees can be carried round the stage, and sometimes there is a series of trees with the three moving from one to another. In this production Maria placed the letter on a deck-chair and the spectators hid behind a hedge (breaking the convention which normally does not allow soliloquy to be overheard by other characters). Barton thought of it as Malvolio's scene and left him the rest of the stage unencumbered. When we began work on the scene we found we had to give some thought to the letter. What type of letter? A scroll? A single sheet? Folded?—once, twice? All we know is that it is 'sealed'—or has upon it a seal.…

Malvolio has been strolling in the garden and even loosened the neck of his tunic! ('Practising behaviour to his own shadow' I took to mean 'As his only audience' rather than 'Making shadow-shapes'.) His arms behind his back at waist level he appears U C but looking off L as Maria says 'for here comes the trout that must be caught with tickling', before leaving. He walks very slowly straight D C imperiously surveying his domain. Half-way down he involuntarily breaks into a little dance step (feet only) (laugh 3). I had in fact learnt the step for Henry VIII from which it had eventually been cut and I thought it a pity to waste it! Suddenly the thought that he may be seen stops him and almost in panic looks, quickly, first L, and then R, into the exits. No, all is well; so proceed D C. Arriving below the hedge his attention is caught by something L; it is 'my Lady' in imagination. He effects a most elaborate bow and extends his L hand on which to place 'hers', gives 'her' a sickly, ingratiating smile and 'they' turn to move R but—who is that skulking in the shadows D R? (One of the common people.) He glowers, his R hand shoots out and an imperious finger beckons the varlet—'he' approaches—the finger gestures 'him' to kneel—'he' doesn't—the glower deepens—again 'Down' says the finger. 'He' kneels. Malvolio draws an imaginary sword and violently decapitates him, replaces sword and smiles benignly on his 'consort' (laugh 3). Such is power! This has evoked a laugh and to his great consternation he is aware that he is overlooked by the theatre audience. Horror; his left arm is still holding 'my Lady's' imaginary hand! Consternation: this requires an explanation. "Tis but fortune—all is fortune.' (The following part of the Une I found terribly ambiguous; 'Maria once told me she did affect me and I have heard herself' etc. sounds as if'she' and 'herself' applied to Maria rather than to Olivia. John Barton suggested I should say, 'Maria once told me my Lady did affect me', which certainly clarifies it though the purists will object.) 'It should be one of my complexion' (of which he is very proud!), and on that happy note he can amble R above the chair on which he places his L hand. 'What should I think on't?' causes him to move slightly D R. A smile breaks; his eyes narrow and glisten, 'To be Count Malvolio'. The audience have laughed at Andrew and Toby's following lines as he is about to sit on the chair on which the letter has been placed. Malvolio thinks the audience must be laughing at him; he is arrested in a halfsit—'There is example for't. The Lady of the Strachy married the Yeoman of the Wardrobe'—so there. He completes the action of sitting and becomes involved in his reverie—'Having been three months married to her, sitting', as thus, 'in my state'—while Toby speaks, Malvolio notices his 'officers' off R and gestures them forward, 'calling my officers about me, in my branched velvet gown', described with a gesture 'having come from a day bed where I have left Olivia', and such is my prowess—he looks at a knowing colleague in the circle—'sleeping', his eyebrows flicker to underline his point (laugh 4). 'And then' with Olivia safely tucked up, 'to have the humour of state; and after a demure travel of regard', he looks along the circle from L to R and selects one person to whom to address with an accusatory finger, 'telling them I know my place as I would they should do theirs, to ask for my kinsman' (as he is now!) 'Toby' (that pig). A slight pause and he rolls the letter into a 'tube'; 'I frown the while and perchance … wind up my watch … or play with my …' The letter is now held upright on his lap somewhat suggestively; the audience is about to giggle (laugh 3)—(filthy minds these people have)—an explanation is necessary, 'some rich jewel' (laugh 2). 'Toby approaches' from L, 'curtsies there to me…I extend my hand to him thus', an imperious L hand is extended palm down and as an afterthought he adds, 'quenching my familiar smile with an austere regard of control' (laugh 2) (why should they think that funny?). 'You MUST amend your drunkenness', the head relaxes slightly R but cracks back with, 'Besides; you waste the treasure of your time with a foolish knight … one Sir Andrew' (a second-class Christian name). The daydream is over; his attention wanders; what is this in his hand? A piece of paper; put it where? Down beside the chair—someone else will clear it up. But—it has writing upon it—'What employment have we here?' The writing is upside down, he turns it round.

'BY MY LIFE': he leaps from the chair and speaks directly to the audience 'this is may Lady's hand!' He studies the writing and finds confirmation. He shows the writing to the audience and illustrates with his L hand 'These be her very c's, her u's 'n her t's' (Naughtily I abbreviated the original text of 'and her t's'), 'and thus makes she her great P's' (laugh 3). I must forestall the audience's reaction. Malvolio doesn't intend the bawdry, but Shakespeare does (there is no 'c' or 'P' in the superscription). He throws the letter aside and starts to move U. His eyes roam the audience (I would not dream of reading someone else's letter). His fingers run along the back of the chair R to L. As it reaches the end … did his foot slip? or how is it that he has now lost 18 inches in height and has the back of the chair under his R armpit? (laugh 4). He can now read the superscription, 'To the unknown beloved, this, and my good wishes'. As he picks it up and moves D C he tells the onlookers, 'Her very phrases … By your leave'. (Excuse me for a moment while I open this.) But there is a great seal. Foiled! Showing it to the audience who will now understand the reason for this stoppage he says, 'Wax' (laugh 2) and illustrates with a finger. 'Soft' (therefore only recently sealed!), 'and the impressure her Lucrece.' As he squeezes the sides of the letter so that it resembles a tele-scope, he says, 'With which she uses to seal.' Tis may Lady.' After asking, 'To whom should this be?' with one eye closed he peers through it as if it were the most natural way of reading a letter (laugh 1); again he fails to discover the contents. The letter is now flat again. He tries to raise one corner of the flap, now the other corner, and the wax gives way! He emits a high-pitched, almost effeminate 'Oh' (laugh 4) (or what is shorter than 'Oh'? 'O'?). As he looks at the audience (what an awful thing to happen) the look develops into a 'You will probably think that I did that on purpose.' A third of the letter is snatched open …

The postscript is upside down so is impossible to read. What meets his eye is 'Jove knows I love, but who? Lips, do not move. No man must knoo' (laugh 2). Incredulous he repeats, 'No man must knoo?'; to the audience (silly me)'No man must know!' Ah. 'If this should be thee … Malvolio'. You will notice that I cut 'What follows? The numbers altered.' Arrogantly I thought this gives away the MOAI point too soon, and I inserted 'What follows?' before reciting in a tee-tum, tee-tum fashion:

I may command where I adore
But silence like a Lucrece knife
With bloodless stroke my heart doth gore
Moai doth sway my life.
                     [II.v. 107-07]

And puzzled, I ask if the audience know the word—'MO AH-EE?' (laugh 2). While Fabian and Sir Toby speak I try to work it out; "'MO-AH-EE doth sway my life." Nay, but first let me see, let me see'; the next two lines being cut he continues, ' "I may command where I adore." Why, she may command me', he tells the audience, 'I serve her; she is may Lady. Why this is evident to any formal capacity, there is no obstruction in this'—spoken so quickly it elicits a laugh. 'What should that alphabetical position portend? If I could make that resemble something in me… "M" comma "o" comma "A" comma', and he shows the commas to the audience the while; what a fool he has been not to notice before! So what does it all mean? 'M', he queries. A great light dawns. The eyes pop. The 'M' dissolves into 'M' m MALVOLIO', he ventures in a whisper. Don't they understand?' ' "M" … why, that begins MY NAME!' SO that is clear for the 'M', 'but then there is no consonancy' (no consonants) 'in the sequel. That suffers under probation … "A" should follow but "o" does! The "I" comes behind.' More thought: ' "M.O.A.I."' etc.

After picking out the word 'crush', the other third of the letter falls open. 'Soft!' A silencing finger is raised while his R hand holds the letter, 'here follows prose'. (Thank God, after all that poesy.) 'If this fall into thy hand, revolve'; a look at the audience, 'it can't mean that! If it does, I won't. 'But as he continues he involuntarily walks in a tight circle, making sure that the resulting laugh (3) does not obscure the lines. 'In my stars I am above thee, but be not afraid of greatness; some are born great' (not me) 'some achieve greatness' (not me) 'and some' (wait for it) 'have greatness thrust upon 'em. 'He flashes a plea to the audience. Do they understand the importance of that? His speech now becomes faster and faster, growing in excitement as the truths reveal themselves. 'Remember who commended thy yellow stockings' (yellow stockings, to the audience) 'and wished to see thee ever cross-gartered' (cross-gartered?). 'I say remember. Go to, thou art made if thou desir'st to be so. If not, let me see thee a…' (does it? Yes it does! Joy can know no bounds!)—to the gallery, 'STEWARD still.' They obviously don't believe him, so he shows them the very word and mouths it a second time (laugh 3). Fools! He is patently wasting his time on them—they only laugh. The fellow of servants and not worthy to touch fortune's finger farewell she that would alter services with thee the fortunate unhappy.' He is breathless (so am I), but up, up, exultant, 'Daylight and champagne discover not more. This is open. 'He strikes the letter on 'this' and on 'open'. Right, then! 'I will be proud. I will read politic authors. I will baffle Sir Toby. I will wash off gross acquaintance. I will be point devise the very man!' The voice drops in pitch and intensity and slowly begins to rise again, 'I do not now fool myself to let imagination jade me; for every reason excites to this… that may Lady, loves, ME!' The voice drops again, only to rise again, 'I thank my stars' (and there they are somewhere above the gallery); 'I … am … Happy' (laugh 3) and never has a face looked more gloomy although ecstatic. So, resolved and fast, 'I will be strange, stout, in yellow stockings and cross-gartered' (if that is the way She wants it) 'even with the swiftness of putting on.' He turns to run upstage but before taking a step he turns back and down on one knee, 'Jove and my stars be praised', he crosses himself (laugh 2). Oh! A quick look at the populace, 'don't think that I just crossed myself ', and he is off upstage looking down at the letter. A scream! 'Ahhhhhhh', he turns and beckons to the audience: 'Here', and by way of explanation he races back to a 'friend' who happens to be sitting in the front row of the stalls and shows him, 'is yet a postscript!' (laugh 2). (All right. I'll read it to you.) 'Thou can'st not choose but know who I am! If thou entertainst my love, let it appear in thy smiling …' a squeal of brakes—poleaxed! (laugh 2). Look for a friend—None? (Gloomily.) 'Thy smiles become thee well, therefore in my presence still smile.' The word becomes 'manure', the mouth a gash; 'dear, O my sweet, I prithee'. Total dejection!—but mounting larks should sing. There is iron resolution in this man, so in the voice of Job he calls upon his God, 'Jove! I thank thee! I will "smile" '(and what is more I'll try it now)—the corners of the mouth extend some two inches towards his ears, but that is all (laugh 3). He can do it. Given time. 'I will do everything that Thou'—and his extended arm nearly touches Jove himself—'wilt have me!' Malvolio floats swiftly upstage and off (laugh 9 and round of applause).

I don't mind admitting that I used to collapse sweating in my dressing-room. The necessary ebullience was the most ecstatic I have yet been able to produce as an actor. In my Malvolio wardrobe I find a pair of black and yellow slashed breeches; they are Elizabethan rather than Jacobean, however. And here is a large yellow ruff, and a hat—very similar to my other but with a wide brim. With today's top-lighting in the theatre this would shadow the face, so the designer agreed that the front of the brim should be flattened and attached to the crown. This is topped by a large yellow feather. Our designer pointed out that cross-gartering merely implied that the normal garter, from below the knee, was crossed at the back of the leg and continued up and round again above the knee before being tied in a bow. Never having attempted this before, Malvolio has tied them far too tight and they are serving as a tourniquet, a fact that is to colour the whole scene. He has spent some hours creeping around the house and garden in an endeavour to find Olivia. Is she evading him? And he must try not to be seen by the servants. The gaiety with which he donned the garments is now wearing rather thin—was it, will it be, worth this masquerade? Where can she be? My legs are killing me. Legs which were so straight, almost knock-kneed, are now bowed with the agony. I have literally to hold on to the gatepost U C as I am about to come down into the garden (laugh 6).

Shakespeare very cleverly allowed his Malvolio to be totally outrageous in this scene, excusing all by making Fabian say 'If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it for an improbable fiction.'

My face is grimacing with the pain. I hobble forward and half-way down (laugh 4) and there she is!—standing D R with her back to me. Pull myself together, the pain has gone! or has it? Twinges every now and again, I make my way to the L of the sundial—I can lean on it if necessary. I 'prepare' myself for the total effect. I have her letter in my L hand—both arms are lifted effectively above my head; I succeed in looking rather like the famous Faun of Pompeii and filled with the same euphoria. But she doesn't turn! (Maria is there L but I don't see her.) A discreet cough. She turns! 'How now, Malvolio?'; not quite the reaction I expected; but of course! I have forgotten the smile! Here goes (laugh 4). Very musically, almost sung, 'Sweet Lady', and then—as written—flatly, with no humour at all, 'Ho. Ho' (laugh 4). The parallel fingers of my R hand punctuate both 'Ho's' like castanets; Burbage never produced such an effect! 'I sent for thee upon a sad occasion', she will have her little jokes; 'Sad, Lady? I could be sad … This', I lift my L leg and point to it, 'does make some obstruction in the blood' (the increased pressure on the R leg causes me to clutch, and lean on the sundial) (laugh 5), 'but what of that?—If it please the eye of one, it is with me as the very true sonnet is, "Please one and please all'." (John Barton discovered that this was a lyric of a popular song of the time so I attempted to sing it, un-musically, while illustrating that 'one' applied to Olivia and 'all' to the audience.) 'Not black in my mind though yellow in my legs' (laugh 2); my best joke for years! I fail to notice that no one laughs at it. I hold the letter aloft; 'It did come to his hands and commands shall be executed! I think we do know the sweet Roman hand'; and I speak as one who can recognize a Gill Sans Serif at ten paces as I face away to peruse the contents of the letter. (In reality, to allow myself the required reaction on the next line.) WHAT has she said?! My reaction is shock. Horror. Panic (laugh 7). The audience see him in full face. 'To bed?' Good God! So soon? But what must be must be: 'AY!' (laugh 4) is a battle cry: the challenge is accepted, 'Sweet heart and I'll come to thee.' Valentino was never in better form: endless kisses are exploded and my finger tips flick them in her direction. Suddenly from my left, the voice of Maria. How dare she! I am committed. I must play this through. 'Be surly with servants'—'At your request?! Yessss', what do I mean by that?—I don't know, but it gives me time to think my next quip: 'Nightingales answer daws', and a glance at Olivia for approbation. But Maria goes on. She must be quelled. I will quote to her a line which should be to her totally incomprehensible while at the same time impressing 'may Lady', so, in portentous tones (Abandon Hope All Ye, etc.), 'Be not afraid of greatness', and a quick aside to Olivia, "twas well writ' (laugh 1). Oh goody. Olivia is joining in the game, pretending she doesn't understand, so with rising tones 'some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them' (laugh 2). I don't hear her intervening lines; I now take her by the arm and cross L. I will show her that I have memorized every word of her letter and at the same time sweep her off her feet to a climactic 'If not, let me see thee a servant still!' (laugh 3). Unbeknown, a servant has entered behind me L and as I open my mouth to say—perhaps—'Madam this is it', he says 'Madam, the young gentleman of the Count Orsino's is returned.' I register him but I am now sitting on a cloud—nothing can deflate me. They all exit.

'Oh ho' is triumphant and straight at the audience, 'do you come near me now!' 'Cast thy humble slough' is from memory, but while I speak I open the letter and read—for proof positive—the rest of the quotation. I cut the next twenty-eight words because in the letter as we have it 'sad face', 'slow tongue', 'reverend carriage' are not mentioned at all. Also, theatrically I was able to leapfrog to 'I have limed her! but' (of course I must not forget) 'it is Jove's doing and, Jove!' (a call to attract His attention just above the back row of the gallery) 'make me thankful.' I address the audience again—orchestra stalls now, 'and when she went away now, "Let thisfellow be looked to" '(you realize the importance of that?). I look around—surely someone out there does! Idiots! '"Fellow" '(laugh 2); they still don't get it, 'not Malvolio, nor after my degree, but FELLOW' (laugh 3).

I am saddened to record that it took me nearly a hundred performances to evolve the next piece of 'business'. The turning-point was a matinée in Adelaide while we were on a tour of Australia. The local company, whose performance of The Seagull we had seen the week before, came to the Twelfth Night matinée. I tried to think of something that, while not in any way disturbing the rest of the audience, might please a very charming group of fellow Thespians. I was quite unprepared for the result—one of the best laughs in the play. As I have stated, bang in the centre of the stage was a designer's gimmick: a sundial—all very charming but of no use at all; all movements were restricted to circling round it. I had already discovered some use for it in the succeeding part of the scene, of which more anon, but I now thought that if the disc at the end of my chain were a watch and if at this moment I were to look at the time indicated on the sundial and if on checking my watch against it I should find a variance, Malvolio's meticulous mind would automatically assume that his watch would be correct and that it was the sundial that showed the incorrect time. It should be therefore put to rights. The sundial, being made of stone, would be heavy but under pressure could be twisted (I tried it on a real one and unless cemented to the ground it can be done). So, I assume the sun to be shining from the R corner at the back of the gallery. 'Why everything adheres together' (glance at sundial) 'that no dram of a scruple' (look at watch) 'no scruple of a scruple' (back to sundial) 'no obstacle' (look at watch). Check 'sunbeam' to sundial and adjust it until correct time is shown during—'no incredulous or unsafe circumstance' (laugh 9).

But who comes here? Toby. Begin as I mean to go on: complete hauteur. I hear him but am heedless of his words. As Toby says 'How is't with you?' he attempts to lay a soothing hand on my right forearm—how dare he! I knock it away as one would a mosquito one hears approaching the face and bring my hand sharply back to nearly where it was, but impale it upon the finger of the sundial!—'Ah!' (laugh 5). It is pure trickery: the flat of the hand merely strikes the angle of the 'finger'. In considerable pain Malvolio shakes his hand, looks at the wound and determines to brave it out, but Sir Toby, startled, produces a crude crucifix and advises Malvolio to 'defy the devil'. In his confused, euphoric state Malvolio believes this drunkard to be embarking on a theological dissertation—'Do you know what you say?' is a rhetorical reprimand. It is all too much: the euphoria, the agony of the cross-gartering, the pain of the impaled hand, the insults; one must make a good exit, hence 'Geow. Hang yourselves all! You are idle shellow things. I am not of your element. You shall know more hereafter' is split between my adversaries (laugh 3). Malvolio turns, but the tourniquet has done its work, his R leg has quite gone to sleep, he nearly falls, staggers and hobbles in great pain U C and off.

I will admit to a dissatisfaction on this exit—I never really succeeded in bringing it off theatrically, even if I did truthfully.

Apart from the almost incidental 'We'll have him in a dark room and bound' Shakespeare in no way prepares his audience for the shock of Malvolio's next appearance. The play was written when bull- and bear-baiting were common sports, the pillory entertained jeering crowds, idiots were part of 'the public stock of harmless pleasure' and the populace thronged to public executions. In John Barton's production, the so-called prison scene took place some-where at the end of the garden where there could have been some type of primitive septic tank covered firstly by an iron grille and over that a trap door to keep out some of the disgusting smell. In this Malvolio has been placed. We are to imagine that the floor of this sewer is some eight feet below ground level, so only by gripping the bars and pulling himself up will Malvolio be able to just get his head through the bars. His hands and head will be the only parts visible.

Feste stamps on the trap. Who, what is it? 'Oh!' Feste opens the trap as he says "What ho I say, peace in this prison.' Are 'they' about to taunt him again? Defensively, 'Who calls there?' It is practically dark outside but the faintest glimmer of moonlight attracts Malvolio as he grips the bar and pulls his head through (laugh 4); his eyes are starting from his head, he is hysterical. 'Good Sir Topas. Do not think I am mad' (but I think I am)—'they have laid me here in hideous darkness', and Malvolio is weeping. 'Say'st thou that house is dark?' 'As Hell, Sir Topas.' Hell to Malvolio is a very real place, but Sir Topas then tells Malvolio that the clerestories are 'lustrous as ebony'. Malvolio looks from R slowly to L, trying to fathom what to a sane man is nonsense but to him is surely proof of his own madness. Like King Lear's 'Let me not be mad!' Malvolio then slowly and tearfully tells himself, 'I … am … not … mad … Sir … Topas', and clinging to reason, 'I say to you this house is dark!' In reply to Sir Topas, Malvolio then explodes, 'I say this house is as dark as ignorance though ignorance were as dark as hell and I say there was never man thus abused.' That spurt has exhausted Malvolio who realizes that he is merely antagonizing Sir Topas; the tears are held back, 'I am no more mad than you are—make the trial of it in any constant question.' (I am not mad. I am not mad. I am not mad.) 'What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wildfowl?' Ah, I know, I know the answer! 'That the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a bird.' 'What thinkest thou of his opinion?' As a true Catholic, 'I think nobly of the soul and no way approve his opinion.' During his next line Feste makes to lower the trap door; Malvolio is aware of this manoeuvre; he is to be left to the rats and spiders. Sheer panic sets in. His last chance is going. While crying 'No. No. No', Malvolio tries to ward off the closing trap. 'Sir Topas, Sir Topas', are hardly 'words', but pleas running into sobs.

For what must seem hours Malvolio is left until a voice is heard—is that Feste? 'Fool?' It is! 'Fool!' He hasn't heard me! 'Fool!! I say!!' Feste lifts the trap and at the same instant Malvolio hauls himself up like a drowning man clutching the bars, causing Feste to back hastily R and fall to his knees; 'Who calls, ha?' As if there had never been any misunderstanding between them, Malvolio continues, 'Good Fool, as ever thou wilt deserve well at my hand, help me to a candle!' Malvolio's voice breaks—this is the nearest he comes to admitting his terror of the dark, 'and pen, ink and paper'; no answer. 'As I am a gentleman' (and as soon as I get out of here) 'I will live to be thankful to thee for't.' Feste advances on his knees cautiously. 'Master Malvolio?' I can quite understand that he would never recognize me in this condition, but, believe it or not, it is me: 'Aye, good Fool.' Thank God, he seems to understand. 'Fool, there was never man so notoriously abused'; and as one sane man to another, 'I am as well in my wits, Fool, as thou art.' I am unable to take in his reply. My predicament dominates all. 'They have here propertied me. Keep me in darkness.' (Each time on that word the voice breaks and the body shudders.) 'Send ministers to me!' 'Asses!' is screamed off to the L. The exertion is again too much. 'And do all they can to face me out of my wits', is deflated.

Feste has apparently seen someone and with 'Advise you what you say' he seems to indicate that I should hide. I drop to the bottom of the pit out of sight. It sounds like the priest! 'Sir Topas'—my words are cautious yet accusatory; apparent silence; the priest has gone, I can now come up; but has Feste gone? Please God no. 'Fool! … Fool!!… Fool, I say!!!', panic again. But he is still there. 'Good fool; help me to some light!'; Malvolio is weak and near to collapse, 'and some paper.' 'I tell thee' (and myself) 'I am as well in my wits as any man in Illyria', but he doesn't believe me. As a lion's paw that would drag a victim through the bars of its cage a hand whips out and grabs Feste, all of whose strength is needed to prevent his being pulled through the grille. 'By this hand I am!' Where did that vicious strength come from? Feste whimpers. But again the exertion is too much and the relapse greater. Now I have alienated him, too—he never liked me in the first place—he is sure to take revenge. 'Good Fool' is now a begging for forgiveness, 'some ink, paper and' (please) 'light; and convey what I will set down to may Lady.' I don't think I have succeeded in winning him over—perhaps bribery? 'It shall advantage thee more than ever the bearing of letter did.' He is abject. Feste agrees but asks two questions which are answered consecutively, 'Believe me', with the voice breaking, it is almost the prayer of a sinner, 'I am not'; their heads move from side to side to underline the statement. 'I tell thee true', my grip is relaxed; Feste makes one more taunt but extricates himself at the same time and eludes the claws which futilely try to catch him again. How I dislike that man. Hypocritically I call after him 'Fool, I'll requite it in the highest degree.' A nod of dismissal—for God's sake, go!—but I mustn't upset him - 'I prithee, be gone.' Feste picks up his guitar and begins inexplicably to sing! What is he saying? He has tricked me! As the song gets faster and faster he begins to run round and round the trap, back and forth, across the grille, over my head; I try to follow the direction of his antics; the world swims; I am mad; faster and faster; round and round; a mumbled series of cries which could be defined as 'No. No. . No …No …No …No …'; I am still holding myself up by the bars; Feste stamps on my hands; I hold on; he slams the trap closed while my head is apparently still in view above the grille; with a scream I fall to the bottom of the pit. Silence; daylight comes; Sebastian enters, 'Yet 'tis not madness.' A very weak cry of 'Help' comes from below ground, unheard by Sebastian, 'That this may be some error but no madness'. An almost incoherent sentence containing the word 'help' is heard. Sebastian talks on, 'To any other trust but that I am mad'. A faint sound of nonsensical gibberish can be heard trailing off into sobs.

I will admit that I would not have liked this interpolation had I been playing Sebastian, but John Barton allowed me to produce this most terrifying effect.

In the next scene Malvolio speaks verse, and continues to do so through the rest of the play. Why? Is it that in this most poetic of plays he is a very prosaic character? Certainly the use of verse in this last scene is extremely valuable to the actor because it is easier to 'take off'.

Malvolio is as mad as it is possible for a sane man to be. Hours later Fabian and another have been sent to release Malvolio and escort him to the presence of Olivia. They try to control him—how dare they touch me! With a bellow like a wounded bull Malvolio erupts through the centre entrance (laugh 5). A large number of people are gathered. Oblivious, Malvolio has eyes only to seek out Olivia. There she is D R. He staggers forward and there is no one else present for him, as he explodes (from C) 'Madam, you have done me wrong,/'Notorious wrong!' She contradicts: I have now nothing to lose, so can answer back 'Lady, you have. Pray you peruse that letter'; she takes it, 'You must not now deny it is your hand' (look at it!), 'Or say 'tis not your seal' (look at it!), 'not your invention./You can say none of this. Well' (have the grace to) 'grant it then,/And tell me—in the modesty of honour,/Why you have given me such clear lights of favour…'But soon he falters and begins to break down, 'Why have you suffered me to be imprisoned, /Kept in a dark house'—this line he tells to the others who are standing L (she did that to me); 'visited by the priest', a maniacal look around—(where is he!), 'And made the most notorious geck and gull/ That e'er invention played on.' He can hardly get the words out through the sobs—'Tell me—why?'

'This is not my writing', she says. Malvolio snatches the letter and looks at it—of course it's her writing; 'But out of question 'tis Maria's hand.' Malvolio's jaw drops, the eyes start; an 'Ugh!' (meaning What!) and he checks every word of the letter. Can this be so? It is so—Fabian confirms it is. As he unravels the story Malvolio sinks to his knees and sobs. As Fabian finishes, an attempt at a plea of justification breaks out as, 'I—I—I', which Olivia assuages with, 'Alas, poor fool'. And now Feste rams the knife home, he kneels R beside the kneeling Malvolio and sadistically twists the knife. He was in the plot. He was Sir Topas. My own words are thrown in my face, but there is no fight left in Malvolio, he can only await the coup de grâce: 'And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.' Malvolio staggers to his feet and the wounded bull looks about him. They are smiling at him, a kindly smile. But the degradation is too great; so, pathetically like a small boy who knows he has lost but cannot leave without an exit line, says to them all 'I'll be revenged', he pauses and pouts, 'on the whole pack of you.' It is a totally empty threat. The House, Illyria, the World, will shortly be laughing at his predicament. I believe there is but one thing for Malvolio—suicide.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


Peter Gill © RSC © 1974-75


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


Peter Gill's directorial debut with the RSC presented a sexually charged revival of the play that was dominated by the image of Narcissus. A portrait of the self-absorbed youth, gazing at his reflection in pool of water, was the focus of designer William Dudley's otherwise spare set, and served as a continuous reminder to the audience of the themes of ambiguous sexuality and erotic self-deception. For Michael Billington, this resulted in a production that was "curiously short on social and human detail." This was further accentuated by what critics generally felt were the uncomic performances of Patricia Hayes as Maria, Frank Thornton as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Ron Pember as Feste. Additionally, Jane Lapotaire's androgynous rendering of Viola was faulted by Irving Wardle for serving solely as "a blank screen on to which others project their fantasies." Two dissenting opinions came from Bernard Crick and Michael Coveney, both of whom witnessed Gill's staging after it moved to the Aldwych Theatre in London in 1975. The former lauded Gill's "confidence in the comedy of Viola, Olivia, and Orsino;" and the latter praised John Price's "versatile and powerful" rendering of Orsino.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


B. A. Young (review date 23 August 1974)

SOURCE: a review of Twelfth Night in Financial Times, August 23, 1974, p. 3.

The programme quotes R. D. Laing on Jill, a distorting mirror to herself, who has to distort herself to appear undistorted to herself. You can make any number of such games from Twelfth Night "You do think you know not what you are," says Viola to Olivia. "If I think so," says Olivia, "I think the same of you." "Then think you right, I am not what I am," Viola confesses. But it's no more than a game; as an identical twin, I've experienced enough mistaken-identity complexes to recognise the results in others, real or fictional.

If Peter Gill in his production for the RSC has worried too much about such things, at least it doesn't show in the play, which emerges as no more than the familiar black-edged comedy, in which the mistaken identities are exaggerated by Shakespeare's use of boy actors as girls and of girls posing as boys. Short of deliberate eccentricity, in fact, nothing need be added to the instant mix but talent, and that is amply available here.

Jane Lapotaire makes a very boyish boy, though I have to say that at her first entrance, when she was still a girl, she drove me mad by her continual breathless trotting round the stage when she was supposed to have just come ashore from a shipwreck; nor do I think she should be quite so ready with her fists. Robert Lloyd as Sebastian duplicates her prettily.

The weight, as usual, swings in the direction of Malvolio, to which Nicol Williamson brings all his individual talents. This is a tall, crane-like steward, moving with the stiff efficiency of a well-programmed robot and speaking in haughty tones from which the native Welsh is being carefully squeezed. (It returns in full flood when the unhappy man is tied up in the cellar and all his dignity is gone.) Perhaps Mr. Williamson having had such a success with it in Coriolanus, is over-generous with his long Pinteresque pauses, but he can move a house to heartbreak at a stroke, and duly does so by his delivery of his final un-forgiving words through the hands with which he is covering his face in name.

David Waller is a tough old Toby, perhaps a retired colonel in the Illyrian cavalry, and Frank Thornton, an Ague-cheek rather more unambitious than we have grown used to. Neither John Price's Orsino nor Mary Rutherford's Olivia is much more than handsome; the director seems purposely to have kept them in low profile, as the politicians say, to retain the more important characters in the limelight.

William Dudley's set is little more than a square box with a mural of Narcissus on the back wall and graffiti framing the front arch. (They read: "O learn to read what silent love hath writ" and "O know sweet love, I always write of you.") Orsino's court spends much time lying on cushions on the floor caressing one another, but if Orsino is meant to be gay, as the text may be taken to suggest if necessary, how is it that he spends so much time and passion courting Olivia?

The music that feeds his love is a Bohemian-sounding romance played on the violin. Surely it should have been a viola?

Michael Billington (review date 23 August 1974)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Manchester Guardian, August 23, 1974, p. 12.

Peter Gill made his name as a director with his meticulously realistic productions of D. H. Lawrence; yet paradoxically his Stratford production of Twelfth Night (his first for the RSC) seems curiously short on social and human detail. It is intelligent, well spoken and boasts a superlative Malvolio in Nicol Williamson; but at the moment it looks more like an X-ray plate of the play than the living article itself.

The dominant image is of a nonethereal bisexuality. William Dudley's plain box set confronts us throughout with a sketch of an ambisextrous Narcissus figure gazing into a pool; and there is nothing at all equivocal about the physical relationships. Orsino hugs Cesario to his breast with rapturous abandon: Antonio is plainly Sebastian's longtime boy friend: and Viola all but tears her hair in anguish at Olivia's unfulfilled passion for her. All this is fully in keeping with the play's serpentine sexual complexity; but in stressing this one theme. Mr Gill neglects the characters' social function. It is hard to imagine Mary Rutherford's lightweight Olivia as the head of a hierarchical household or to see how Patricia Hayes's scuttling, funny, busybee Maria could be anyone's gentlewoman, let alone Sir Toby's putative bride. In short, the almost novelistic detail that characterised Barton's magnificent 1969 production is here totally lacking.

In compensation, however, there is an unforgettable Malvolio from Williamson. His snarling, peremptory dismissal of Feste at the outset for once completely justifies the plot against him: and his lovesick, lopsided looks at Olivia suggest it stems from cruel observation of the truth. But what Williamson does so brilliantly is blend high comedy and deep emotional pain: he distends his mouth into the most unearthly, agonising shapes in the garden trying to make the cryptic letters form a meaningful word and in the last scene he tears Maria's epistle into miniscule fragments before departing in his own permanent, private hell, all dignity destroyed. This is superb acting.

None of the other performances match this but Ron Pember's savage, sardonic teeth-baring Feste rasping out his songs as if it were The Threepenny Opera is startlingly effective and Frank Thornton's balding, knock-kneed Ague-cheek is a neat study of a superannuated manic depressive. Jane Lapotaire's Viola, however, lacks lyricism and Tutinesque wit and the romantics as a whole come shakily off.

Irving Wardle (review date 23 August 1974)

SOURCE: "Turning away from the Mirror," in The Times, London, August 23, 1974, p. 9.

The main intention of Peter Gill's production is inscribed on the back wall of William Dudley's bare set: the figure of Narcissus gazing down into his pool.

Never has Illyria been more remote from the outside world. John Price's Orsino lounges on cushions to languorous violin music fondling whichever favourite happens to be lying closest. Mary Rutherford's Olivia is with-drawn into complacent self-regard as an ice-princess. Malvolio, in his own way, is the greatest narcissist of the lot (and the only one who finally resists cure).

All are intoxicated with their own reflections, and the function of Viola and Sebastian is to put them through an Ovidian obstacle course from which they learn to turn away from the mirror and form real attachments.

The emphasis is on the play's erotic metamorphoses, and this means underplaying the comedy. Even visually, the show regularly contracts for the funniest scenes. The drinking party takes place in a cramped little room with Toby putting his feet up on a chest marked "Sir T. Belch"; solid box hedges are trundled into the dreamlike environment for the gulling of Malvolio.

Given the production's aims, I suppose these proportions are right. But it means losing a lot of fun and leaving some areas unexplored. For instance, Patricia Hayes plays Maria as an elderly nurse-like figure with no evident attachment to David Waller's lazily free- loading Sir Toby. Nor does Sir Andrew show much interest in Olivia: Frank Thornton plays him as a dejected White Knight with no will of his own, who scores downbeat laughs on lines like "Shall we set about some revels?" while looking down at his inturned toes.

Unfunniest of all is Ron Pember's Cockney Feste, a most unmusical Fool who rasps the songs out in defiance of voluptuous accompaniment, and plays more as an unshaven malcontent than as a paid entertainer who has to watch the moods of his audience. This Feste would not have waited for the whirligig of time to bring in its revenge.

Stranded between the two worlds, Nicol Williamson's Malvolio towers over the production as its main comedian and main erotic victim. He is an eternal outsider wearing the uniform of someone who belongs. In his black steward's suit and chain he looks like some heavy piece of antique furniture, and you can almost hear him creaking when he moves.

He prefixes his early lines with sagacious pauses, and then the voice comes out—reedy, Welsh, and ridiculous. The garden scene, where he tortures the MOAI conundrum into experimental Welsh words, has an almost unbearable privacy. And his cross-gartering fits poignantly into the production's scheme as a planned metamorphosis that fails to work out.

Physically Jane Lapotaire and Robert Lloyd supply a close piece of doubling as Viola and Sebastian: with the oddity that the usual sexual balance is reversed. Both are much fondled: Viola by Orsino, Sebastian by Antonio. But where Miss Lapotaire comes on as a neutral androgynous presence, a blank screen on to which others project their fantasies; Mr Lloyd radiates his often dull part with erotic vitality. His verse speaking is also among the best in a not noticeably eloquent production.

J. W. Lambert (review date 25 August 1974)

SOURCE: "Cakes and Ale," in The Sunday Times, London, August 25, 1974, p. 27.

Best To make clear at once that the Royal Shakespeare Company's new production of Twelfth Night at Stratford is entirely enjoyable, even to one who found their last version, especially in its second year, the most alertly beautiful of the last thirty years or so. That one, directed by John Barton, was glowingly elegiac—as, by and large, was Toby Robertson's recent re-creation for the Prospect Theatre Company.

I hear murmurs of discontent as I talk of these performances in terms of their directors. Well, we all gird at perverse notions imposed upon a play; "director's theatre" is a well-worn term of abuse. But the theatre in general, and Shakespeare in particular, has gained far more than it has lost from the emergence of overall guiding minds to meld individual actors with the play, so that alert audiences can absorb the work's underlying themes.

Interesting, therefore, at the least, to see what Peter Gill—best known so far for his bringing to life of D. H. Lawrence's miners' plays at the Royal Court—and a company new to Stratford and its ambience would find for themselves and us in this much-loved comedy.

The stage, in William Dudley's setting, is a great golden-tawny box; the Illyrians, in Deirdre Clancy's costumes, play out their dreams and follies in a graceful Hilliard world dominated by the image of Narcissus gazing into the pool. It is not only Malvolio who is sick of self-love, though it is only Malvolio (and perhaps in this production Feste) who cannot smash the mirror and at last look outward lovingly to other people.

The romantic quartet are Youth incarnate, even Orsino and Olivia. Physical energy keeps bursting through sentimental withdrawal—suddenly they dash off in pursuit of this or that like puppies on a sunlit lawn. Freely and generously handled, too, is that element of comradeship or soul friendship, going in no terror of physical contact, which is merely demeaned by bleakly oversimplifying words like bisexuality. We make very heavy weather of these enriching bonds today; Mr Gill and his players embody them with a welcome ease.

It is a rare Twelfth Night which calls for particular praise of Orsino and Sebastian; but John Price (despite an addiction to bent knees) and Robert Lloyd, young actors to watch, make them startingly three-dimensional. Mary Rutherford's Olivia (despite a predilection for beating time on tiptoe) gives the mourning girl more than a touch of her delicious Hermia in (that strain again) the Brook Midsummer Night's Dream, and clutching hold as the shipwrecked Sebastian clutched his mast, lets us feel how she has to turn to Malvolio in place of her lost father and brother. Fine-boned, wide-eyed, a slim gazelle of a girl, Jane Lapotaire's Viola balances her romantic longings with a delectable common sense.

At Orsino's court the lord may be bewitched but the rest are merry enough; as we return from the interval his people are having a delightful party in the garden, trying out a song, launching into a dance, laughing and happy. At Olivia's house, of course, the case is otherwise. Age, failure and fear throw their shadows. I wish I could say that David Waller's bluff, well-groomed Sir Toby, Frank Thornton's Sir Andrew and Patricia Hayes's Maria had found more to offer than competent stereotyped performances. But this trio, even though they pull off their shabby trick, are no match for the puritans whose shadow darkens this potential earthly paradise.

Puritans—yes, for there are two. Nicol Williamson's splendid Welsh (what's he got against Wales?) Malvolio, with pinched dough face and currant eyes, his matchstick legs liquefied by cross-gartering, marvellously mouths the MOAI of the letter scene, and constructs a smile as a child builds a house of cards. His bewildered "Tell me why" to Olivia exactly catches that famliar yelp of pain from the heart of the egotist; and his parting cry of revenge, snarled through hands clasped to his face, echoes the piercing epitome of all self-lovers and life-haters.

The other puritan? Feste, no less. Not here the sad, lovingly sharp, wittily defeated figures drawn by, say, Emrys James or Ronnie Stevens; Ron Pember gives us a clown (and a successfully funny one) much closer to Thersites and Apemantus than to Touchstone or Jack Point, an embittered cockney idealist, angrily banging his drum and baring his teeth in "Come away, death"; another life-hater, infiltrating the hedonists like a member of the Angry Brigade at a coming-out ball; never letting up, even in the last reconciling verse of "The Wind and the Rain"; but never tearing the texture of the play apart either, I should add. This is the Twelfth Night that Shakespeare wrote, freshly illuminated.

Peter Ransley (review date 29 August 1974)

SOURCE: "Reflections," in The Listener, Vol. 92, No. 2370, August 29, 1974, p. 279.

Peter Gill's beautifully clear production of Twelfth Night for the RSC at Stratford is played against a sketch of Narcissus gazing at himself in a pool. And throughout the play, the precision of the direction keeps the pool clear, so that we can see not only the characters, but their endless reflections in one another.

Viola disguised as a man conveying Orsino's love to Olivia who falls in love with what she imagines Viola to be, ad infinitum, can get pretty tedious stuff unless it is as controlled and accurate as a Magritte painting. This control has to be at the expense of some life and virility, and the production's main source of energy is a tremendous Malvolio from Nicol Williamson. Its other, quieter source of life is a touching and moving Viola from Jane Lapotaire.…

From the moment Nicol Williamson enters, soberly black, self-satisfied, stiff-legged as if he walks on virtue, we anticipate a spectacular performance. The way in which the walk alone changes from exit to exit—from the stiff-legged, to the strutting coxcomb, to the humiliated suitor—is worth going to Stratford to see. And in the letter scene, where he is tricked into believing that Olivia is in love with him, he is superb as he ponders, sweats and puzzles, until he finally sees himself reflected in the letter and assumes the greatness thrust upon him, swelling up into a triumph, which he momentarily drops as he thanks Jove with a suddenly-remembered humility: 'Jove, I will smile, I will do everything that thou wilt have me'.

Much less spectacular, but equally vital to this production, is Jane Lapotaire's Viola. Keeping off the higher slopes of lyricism (thank Jove), she makes the words sound as if they were written last week. It must be a maddeningly complex part for any actor to have to begin to think about: what's my outside doing when my inside's feeling this (oh, and, of course, it's not my own outside anyway); I must be true to my lover in conveying his love to her; thank God she rejects it … how dare she reject it! It's a tribute to Jane Lapotaire that she makes Viola sound so simple and so fresh.

If what is lost in this approach is some of the comedy, then that does not particularly distress me. In fact, the comic setpieces of Toby Belch (David Waller) and Aguecheek (Frank Thornton) never really take off, although Pat Hayes as Maria flutters about energetically. Ron Pember's Feste works in this production, precisely because it is more sardonic than comic.

Robert Speaight (essay date Autumn 1974)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. XXV, No. 4, Autumn, 1974, pp. 391-92.

For the seasoned playgoer any production of Twelfth Night has to compete with invincible memories, and it will be a long time before John Barton's treatment of the play a few years ago finds an effective challenger. Peter Gill is a newcomer to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. His vision is honest, if uninspired; and he took his cue from Narcissus—alias Orsino, Olivia, and Malvolio—gazing at his own image. Indeed the figure of Narcissus in the background was the only pictorial element in the bleakest decor that can ever have been devised for this highly decorative play. The same square box that served for King John, Cymbeline, and Richard II served again, with the difference that the roof had disappeared and the black walls had turned to russet. Cushions for Orsino, a seat for Olivia, a box hedge for the practical jokers, and a hut for the drinking scene, were whisked on and off with desperate rapidity. Otherwise the actors were stranded on a stage several sizes too big for them and seemed unable to speak three lines without starting out for a long walk. The scenes between Viola and Olivia suffered a good deal from this dispersion. The Stratford stage can do anything one asks it to, and I cannot understand why so little is done with it. The memory of Lila de Nobili's autumnal setting for Peter Hall's production returns to haunt one with the scenic possibilities on which Stratford seems resolutely to have turned its back.

Nevertheless the 1974 Twelfth Night was full of good things. Nicol Williamson's Malvolio—immensely tall, tight-lipped, softly and hesitantly spoken—was a creative performance of the first order. Indeed a classic of its kind. His vanity was as ridiculous as his discomfiture was painful; and his authority, theatrically speaking, was unquestionable from first to last. The performance had moments that one will not forget; his smile in the letter scene came like a winter sun breaking through the clouds, and his ultimate agony was such that there was no need for the four-fold repetition of "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you." David Waller's Sir Toby was also the best that I have seen for a very long time. The breeding was preserved with the belching, and the comedy was all the surer for being unforced. Frank Thornton's Aguecheek was exquisitely vapid, and Brian Hall's Fabian made a great deal out of what is wrongly regarded as a dull part. Ron Pember's Feste, on the other hand, was mistakenly costumed and much too coarsely conceived. Feste is the linchpin that holds the play together, for he has the entry both to Orsino's gilded cage and to Olivia's cloistered garden. He is in touch with everyone; and his last song conveys the dramatist's warning that, shine the sun never so brightly, the rain will fall. This was cleverly reinforced in the Stratford production by the exclusion of Antonio from the pré-nuptial party.

Jane Lapotaire and Robert Lloyd were as convincing a pair of twins as I remember. Unfortunately, neither Miss Lapotaire nor the production's Olivia, Mary Rutherford, had quite the experience or the style to project performances from a stage which was threatening to swallow them up into an auditorium which demands that acting, however subtle, shall be a fraction or two larger than life. In a theater half as big their performances would have been twice as effective; but both these young players have personality and address, and in each case youth was an asset. Patricia Hayes is a highly accomplished comedienne, but she proved too mature for Maria, who is Olivia's lady-in-waiting, not her nurse. John Price was a passionate rather than a languorous Orsino. One would have liked a stronger hint of the man who was reading too much Spenser and Sidney for the good of his soul and the health of his affections; and the dressing-gown in which he chose to spend his days suggested anything but a ducal ward-robe. All in all, though, the right balance was struck between fun and fantasy, poetry and prose, sentiment and satire; and the music helped discreetly to keep the production in tune. The erotic undertones of the play would have been audible from the opposite bank of the Avon.

Michael Coveney (review date 6 February 1975)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Financial Times, February 6, 1975, p. 3.

Even though it had little serious competition, this production by Peter Gill struck me as far and away the RSC's best offering at Stratford last year. And, re-staged for London by Colin Cook, the play still comes across with its original vigour and vitality. Quite simply, Mr. Gill has gone straight to the heart of a magical and mysterious IIlyria, revealing the lovers to be a responsive and complex quartet, continually fascinated and drawn on by the miracle of identify. No romantic twadle, no coy aside here; when Cesario tumbles to the possibility of her white, androgynous exterior having charmed the Countess, the implications are both humorous and disturbing. Words do indeed prove rascals, but outward appearances are doubly dangerous—and, therefore, doubly exciting.

Similarly, I have never before experienced the Olivia/Cesario and the Orsino/Cesario scenes so sharply. They positively crackle. The cue is taken from the dominating painted Narcissus on the upstage wall; Orsino not only concentrates passionately on the reflectively "male" apparition that is the disguised Viola, he all but disappears under her skin. John Price as the Duke, volatile and powerful, is unstintingly sworn to his latest passion. His other languid courtiers are ignored and finally dismissed as he breaks down at Cesario's tale of distanced grief. Melancholy is usually the province of Feste. But there is no more crucially poignant moment in this production than when Jane Lapotaire, knocked sideways by Orsino's energetic surrender to her, moves away and chokingly admits that she is "all the daughters of her father's house; and all the brothers too."

The passions and outbursts are deeply felt in the speaking of the lines. I cannot remember a production of a Shakespearean comedy where so much actual sense was made of the verse. On another level. Paul Moriarty makes an impressive Antonio, devotedly trailing an ebullient Sebastian (Robert Lloyd) with offers of servitude and expressions of loyalty that are oddly out of tune with the harmonies of the air. Antonio sees things as they are, deals in the everyday realities of a relationship, while the lovers discover perhaps more heady and ambiguous truths by dalliance and impulse. Antonio is as much an outsider in his way as Feste and Malvolio are in theirs (a point brilliantly elaborated by Lesile Fiedler in The Stranger in Shakespeare), and this is here stunningly, emphasised at the play's conclusion. The lovers swirl and exit, perhaps still wrongly paired, it matters not; but they leave Antonio stranded in front of the painted Narcissus, a baffled figure, while Feste spits out his final song.

The casting of Ron Pember as Feste is inspired. He goes through the motions reluctantly not only when pressed into Orsino's service; but whenever called upon. "Youth's a stuff will not endure" is sung, at first for Belch and Ague-cheek but, eventually, as an expression of disgust, a hopeless, shrugged epitaph for his own pointless function. He is a Cockney sloucher, hating his repertoire as much as others seem to like it, openly scavenging for coppers with a routine flippancy that barely veils a total contempt. Mr. Pember sings wonderfully, and he even manages to explain why he does not join in the gulling of Malvolio—he has fallen sound asleep on the floor as Maria (Patricia Hayes, neat and bouncy) unleashes her plan on the befuddled aristocrats.

Nicol Williamson's Malvolio remains a superbly rounded piece of acting. Squeezing his Welsh puritanical whine through thin, bloodless lips, he walks painfully on lifted shoes even before the cross-gartering. Still yellow-stockinged, he emerges from dungeon to sunlight with hair standing on end, eyes shielded from the general gaze. It is a grand and intelligent performance that restates the play's general themes of vanity and over-reaching desire in vivid style. The resolution is marvellously handled, a comic climax magnificently achieved as Mary Rutherford's Olivia confronts, with indecorous hunger, the brief prospect of a married life with two beautiful men. The design by William Dudley and the costumes by Deirdre Clancy are coloured in ravishing gradation of yellows. browns and oranges. The music by George Fenton is, appropriately, exquisite.

Benedict Nightingale (review date 14 February 1975)

SOURCE: "Please yourself," in New Stateman, Vol. 89, No. 2291, February 14, 1975, p. 218.

One only has to look at the set to know what Peter Gill thinks of most of the characters in the Twelfth Night he's directed for the RSC. There, on a rust-coloured wall, is a sketch of Narcissus, gloating over his reflection; and there he remains, while John Price's Orsino palpitates, Mary Rutherford's Olivia postures behind her veil, and Nicol Williamson's Malvolio falls so massively sick of self-love that 'distempered appetite' seems as inadequate a diagnosis of his symptoms as telling a leper he has dermatitis.

Even those who affect to care for other people are curiously unconvincing, as if they were more interested in their own emotion than in its supposed objects—or, indeed, than in the precise gender of those objects. Orsino vaguely fondles the boy Cesario, and Olivia, at the end, eyes Viola and Sebastian as if they were already two-thirds of a swinging threesome.

But Peter Gill comes from the Royal Court, not a theatre where narcissists are allowed to sport with moral impunity. Disapproval must be registered—but how? Why, through Feste, who is played by Ron Pember as something much harsher and more severe than the usual 'melancholy clown'. He mutters at Olivia, growls at Viola, rages at Orsino, sneers at Malvolio, and then turns on the audience with such savagery that the closing line, 'we strive to please you every day', comes across as a promise to flay us en masse in the foyer.

Mr Gill's hints of bisexuality are, of course, a way of making a merit of the stage convention that says girls may become boys at the twist of a slip. It is not his interpretation which is objectionable, but the editorialising emphasis he gives it. Everything suffers from overkill, not least his Malvolio. Let me say at once that in many ways Williamson is magnificent—feverish and hilarious in the letter-reading scene, and so carried away by the subsequent encounter with Olivia that he's constantly having to leap up and apologise to 'Jehove' (as he pronounces it) for his maniac glee. He is, in fact, the worst sort of Jehove's Witness, sour, self-satisfied, supercilious, and capable of stunning pettiness: notice the little, righteous nods, as if to say 'so there!', with which he dismisses the 'lighter people'. But Williamson never does anything by halves that can be done by doubles. He dominates the action, partly because he's six or seven feet taller than anyone else and, with his padded, stately haunches, looks more like an upended sofa than a mortal man—and partly because his contempt is even more virulent than Mr Pember's. That 'distempered appetite' becomes terrible indigestion: he hawks up words from an acid maw, and spits them out as if their fumes were burning his nose. It's the sort of performance that really should be fenced off, like anything else that seems to be leaking dangerous chemicals on a large scale.

The acting is uneven. There are some surprisingly feeble performances to balance this colossus and, somewhere in between, a sweet, downright Viola from Jane Lapotaire and a sly, predatory Belch from David Waller. Mr Waller, though soberer than most of his predecessors in the part, also manages a memorable drunk-scene, a floundering muddle of mumbles, silence, sudden shouts, idiot laughter and painfully enunciated syllables. There remains just one objection, and a rather serious one. What possessed Mr Gill to allow his social comedy to lurch into farce, with knockabout officers arresting Antonio, Feydeauesque leaps and gasps from Miss Rutherford, and the cast openly mugging at the awkwardly shifting scenery? I can precisely date the beginning of the decline. It occurs when Williamson, apparently tiring of lumbering about like a removal man with a three-piece suite on his back, sprints gaily around the stage in pursuit of Miss Rutherford. How odd that, confronted with this blatant absurdity, Mr Gill didn't come to his senses and remember that, with Shakespeare, effective comedy always emerges from carefully observed character and can never be gratuitously imposed upon it.

Bernard Crick (review date 14 March 1975)

SOURCE: "Night of Misrule in the Kingdom of Self-love," in The Times Higher Education Supplement, March 14, 1975, p. 17.

[The] Twelfth Night that has come from Stratford to London is the test of my claim that this is a great era of theatre. Here is the greatest and yet, in some ways, the most difficult of English comedies. And here is a superlative production of it, yet without a name, either of producer or actor, that would pull the public in, yet full of universal, simple joyful competence.

Well, Nicol Williamson is perhaps of star quality, although more like an actor to actors, not ever likely to stop the play with applause on his entry—as audiences used to greet great Larry even in Strindberg: Williamson's knobbly knees, croaking voice, craggy head and sharp theatrical intelligence will not draw fans from afar. For a moment his Malvolio wobbled on the brink of hog-it-over-acting, but only for a moment, and after all it is a solo, certainly a lonely part: the censorious Puritan is a lonely and persecuted outcast in the rational utopia of permissive happiness that is Illyria. The world is upside down. The twelfth night is a night of misrule, and he is the only—well almost the only—outsider.

And it is a straightforward production, no great tricks or reinterpretations, no signs that the producer is obsessional in any way, only many marks of thought about every line, of bringing out things not often noticed, of playing down some things too often over-noticed.

I have seen swings, saws, custard pies, coloured bladders, weak bladders, pails of water and God knows what beside swing into action as heavy comics and producers show their lack of trust in the Bard as a script writer. Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Feste and Maria have often emulated Fred Karno's army in defeat. But Peter Gill, the director, is quite clear that the comedy of the play is one of playful pursuit amid sexual ambiguity and ambivalence, it is between Viola and Olivia, and the household drunks are very much the sub-plot. This Sir Toby, played by David Waller with ever-commendable restraint, is not Falstaff to up-stage the king. He is an ex-army cadger, a crooked gentleman, certainly, like Falstaff, but not a very nice one, quite unloveable except as an ageing Maria's last chance.

He preys upon a simple-minded Scot, not the quick-witted son of a king, not fair game. Sir Andrew indeed, does not overdo it. He relies solely on the simple incongruity of an inhibited, melancholy and provincial man trying to play the role of a cosmopolitan courtier. Frank Thornton injects a quite shattering melancholy into: "Shall we set about some revels?" Sir Toby blenches and heavily complies. Feste wishes he had another job, but he soldiers on being funny—if he didn't, he'd be whipped and workless. Sir Andrew's joylessness in revelry reminds us of what Malvolio might have been like had the letter been genuine, had they really been her "Cs, her Us and her Ts".

The simple strength of this production is that it has confidence in the comedy of Viola, Olivia and Orsino. Is this a banality? But I've seen so many productions in which Sir Toby and crew are the comedy and Viola and Olivia are romantic, even if light romantic, for a few quips are allowed, a certain humour is to be got out of the girl in boy's clothing ("Get tickets for the theatre, Miss Beal, Twelfth Night is playing again").

Here from the start it is clear that Orsino is fooling himself, is too madly extravagant to be taken seriously in his passion for Olivia. He is not guyed as a person, on the contrary: the cult of hopeless love is guyed. And Olivia, here a read and important new reading, is no longer the stately, majestic beautiful Portia type; Mary Rutherford is very much like the merry tom-boy Hermia she played in the great Dream, and also fooling herself, like the Duke, by plunging into the game of an equally fashionable cult—that of extravagant mourning.

She is a much more plausible foil for Viola than the grand dame reading. Jane Lapotaire, looking for all the world like Jean Louis Barrault or Marcel Marceau in the sharp profile and white make-up of mime, plays Viola as radiating up to the hilt (if that be the word) bisexuality. She does fall in love with the Duke. She is appalled at Olivia falling in love with her, but she knows what's going on and is no prude. When Feste asks that God "in his next commodity of hair, send thee a beard", she says, "I am almost sick for one—though I would not have it grow on my chin", but the stress falls not on "my" but on "chin". ("I think we'll have to return the tickets, Miss Buss.")

The Duke is young and lolls about panting and sighing, half-dressed, a sexy man, all male comradely affection with his courtiers, arms around them, head on shoulders in the huge Habitat cushions. And among them, Viola, small, white and utterly frozen as he fondles her/him while he talks about his other love—frozen not just with horror but with tense, deliberate, fraught repression. This is a marvellously funny scene, both ribald and pathetic. There looks down on them all the time from the otherwise simple back-cloth, a painting of Narcissus gazing down at his reflection.

Illyria is the kingdom of self-love. In Illyria, there is nothing else to do but to amuse oneself. Illyria is more removed from the real world than even The Importance of Being Earnest, which is certainly a tract against being earnest. But amusing others, that is a harder graft.

Feste is the one, at first discordant, surprise. He is not the "sweet fool" we have come to expect; the gentle, witty zany, someone to fit easily in a great lady's entourage, more like a naughty domestic animal, a Christopher Smart's cat or John Skelton's parrot, than a wilful human servant. No, Ron Pember is a hardbitten, professional comic, working at it all the time, watching the audience's reaction, fearing that the fashion for him will pass and that he will prove boring, but equally fearing that he will one day go too far.

He speaks with the accent of a Petticoat Lane salesman, or the last stand of the dregs of the music hall. Far from powdered and pretty, he is perpetually half-shaved. His voice has a rough, sardonic, cutting edge. He is most unIllyrian, a reminder of the outside world—of employment, servitude and even death. He sings: "Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty, Youth's a stuff will not endure" harshly, almost mockingly, a profane version of the Duke's idyll of true love thwarted; more than an erotic encouragement, a reminder of old mortality. He is closer to Rahare than to Touch-stone.

At first this reading grated, but then it grew on me. In IIlyria the pursuit of love must lead to comedy: there is always a closeness between the comic and the erotic.

But the pursuit of comedy for its own sake, as in the cruelty to Malvolio—justly reproved, but the joke goes too far—or as in Feste's having to stake all on making Olivia laugh herself out of what looks like deepest mourning, is a dangerous matter. One mistake, one gag mistimed, one insolence too close to the bone, and his next job may have to be as porter with the Macbeths in Scotland.

Viola's lines become, in this reading, not just a compliment but a profound analysis:

This fellow is wise enough to play the fool;
And to do that well craves a kind of wit.
He must observe their mood on whom he jests,
The quality of persons and the time,
And, like the haggard, check at every feather
That comes before his eye. This is a practice
As full of labour as a wise man's art.
For folly that he wisely shows is fit;
But wise men, folly-fallen, quite taint their wit.

This one blast of cold, outside air apart, Illyria is self-contained and the production needs no great tricks or surprises. Only a multitude of little pleasant inventions. Cesario/Viola skips boy-like about the stage, punches playfully Curio or another gentleman in attendance; but when she tries to do the same, in male camaraderies, to the Duke, to divert his full-steam of misdirected love, the punch falters, the deception becomes almost too hard—it is almost a love-pat, not a playful punch, or what's the difference anyway?

Even at the end, the marvellous ending, Olivia's cry, "Oh marvellous", at seeing the twins revealed to themselves and all, is no banality but an explosive gurgle of sexual pleasure—as if "Oh, two for the price of one, both boy and girl". Orsino's remark to Sebastian: "Be not amazed", then gets guyed as sententious understatement. But not her: "Oh marvellous". And he at first tries to lead out Sebastian instead of Viola—purely a mistake, of course, "Oh marvellous!"

Marvellous indeed, that the situation we know so well, the inherent improbability and silliness of it, the two twins mistaken for each other and now recognizing each other, yet still plucks at the heart strings, seems like real surprise and tension: the Platonic halves are rejoined.

But surprise and tension about what? Some things may be said in comedy that are still hard to say in life. "I am not what I seem indeed." Orsino does, after all, have it both ways. Then comedy is not unreality. Nor is it happy endings. "Exeunt all but Feste." Here the producer takes a liberty. As the cast of great ones swirl off-stage to begin to prepare for the double wedding, Antonio, who plainly loved Sebastian, is left standing alone outside with his back to the audience, while Feste sings his merry song with the sad refrain: "For the rain it raineth every day." But yet this is not overdone. It is just there, the dying fall amid the perpetual merriment. I cannot imagine a better presentation of Illyria, but there are always new things to be found in it. Indeed, I felt just that the last time I saw this greatest English company play the greatest English comedy.

Peter Thomson (essay date 1975)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespearian Study and Production, Vol. 28, 1975, pp. 144-46.

Twelfth Night was Peter Gill's first directing assignment for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and is unlikely to be his last. Stratford needs this kind of work, easy of access to a theatrically uninquisitive audience, and eager to display the talents of its leading actors. The Company had changed completely now that the first three plays had moved to London. That fine Stratford stalwart David Waller was Sir Toby Belch, but Jane Lapotaire (Viola), Frank Thornton (Sir Andrew Aguecheek), Patricia Hayes (Maria), and Ron Pember (Feste) were as new to the Company as their director. Where is the proud 'sixties talk of a company style? There is none. Each play must establish its particular style during the rehearsal period. Outside that and the players' prior skills, there is no resource. When the work of a single playwright is so persistently performed, this 'one-off 'quality is regrettable. There is an undeniable sense that some possibility is being missed, a sense that is deepened by the nagging presence of Peter Brook's name among the Directors of the Company.

The designer, William Dudley, had surrounded the Twelfth Night stage with slatted, wood-textured walls, constructed in isolable blocks. A pale portrait of Narcissus decorated the central block of the back wall, which slid forward to create two upstage entrances very much in the position of the Elizabethan stage doors. The long entrances and exits, especially of Nicol Williamson's Malvolio, were made a feature of the production, whose physical norm was choreographed movement on a bare stage. As a variant on this, there were the pretty setpieces— two box-hedges, three potted trees, a quaintly small wall as background for the drinking scene (II, iii), benches—and the cushions on which Orsino and his favourites dallied and fondled. Orsino's bisexuality and the unexplained involvement of Antonio in the dénouement were the production's most dangerous statements. Given his fondness for petting, it seemed unlikely that Orsino would not have felt through Viola's disguise, but Jane Lapotaire's nicely mixed response in I, iv and II, iv made the point worthwhile. The director's concern to emphasize the play's sexual confusion was exemplified in the timing of Viola's soliloquy after Malvolio has brought her Olivia's ring:

She loves me sure; the cunning of her passion
Invites me in this churlish messenger.
None of my lord's ring! why, he sent her none.
I am the man.
                                        (II, ii, 22-25)

She paused there in obvious confusion, then recovered with a smiling shrug, and the audience laughed delightedly. She was such a lively, boyish boy—the kind of fourth-former the heterosexual prefect has a crush on (I was adored once too!). Jane Lapotaire is, indeed, a Shakespearian actress of the highest quality. Her vocal range and her sensitivity to mid-speech shifts of emphasis reminded me of the young Dorothy Turin in the part; and she backed up her director's concept by reaching the audience's bisexuality. Mary Rutherford's Olivia, busy and thoroughly middle-class, with an almost northern bluntness and a cuddly body, was an adequate foil, but neither Orsino nor Sebastian could sustain the idea at this Viola's high level. 'O thou dissembling cub' ought more strongly to have embodied Orsino's fury, not only that Cesario should marry his Olivia, but also that his Cesario should marry at all.

It was largely through individual performances that this production recommended itself. Nicol Williamson's Malvolio was a studied grotesque—a pinched, Scottish elder of the kirk with the distorted sexual aspirations of the 'unco' guid'. He held his voice in the back of his throat, and only his bottom lip was mobile. The walk was a heron's prance, and, at times of supreme self-satisfaction, his head leant towards his shoulder and his eyes glinted like an alert bird's. The run was an absurd lope, which carried his legs as far sideways as forwards and left the top half of his body almost static. His black costume was striped with white lines of various thickness and density and topped with a ruff. It had a trompe-l'oeil effect, seeming to hold a tiny head an impossible distance from the bottom of the long, mean legs. He was happiest in this costume. Comically night-shirted in II, iii, and villainously cross-gartered in III, iv, he was willing to let the absurdity of the dress usurp his comic force. But in the gulling scene he was brilliant. He explained 'play with my—some rich jewel' [II. v. 60] by a gesture sharper than a footnote, lifting his chain of office then slapping it down with self-annoyance. His attempts to twist his mouth into a meaningful pronunciation of M, O, A, I, were as hilarious as his sudden, irrational conclusion that they said 'Malvolio'. Remembering his dignity, he just resisted the invitation to 'revolve' contained in the letter, but 'smile' he would, and did. First he had to remember how to do it, and then, almost imperceptibly, force his lips wider and slowly wider into a look of such joyless jollity as might have been worn by Miss Hotchkiss at the ITMA office party. His subsequent entrance to Olivia, pushing Maria aside and 'smiling' as he smeared his body along a property tree, was perfect, but the scene declined into ungainly knockabout and was only saved by the soliloquy. Twice, then, he stood to acknowledge with reverent hypocrisy Jove's hand in his well-merited glory, but for the rest of the time he sprawled beside a table in gangling self-love.

The tone of Frank Thornton's Aguecheek was set by the long face and longer silence that preceded his lifeless question, 'Shall we set about some revels?' (I, iii, 135-36). He was thin and melancholy, devoid of energy, dyspeptic and consumptive. There was a consciousness of real loneliness beneath the surface of the comic scenes, that affected not only Aguecheek but also Feste and Sir Toby. David Waller was, on his first entrance with Maria, dignified and relaxed, but drink depressed and depraved him. He made his reading of the character clear to his Guardian [18 September 1974] interviewer:

Toby's first line is: 'What a plague means my niece to take the death of her brother thus? I am sure care's an enemy to life.' That suggests to me a man who is, as it were, protesting too much. He is protecting himself, a wounded man—hence the drinking … Nearly his last words are 'I hate a drunken rogue'. And it seems quite clear to me that he's referring quite consciously to himself.

That, expressed with admirable clarity, was the key to Waller's playing of Sir Toby. Patricia Hayes's perky Maria was a decade older and too happy below stairs to give credibility to her standing in Olivia's household. And Feste? How fascinating that it can be played so variously. Ron Pember spoke like a Londoner, dressed like a faded Harlequin now reduced to busking, and hinted always at a radical's social distaste for the antics of privilege. He despised the effeteness of Orsino's court, and his angry assumption that Viola considered him a beggar (III, i, 9) had all the spikiness of class-pride. But there was more than this. One member of the audience interestingly compared him with Bosola, another joker who declines to laugh at his own jokes. He was discomforting, an outsider, almost malevolently saturnine, defying the sentimental response to Malvolio's plight by pressing home his final accusations with heartless accuracy in Act V. (Yet he, with Fabian, guided Sir Andrew off the stage after Sir Toby's cruel last rebuff.) The majority of George Fenton's music for the production had a 'Victorian Elizabethan' tone. Against that, Pember sang his songs with the gritty voice of the modern, unaccompanied folk-singer. He was a working man among the leisured classes, deeply critical of their behaviour and bitterly dissatisfied with his own. The roughand-ready air of the curtain-call was, perhaps, his triumph over the formality of Illyria. The four lovers had whirled and weaved their way around, involving Antonio in their dance, but leaving him bemused and lonely when they went out and the stage wall slid shut behind them. And there Antonio stood, upstage alone, while Ron Pember sang his song of mutability to us. I shall never forget this Feste.


David Jones Stratford Festival, Ontario 1975


Jones's production was deemed by critics to have steered a moderate course between the excessively romantic stagings of the nineteenth century and the more cynical interpretations of such twentieth-century directors as Tyrone Guthrie. Clive Barnes characterized Jones as "one of the new-style British classics directors who are original without being outlandish and place the simple, yet imaginative interpretation of the playwright's concept as absolutely paramount." This exceptionally successful production of Twelfth Night highlighted the play's themes of love and identity, particularly as expressed through the characters of Malvolio, played by Brian Bedford, and Viola, played by Kathleen Widdoes. Bedford presented Malvolio as a prim, self-righteous puritan, and played directly to the audience. Berners W. Jackson likened the actor to a virtuoso musician playing "upon a cacophonous instrument, directly manipulating the responses, not only of the whole group, but also of individuals." By contrast, Stephen Macht's Orsino was censured for his strident tones. Jackson complained that "during his opening speech he banged a book shut, stomped around, and growled or shouted out the lines in a way that made it evident Shakespeare hadn't written the part as he wanted to play it."


Clive Barnes (review date 12 June 1975)

SOURCE: "Kathleen Widdoes Shines in Ontario Twelfth Night," in The New York Times, June 12, 1975, p. 29.

[David Jones's staging of] Twelfth Night proved to be a beauty—one of the lightest, most luminous and elegant things to be seen in Stratford for some years.

David Jones is one of the two directors of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Britain—he triumphantly staged Gorky's Summer Folk and Love's Labour's Lost for the company at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this season—and in this Twelfth Night he escapes from the Canadian tradition of Guthrie into something far more substantial and poetic.

Mr. Jones is like Mr. Phillips, one of the newstyle British classics directors who are original without being outlandish and place the simple, yet imaginative interpretation of the playwright's concept as absolutely paramount.

It is a far more pragmatic method and not nearly so stylized as the old Guthrie approach, which was aimed at pleasing an audience rather than presenting a play. Mind you, if the new way is successful, the audience will be pleased, as it was abundantly with this Twelfth Night.

The zest of Mr. Jones's interpretation of these crisscrossing patterns of love and identity, shone out from the first. He takes Orsino's opening speech, "If music be the food of love," as if it had just been written by the playwright, and throughout he is devilishly imaginative in his readings of the text, for this is a subtle, supple view of the vagaries of love.

It is exquisitely acted—you could hardly have told that this was largely the same company that had marched, with leaden-footed competence, through Shaw's Saint Joan the night before.

The two principals, indeed, were new, and they were iri-descent. Brian Bedford as Malvolio and Kathleen Widdoes as Viola had just that definition of Shakespearean style that has been lacking at Stratford these last few seasons.

Mr. Bedford's dignified beetle of a Malvolio, talking like a genteel minor civil servant, grinning inordinately at his own feeble jokes, and looking like a plump, self-satisfied Richelieu, makes a formidable character.

Mr. Bedford—and Mr. Jones—take a considerable risk in frequently addressing the audience directly. Style wards off the threat inherent here of vulgarity, but at the end perhaps Mr. Bedford, who has been the consummate comedian throughout, does at present miss the full morose possibility of Malvolio's final malediction.

But this is a rich Malvolio, and Miss Widdoes with her tempestuously passionate Viola is its equal. Saucer-eyed and trigger-spirited, Miss Widdoes is absolutely credible. The other performances were all in their own way admirable—Marti Maraden made a pretty and unusually vivacious Olivia; Leslie Yeo a belchingly amusing Sir Toby, obviously more concerned with ale than cakes; Tom Kneebone, the histrionically ineffectual Dauphin of Saint Joan was wryly and bitterly effective as Feste, and Frank Maraden had a nicely lank despondency as Aguecheek. It shows what direction can do—and I also like the Caroline period design of Susan Benson.

John Pettigrew (review date February 1976)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Journal of Canadian Studies/ Revue d'etudes canadiennes, Vol. XI, No. 1, February, 1976, pp. 56-8.

Over at the Festival Theatre, David Jones of the Royal Shakespeare Company directed an enjoyable Twelfth Night, straightforward and sunny, a production that left the more sombre areas unexplored—only once, I think, in Sir Andrew's response to Sir Toby's comtemptuous rebuke, did one of the flat characters for a fleeting moment become round. Much better than Stratford's first Twelfth Night (one twisted out of shape by Tyrone Guthrie's obsession with the play's darker side), it was less generally satisfactory than David William's jewel of a production in 1966. But if in some respects it was very remarkable indeed, and attained levels that Stratford had probably not reached before, it was made extremely uneven by extraordinary variation in the quality of individual performances. Tom Kneebone's Feste seemed to me to lack the kind of imagination that went into his Dauphin in Saint Joan, and to be no more than adequate, though it is only fair to add that I don't pretend to understand Feste, that I find him less interesting than most critics do, and that what I think I found missing was the kind of bitterness that would have been discordant in the generally harmonious world of this production. A good deal less than adequate was Denise Fergusson's Maria. I find it difficult to be fair to Miss Fergusson because I admired her Jenny in The Threepenny Opera of 1972 so very much that I keep expecting her to rise to that level again and keep getting disappointed. As I have pointed out before, I regard myself as an authority on Marias, having once given the worst performance ever given anywhere in that role (or in any other role for that matter). What the part needs is the kind of pert and joyful zip that Molière's soubrettes have (Miss Galloway would be a definitive Maria), but Miss Fergusson was flat rather than bubbly, and seemed bewildered. The major disaster, however, was the Orsino, Stephen Macht's abysmal failure in the role posing problems for other actors and especially Viola, on whose taste in men Mr. Macht's casting cast the most serious doubts. Mr. Macht's Proctor showed that he's a good actor, but he should avoid Shakespearean roles except those requiring Brooklyn Jews or oriental thugs of an acrobatic bent. Never again, I trust, will I hear the play's first word ("If") so underlined as if there is philosophically every reason to doubt that music be the food of love, and never again, I trust, will I be led to find myself thinking in the first scene of Orsino as an understudy rehearsing King Lear in his opening scene, or as a Tigger in an absolute frenzy to be even more bouncy than usual. Mr. Macht leaped about the stage, slammed books shut for no apparent reason, held fielding practice, went through a complete repertoire of damnable faces before beginning, threatened to transfix a horrified messenger with a crossbow, and generally seemed determined to o'erdo Termagant and to out-herod Herod, and to need a strait-jacket. I did not enjoy Mr. Macht's performance, and that the production survived it is a tribute to most of the others involved.

There were some nice bits of business, some of them none the worse for not being original. Sir Andrew's yellow costume gave special point to Maria's remark that yellow is a colour Olivia abhors. Sir Toby Belch, anxious to prove his sobriety, tried to walk a straight line but became naturally bewildered since the line he chose to tread was that marking a difference in stage levels. Feste remarked, "Did you never see the picture of We Three," to Toby, Andrew and himself, who, for reasons that escape me now, but which seemed convincing at the time, had somehow become "See-no-evil," "Hear-no-evil," and "Speak-no-evil."

There were also excellent performances. Leslie Yeo had and gave a good time as Toby, and Lewis Gordon was an admirable Fabian. Last year I insisted in these pages on the evidence of Marti Maraden's Katharine in Love's Labour's Lost that she was a young actress of enormous promise whom the Festival must grapple to itself with hoops of steel; this year her Olivia was one of her several fine performances, and Frank Maraden's Sir Andrew was also as good as any I've seen. Violas I am quite incapable of judging since I always fall in love with them within about two minutes of their arrivals in Illyria, and I tend to think that Siobhan McKenna or Joan Darling or Martha Henry or Judi Dench is the finest I've seen until I see the next one. This year I fell for Kathleen Widdoes who did everything superbly and who was, I think, better at communicating the sheer joy of being vital and in love than anyone else I've seen. And her girlish squeal of delight as she finally flung herself upon Orsino was a supremely lovely moment.

But this was Malvolio's Twelfth Night It is true that Brian Bedford overacted disgracefully, and that economy was not a word that he appeared to have heard of, true that the performance may have thinned the role since it was quite impossible ever to sympathize with this Malvolio, true that he kept inventing new gags which not only broke audiences up but kept his fellow actors on their toes since they were never sure what he would come up with next (Sir Andrew's completely unsuccessful efforts to restrain his hysterics at one new bit of business one night were alone worth the price of admission). But if Mr. Bedford's performance was naughty indeed and very far from being definitive, it was also memorable and marvellous, the kind of thing that only the finest actor can get away with.

At the centre of Mr. Bedford's Malvolio were supreme self-satisfaction, snobbishness, and smugness incarnate. All that is conventional enough, though I don't think I've ever seen a Malvolio who disliked others' jokes so much, or who derived such terrific enjoyment from his own even when they weren't funny ("By your leave, wax" reduced him to tears of laughter). What was certainly fresh was this Malvolio's revelation that his Puritanism is only skin-deep, or rather, perhaps, that he thinks Puritanism good for others, but not for himself. He moved with a kind of built-in snigger, possessed of a dirty little mind beside which a London sewer would be crystallinity personified. The thought of the daybed where he had left Olivia sleeping filled him with pornographic delight, the thought of her making "her great P's" was exquisitely geared to tickle his smutty little mind. Lost in daydream, he remarked to in imaginary Sir Toby, "My fortunes having cast me on your niece," and then became wildly gleeful at the thought of being literally cast there. Olivia's "Wilt thou go to bed, Malvolio" practically precipitated an orgasm. His unlimited capacity for self-approval went along with an equal capacity for disapproving of others: "as a squash is before 'tis a peascod" would have withered Viola had she heard it. Again Jove's name was certainly to be invoked, but only, where Malvolio himself was concerned, as that of a social inferior to whom some curious social ritual suggested the desirability of paying homage if only because the best people do so and because to defer to him is to show oneself as truly humble.

There was some lovely business: an interior struggle as to whether or not to revolve on reading Maria's instruction to do so; a grotesque slow bend to pick up Maria's letter; an entrance with Malvolio playing "She loves me, she loves me not" with a flower, then suddenly realizing that the number might not work out, cheating by counting ahead, and then pettishly discarding the flower. And while I suppose he ought not to have done it, I could not help dissolving as Mr. Bedford played to particular members of the audience, sharing his jokes with them, and even on one occasion pausing until some kindly gentleman in the audience prompted him with "have greatness thrust upon them," whereupon Mr. Bedford nodded his gratitude and chalked up the debt for the help.

Berners W. Jackson (review date Winter 1976)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 1, Winter, 1976, pp. 29-31.

The Twelfth Night directed by David Jones at the Festival Theatre was thoroughly agreeable Shakespeare, lively, full-bodied, and a pleasure to look at. Dressed by Susan Benson in costumes that were near-Renaissance, neither aggressively nor archly period, the production struck a subtle and convincing medium between the sunshine piece that we are told our forefathers relished and the acidulous attempt at black comedy that some modern directors have pursued in producing this play. Leslie Yeo's Sir Toby Belch was jovial enough for a workaday Lord of Misrule. His bluster, his belches, his pranks, and his slap-and-tickle with Maria were his continuing lifestyle, but the strength of his animosity toward Malvolio betrayed a sourness of spirit, a sense of self-waste. A sort of pinched, incomplete Falstaff, he was a forgiveable man, more easily liked by others than by himself. Denise Fergusson gave Maria considerable bright-eyed malice. A strong-bodied lass excited by her ability to be one of the boys without losing sexual identity, she disarmed the audience by the gusto with which she relished her own cleverness. Frank Maraden was an attenuated, ungainly, dim-witted Aguecheek of watery affability. Prompted to action he became a dancer of excruciating absurdity, designed to trip over feet, his own if no others were available. In a suit of lemon yellow as remarkable as the fact that he existed, he claimed the kind of unguarded affection that one must feel for the last specimen of a species otherwise extinct. The remote singularity of Feste was emphasized by a costume of pale, uncertain gold, the dress for Tom Kneebone's harsh and metallic clown, burnished by wit, but unhappy. This was a tough, professional Feste, his eyes quizzical and disenchanted, his distaste for his fellow men beginning with himself.

For those who have sometimes wondered, as I have, why Shakespeare wrote in the part of Fabian, Lewis Gordon's performance in this production may offer a suggestion. Nearly every Fabian I have seen has appeared to believe that, as a late-comer to the comic company, he must exhibit some striking eccentricity in order to hold his own with Sir Toby and the gang. Since the part doesn't give an actor with that particular ambition much to work with, the result has invariably been more puzzling than effective. Mr. Gordon played the role as an ordinary fellow who rather enjoyed his odd companions but would not have wanted to be thought like them. In so doing he provided them with a foil of normalcy that Shakespeare may have intended, and at the same time demonstrated why Feste could not have effectively performed Fabian's function and remained Feste.

Kathleen Widdoes was a sweet-faced, candid Viola, who did the Cesario part with a nicely judged unmasculine attempt at masculinity. One admired, for instance, the hearty way she got her right shoulder into a thrusting handshake, because the result obviously caused her physical pain. The subtle variety in her gait and stance suggested that she was having continually to remind herself of what she was supposed to be. This was a winning performance because Miss Widdoes was able to make the audience feel, to the point of sharing in it, Viola's pleasure at being alive and in love. Since she is also an actress capable of expressing great joy what appears to be a process of inner radiation, Miss Widdoes made the recognition scene totally memorable.

Olivia, so often played as a rather dreary lady who seems to suffer from a permanent asthma of the spirit, was given character and wit by Marti Maraden. Her vow of long mourning for her brother did not prevent her handling her household competently, and all evidence of overindulged sentiment evaporated when Viola appeared. Love, however ironically mistaken, came as a challenge to this Olivia, and brought out the best in her, making her a force to be reckoned with. However, Stephen Macht's Orsino struck me as irritatingly perverse. Mr. Macht seemed to have conceived Orsino as a tigerish spirit caged in boredom and maddened by unrequited love. During his opening speech he banged a book shut, stamped around, and growled or shouted out the lines in a way that made it evident Shakespeare hadn't written the part as he wanted to play it. Thus he failed to conjure up what I take to be the atmosphere of Illyria, and though he did make some amends later on by his glad acceptance of Viola, it was not until after he had grabbed Olivia by the throat and given other evidence of serious instability.

Brian Bedford's Malvolio was an unlovely and unlovable prig of a man with a monumental capacity for self-approval, who nevertheless managed to make himself totally agreeable to the audience. Dignity had starched his face into a mask of disapproval, but it could crack into a mirthless smile for public consumption, or rumple into a private snigger of delight when he was soliloquizing upon his own character, fortunes, or undertakings. In these moments Mr. Bedford encouraged the participation of the audience; he affected to be puzzled by their reactions, he asked for their approval, he took them into his confidence. This was an astonishing virtuoso performance with the actor playing upon the audience like a musician upon a cacophonous instrument, directly manipulating the responses, not only of the whole group, but also of individuals. It was all so skillful and so hilarious that an adverse criticism seems merely grumpy, and yet, although this Malvolio remained in character throughout, Mr. Bedford's familiarities with the audience did, I think, make it impossible for him to achieve fully the effects that ought to attach later in the play to Malvolio's bewilderment, anger, and pathetically outraged dignity.


Terry Hands • RSC • 1979


Employing the seasonal associations of Twelfth Night as metaphors for the play's action, Hands's RSC production opened with an Illyria shrouded in winter and closed with the arrival of spring. This threw into relief the centrality of the play's romantic relationships, which critics agreed were rendered with energy. Benedict Nightingale commented, "in Illyria love is a sudden and alarming affliction, a variety of glandular fever virulent enough to send the mercury racing up and over the humiliation threshold." In particular, Gareth Thomas's Orsino and Kate Nicholls's Olivia were faulted for indulging in hyperbolic emotion. J. C. Trewin asserted that "we know that Orsino and Olivia are given to excess, but it was long since they had been acted with more resolute and superfluous vigour." John Wood-vine's Malvolio received more favorable reviews; Sally Aire commented that "his use of the physical constraints of his preposterous cross-gartering [gave] opportunity for some unexpectedly enjoyable clowning." Similarly, Geoffrey Hutchings's Feste received critical acclaim for his handling of the role's melancholy and music. Aire wrote that Hutchings played Feste "with a privateness, the whimsy is there to hide a sadness which is revealed only in his music-making, a dimension of the performance which is as skilfully accomplished as the rest of it."


Sheridan Morley (review date 20 June 1979)

SOURCE: "Illyria Follies," in Punch, Vol. 276, No. 7236, June, 20, 1979, pp. 1093.

Short of making it into a musical, which amazingly seems never to have been tried, there's not a lot that even the most wilful or determined of directors can do with Twelfth Night. Unusually, almost alone among the later comedies, it defies any kind of social or political or historical comment and therefore is inclined to become an actors' rather than a producer's play.

Having already staged it to considerable acclaim at the Comedie Francaise, with his wife as Viola, Terry Hands now brings to a new RSC production at Stratford the same designer (John Napier) but a homegrown cast and, from all Parisian accounts, a somewhat broader interpretation. We start off in a wild and wintry wood, as though the play were actually set on Twelfth Night rather than merely written for it; enter thereto a curiously irate Orsino (Gareth Thomas) bellowing instructions about more music to a semirecalcitrant court, and from here on it is clearly going to be every actor for himself and devil take the hind-most.

Thus we have a jolly-hockey schoolgirl Olivia (Kate Nicholls), an unusually seductive Maria (Jane Downs), a gargantuan Toby Belch (Willoughby Goddard) and John McEnery as Aguecheek camping around like Moley in a woolly balaclava. None of them seem to have a lot to do with each other, but all are maniacally intent on making the most of their several moments—not least John Wood-vine whose Malvolio is unusually desperate to get all the established laughs and then some.

By the end of the first half we seem to have moved from The Wind in the Willows through Mary Rose to Rookery Nook, no mean achievement in an hour and a half; by the beginning of the second half we've also acquired a Fabian (Norman Tyrrell) out of some mediaeval episode of The Archers and increasingly Cherie Lunghi's Viola is getting to look like the principal boy out of some especially eccentric pantomime.

But Twelfth Night is reasonably indestructible, its twinning plot being both simpler and infinitely more touching than that of Comedy Of Errors; thus it doesn't much matter that what we appear to have here is fifteen actors racing round each other in search of a common style. They never actually find one, but they have a lot of fun along the way and so on the first night did an audibly delighted audience. By the end of the second half Spring has been sprung, as has Malvolio, and Feste (Geoffrey Hutchings in the performance of the evening, unless you count an interesting stage debut from Stephen Rashbrook as Sebastian) is as usual allowed to walk away with the end of the play on a stage he has never for an instant left. He alone has realised that Twelfth Night should have been a musical all along.

Benedict Nightingale (review date 22 June 1979)

SOURCE: "Glandular Fever," in New Statesman, Vol. 97, No. 2518, June 22, 1979, pp. 928-29.

For some time now our directors have been conscientiously darkening what used to be regarded as Shakespeare's happiest comedy. We have had glum and scabrous Festes, and we have had Malvolios so cruelly teased that even the Belches—mean drunks and unprincipled predators to a man—have proved mildly shocked by their maltreatment. But these prison-house productions have obviously missed much, not least the interestingly erratic and even violent behaviour of some of the more romantic characters. In Illyria love is a sudden and alarming affliction, a variety of glandular fever virulent enough to send the mercury racing up and over the humiliation threshold:

Cesario, by the roses of the spring,
By maidhood, honour, truth and everything,
I love thee so that, maugre all thy pride,
Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.

It is, however, precisely such sentiments that give Terry Hand's revival of the play its tone, style and extravagant originality.

Roger Bisley's Antonio seems much more than ordinarily besotted with Sebastian, and Gareth Thomas's Orsino is not the usual droopy musicophage but a grizzled gentleman-pirate dangerously likely to succumb to his unpredictable impulses and cut a throat or two. As for Kate Nicholls's Olivia, she has no sooner swept on stage than she has thrown aside her mourning veil to reveal a lavish auburn mane that at once justifies her overwhelming vanity and gives due warning of her torrid temperament. Before long this pre-Raphaelite beauty is proclaiming her loves and hates with a flamboyance that must be audible halfway across Illyria, and enthusiastically matching voice with movement and gesture. She flirtatiously rubs up against Malvolio, flings aside the wretched Aguecheek, and proceeds to astonish Cesario-Viola with the physical frankness of her unruly emotions. 'To one of your receiving enough is shown', she cries, and promptly disproves her own words by leaping at her, cuddling her, and pursuing her pelimeli through the garden. At one moment of high excitement she seems actually to be trying to rape her, and at another she blunders into and very nearly knocks flat one of the spindly, woebegone trees that cower onstage, like crones in a gymnasium. It is as if defloration were not enough: this rampaging lady will be satisfied with nothing short of deforestation. This is more than a little absurd, and certainly very hard to reconcile with the staid melancholic who threatens the carousing Toby with banishment; but it is also an overdue corrective to theatrical tradition, since Olivias have long tended to be wet and anonymous, uniformly incapable of feeling the flames to whose heat their words attest. It unbalances, but does not up-end, a production that seems sensible enough elsewhere and can claim several 'better-than-average performances: Willoughby Goddard's Belch, physically piggy and morally swinish; Cheril Lunghi's sweet and affectionate Viola; and, especially, John Woodvine's Malvolio, whose private hobby is practising the vindictive kicks-upthe-bum he will one day give the undeserving Goddard. Watch this baleful puritan, who may well never have smiled in his life before, grimacing wolfishly into his hand-mirror as he prepares to charm Olivia, or doing battle with yellow stockings whose cross-garters don't so much impede the circulation as mummify the legs. Only rarely, I have found, is Twelfth Night even remotely as funny on the stage as in the study. That this time performance comes close to matching bookish imagination is substantially due to Mr Woodvine's wickedly silly solemnities.

Sally Aire (review date July 1979)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Plays and Players, Vol. 26, No. 10, July, 1979, pp. 29-30.

In this new production Terry Hands seems to be seeking to direct us to a reappraisal of the traditional view of this piece as a simple Christmas divertissement, and in so doing gives us a production which in places seems perverse in its interpretation of characters and their narrative functions. Yet one of the happiest consequences of this rather wilful treatment is a re-think on Orsino and Olivia, neither of whom, traditionally played, is the most enlivening of Shakespeare's creations: Orsino, who usually droops about the stage like a wilting love-lies-bleeding, is here driven by his lovesickness into a bitter aggression, and rants (and raves) like the proverbial bear with a sore head which his name suggests. The opening scene of the play, therefore, came as something of a shock to the audience, amongst whom I thought I detected a rather uncomfortable reaction at this point, as well as a feeling of discomfort from the stage. But Orsino's ego-trip had made itself clear from the start, and we were all aware of the firm directorial hand. The object of Orsino's passion, Olivia, soon revealed herself as a barely feasible mixture of flowing pre-Raphaelite beauty and rather pukka lacrosse captain. She projects such qualities of heartiness, hautiness and downright lust as would scare the pants firmly onto any man less macho than Orsino or more awake than the bemused Sebastian. Both these interpretations bring into focus one feature common to both characters—emotional, psychic immaturity, and in doing this cast what, for me at least, was new light on the play.

Viola, too, is in search of an emotional wholeness, grieving for her drowned brother. (Olivia, too, we remember at the beginning of the play is supposed to be in mourning for her brother.) Malvolio, who seems flattered rather than fulfilled by what he believes to be Olivia's admiration, is 'sick of self-love', and, unable to achieve his emotional wholeness, he slides out of the play and into the next dramatic generation—'I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you', to evolve into the corrupt villain of Jacobean drama. The other characters are resolved and so, in terms of dramatic history, die a quiet, happy 'mythic death'. Whilst the various lovers in the play are all falling in love with appearances, all in their own particular stages of transition between the mature and the infantile state, with all its attendant regression and narcissism, there does appear to be one character who has achieved his own psychic wholeness before the play has even started.

Feste is no longer a young man, he is a wise Fool—beginning to approach the Fool of Lear—who has learned his craft through some sort of suffering; a private man, sufficient unto himself and, incidentally, in this production looking disturbingly ill. This apartness from the other characters is emphasised in this production in that from the opening Feste never leaves the stage (except at the very end, to hasten Sebastian's arrival); and he remains often in the shadows, motionless by one of the trees which constitute the set. But although always present, listening, and so in full knowledge of all the misunderstandings the plot gives rise to, the text never makes it possible for him to try to sort them out. This does make a very real narrative problem for the audience, if not for the actor. Geoffrey Hutchings plays Feste with a privateness, the whimsey is there to hide a sadness which is revealed only in his music-making, a dimension of the performance which is as skilfully accomplished as the rest of it.

If Feste is less overtly comic an interpretation than we are used to, Malvolio is more so. He is ludicrous rather than repugnant, and John Woodvine's use of the physical constraints of his preposterous cross-gartering gives opportunity for some unexpectedly enjoyable clowning. Cherie Lunghi's Viola exudes an air of guileless innocence. She plays the role with a straight directness and childlike charm, but I missed the toughness Jane Lapotaire brought to the role five years ago.

The production sets Part One of the play in winter. John Napier's trees are bare of leaves, everyone is shivering (Orsino seems to hold court permanently out of doors) and everyone is wrapped in furs and leather (again!). The Spring of Part Two is a little more convincing. The trees have sprouted a few leaves and cold yellow primroses and daffodils have appeared. It gives us something different to look at, but does seem really rather predictably schematic. The costume design is one of light shades—pale grey, white, black dominate, with browns and yellows supplied by the early autumnal Belch, Aguecheek and Maria. The music is for once a happy fusion of early Tudor filtered through a modern ear. The catch 'Hold thy peace' and Feste's 'Come away Death' work particularly well, whilst the tune for Little Tiny Boy is very close to the traditional one. There is an all too rare sense here of the actors being at ease with the music and enjoying it.

A last, small, practical point: there is some difficulty with sightlines, and I noticed a couple of annoying maskings in some of the scenes involving Sir Toby Belch. I imagine these have been sorted out by now.

J. C. Trewin (review date Summer 1980)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 2, Summer, 1980, p. 155.

Illyria has often been a strange place; yet though it is a world just over the horizon, it must not be fantasticated beyond belief. Terry Hands joined the various directors who have used the secondary title, What You Will, as an invitation to adventure. At Stratford he also accepted a hint from the calendar. At first it was obviously a hard Illyrian winter, snow powdered beneath the leafless trees, everyone muffled up but (for all the low temperature) staying perpetually and unpersuasively out of doors. Until Malvolio's letter-speech the play was unwarmed, though Orsino did his best by carrying infatuation into near-frenzy. So intelligent an actress as Kate Nicholls was obliged to present Olivia as a coquette with a wild comingon disposition, a director's tiresome caprice. We know that Orsino and Olivia are given to excess, but it was long since they had been acted with more resolute and superfluous vigor. Anything that distracts us from the language in Twelfth Night must be false. When spring at length appeared, for some of us that early shiver stayed.

John Woodvine's Malvolio was plausible, a domestic regimental sergeant-major in trouble with his vowels; Cherie Lunghi's Viola had a forth-right charm that suited Cesario. I was unhappy with a Toby like a bullying Friar Tuck, and a Feste (there could be a book of Festes) like an intermittently electrified dormouse.

Roger Warren (review date 1980)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespearian Study and Production, Vol. 33, 1980, pp. 170-71.

John Napier's set was … the most striking feature of the new Twelfth Night, … [it consisted of] a sloping platform with bare trees in large square tubs and snow on the ground; the sun came out in time for Malvolio to practise behaviour in it, and Maria's grey winter shawl was decked out with green leaves and suspended from one of the trees to provide extra 'cover' for the eavesdroppers in the letter scene; from III, i daffodils blossomed in the tubs, and green leaves had sprouted on some (but by no means all) of the bare trees, so that the stage picture for the second half was a mixture of winter and spring: but if this matched the mixture of harshness and happiness in the play, it also, less happily, reflected a certain confusion in Terry Hands's production.

Through the trees, characters were often seen upstage, preparing for the next episode: Sir Toby meeting Cesario at the gate; Viola and Olivia in conversation before coming downstage centre for their exchange in III, iv as Sir Toby moved upstage to meditate upon some horrid message for a challenge; Viola even loosening her hair upstage and draping a shawl around her male breeches to give some semblance of being Orsino's mistress while the others listened to Malvolio's letter downstage. During Feste's final song, the lovers in a happy group centre were isolated from those who felt the imminence of the wind and the rain, sitting underneath the trees at the shadowed edges of the platform: the wounded Aguecheek, head in hands, the isolated Antonio, and the sobered Maria and Toby, separated and facing away from each other.

If Mr Hands gave us contrast here, he gave us contradiction elsewhere, especially in his presentation of Feste and Malvolio. Feste was on stage virtually throughout, an ill-licensed Twelfth Night Lord of Misrule, even cueing character's entries in the finale; but since he had seen both Cesario and Sebastian, 'your name is not Master Cesario; nor this is not my nose neither' had to be made to mean the reverse of what it in fact does mean, to the extent of Feste actually removing a false nose to emphasise knowingly that 'nothing that is so is so'. This was the most blatant example of Mr Hands's typical habit of sacrificing the plain meaning of the text to the interests of some imposed 'concept'; but text and performance tend to resist such concepts, and Geoffrey Hutchings's quietly rustic Feste was among the least dominating I have seen.

John Woodvine (Malvolio) seemed at first to be carefully building a consistent characterisation of a humourless puritanical steward, self-conscious about social gaffes, having immense difficulty with the pronunciation of 'slough', speaking with a nasal twang specifically mocked in Feste's line 'Malvolio's nose is no whipstock', and grimly resolving 'I—will—smile' as if his life depended upon it. The resulting physical contortion was legitimately very funny, but the antics with the cross-garters seemed to come from a more farcical character, equipped with a huge yellow codpiece for gross phallic humour at 'greatness thrust upon them'. 'I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you' was charged with deadly menace; but as he turned away upstage, the long cord which had tied his feet snaked along the floor after him out of the trapdoor from which he had emerged. What we were finally to think about Malvolio was not clear.

The most original interpretation was of the lovers, who expressed what they were feeling with unusual direct emphasis, without either lyricism or affectation. Gareth Thomas tore into Orsino's lines rapidly, roughly, even aggressively, as if he was basically a man of action who felt obliged to use conventional wooing styles and disliked them; at the end he wore a flowing white Saracen-style robe with a scimitar at his belt (looking rather like Byron in oriental costume), turning the knife violently on both Olivia and Viola, thus wringing from Viola the passionately emphatic declaration 'after him I LOVE'. This interpretation had the merit of bringing real weight to his imaging of his fierce desires as 'fell and cruel hounds' at the cost of gabbling more reflective passages ('longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn'), but its vigour was refreshing.

So, too, was that of Olivia. Interpreting a figure of speech as a statement of fact, Mr Hands did not merely 'veil' her 'like a cloistress', but dressed her in flowing black and white nun's robes; when Viola asked to see her face, Olivia removed not just the nun's veil but her entire head-dress, revealing long red tresses which made her look an odd mixture of Mary Magdalen and Salome; but at least it emphasised Olivia's vigorous coming alive, as did the force with which she virtually assaulted fate on the line 'Fate, show thy force'. But the actress lacked the experience to vary her subsequent delivery, and her very emphatic style ultimately became tiring.

It was Cherie Lunghi's Viola that really gained from this approach. At the start a scared waif, she gradually worked out her disguise ('an eunuch!' was a sudden inspiration), and also thought her way through the 'willow cabin' speech, which began as a genuine, thoughtful attempt to answer Olivia's question, and gradually acquired great power as she built up the plan bit by bit. In the central scene [II. iv. 88-110] with Orsino, their passionate, almost violent exchanges ('Sooth, but you must!', 'Ay, but / know—' 'What dost thou know?'), flung backwards and forwards, built up to a tingling 'She never told her love', which was charged with real emotional frustration. During 'Come away death', she draped her cloak caringly around Orsino's shoulders, and their mutual absorption was so great that they virtually forgot about Feste; Orsino broke the spell with the next instruction about Olivia, thus increasing her frustration, but at the end of the scene he returned to her to give back her cloak, and this held moment between them underlined their development during the scene and prepared for their final union. Miss Lunghi also played the humour with impish lightness, and she alone brought distinction of style and personality to a production generally lacking in the subtle undertones and detailed humanity achieved in previous Stratford productions of this play.


David Mamet Circle Repertory Theatre, New York 1980


Mamet's 1980 production of Twelfth Night at the Circle Repertory Theatre, New York engendered heated critical comment for its bold use of costuming. Adopting an anachronistic approach that clothed characters in garb from a variety of centuries, Mamet explained that he allowed the actors themselves to choose the costumes that they felt were appropriate for their characters. Many critics asserted that this directorial choice was nothing more than an irresponsible gimmick. Michael Bertin, however, argued that it was "a fine intuition into the play's heart," explaining that "uniformity in costuming is … a relatively modern innovation." This production further elicited contrary responses regarding Marshall W. Mason's performance as Malvolio. John Simon described Mason's Malvolio as "a prissy antiques salesman trying to screw up his courage to turn a trick on Central Park West," while Bertin characterized the performance as "elegant and reserved." Lindsay Crouse, by contrast, won unanimous approval for her rendering of Viola, which Edith Oliver hailed as "the best I've ever seen," noting that the actress spoke "her poetry … as easily as breathing, never slighting its music or emotion or force." Colin Stinton's Feste was also praised by the majority of critics. Oliver in particular singled out his deft handling of Shakespeare's language: "struck with much of that tormenting dialogue, he somehow makes it sound witty, and his voice and speech are worthy of the haunting songs he sings." The cast additionally included Jay O. Saunders as Orsino, Michael Lerner as Sir Toby Belch, Trish Hawkins as Olivia, and Marceli Rosenblatt as Maria.


Mel Gussow (review date 17 December 1980)

SOURCE: "Twelfth Night: By the Circle Repertory," in The New York Times, December 17, 1980, p. C26.

David Mamet's lighthearted production of Twelfth Night at the Circle Repertory Company features two outstanding Shakespearean performances—by Lindsay Crouse in the pivotal role of Viola and by Colin Stinton in the usually subordinate role of Feste the clown.

As played by Mr. Stinton, the clown is a deadpan wit who nimbly takes the measure of everyone else on stage. He orchestrates their cheerful deceptions and always has a palm extended to solicit a donation. He is such an articulate and engaging performer, acting and singing ("O Mistress Mine") that one wishes his character could have had an even fairer share of Shakespeare's choicest speeches, beginning with Orsino's opening entreaty, "If music be the food of love, play on."

In this production, the first of the Circle's seasonal two-part repertory (Gerhart Hauptmann's The Beaver Coat is staged in tandem), Mr. Stinton shares the evening's honors with Miss Crouse. She is a beacon of loveliness as the willful Viola. While pretending to be boyish, she magically retains a feminine radiance. She would be perfectly suited to play all of Shakespeare's girl-boy roles, and womanly characters as well.

Exuding charm along with intelligence, she convincingly becomes the object of all affection. When she looks up in unabashed admiration at Orsino, she makes us believe that the man is worthy of her, although Jay O. Sanders, who is playing the role, lacks that customary regal air of command. Mr. Sanders is one of several actors who fall somewhat short of the full fathom of fun in Twelfth Night. Michael Lerner and Jack Dengel offer rather rudimentary approximations of those two domestic buffoons, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, although they and others improve in the course of the evening.

The primary debits of an otherwise enjoyable show are Clifford Capone's costumes, which are, to say the least, capricious. They seem to have been thrown together from different productions and different periods. Mr. Stinton, for example, wears chinos and a reindeer ski sweater and looks as if he he had just wandered in from watching a football game in Good News. At one point he lights up a Kool. Miss Crouse and the Duke's other minions are dressed like military-school plebes. Robert Lupone wears a pirate's bandanna as large as a turban. Marshall W. Mason, the Circle's artistic director, playing Malvolio in tails and top hat, needs only a pince nez to make the picture complete as a portrait of The New Yorker's Eustace Tilley.

Fred Kolouch's drab setting has a vaguely Mediterranean aspect and a short staircase that leads up only so that it can immediately lead down. The director has also unwisely used blackouts after short scenes, which slows down the play and emphasizes the episodic nature of the evening.

However, once the devious subplots fall in place, Miss Crouse takes charge of the romance and Mr. Stinton takes charge of the comedy, and this Twelfth Night begins to sprint. Trish Hawkins is a vivacious Olivia and W.H. Macy is bedazzled but eager as Miss Crouse's look-alike brother. The scenes among the three of them, with a tumult of mistaken identities and sudden infatuations, are both antic and romantic.

According to the program, Mr. Mason first attempted the role of Malvolio 20 years ago, and it remains his favorite acting experience. He has remembered the character well. He is funny and properly fussy, although he lacks the pyrotechnic comic dexterity that Brian Bedford brought to the role at the Stratford Festival, Canada. Mr. Mason's Malvolio is a man of high standards, sincere intentions and pinched emotions, easily badgered into making a foil of himself.

As this Malvolio picks up the planted letter containing a bogus confession of love to him from his lady Olivia, the dastardly plotters peer down from atop a wall. With only their faces visible, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Fabian (Charles T. Harper) are a trio of laughable, head-bobbing Toby jugs. Later, when Mr. Mason returns, riotously cross-gartered, with his yellow stockings glaring like sun-spots, this austere puritan amusingly abandons his inhibitions and unleashes a grin.

Mr. Mamet's frothy version of Twelfth Night proves three things: some artistic directors can easily double as character actors; contemporary playwrights can be at home directing in Illyria, and Miss Crouse and Mr. Stinton are actors to be applauded.

John Simon (review date 29 December 1980)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in New York Magazine, December 29, 1980, pp. 63-4.

Nowhere in the western world, I daresay, do the classics fare as badly as in our theater. I don't know whether it is the teaching or the learning—more properly the lack of teaching and the unwillingness to learn—that is to blame. In any case, American theater seems to be equipped only for the latest American plays; there is no sense of other times and other places—as what follows shockingly demonstrates.

The Circle Repertory is about as good an institutional theater as we have, possibly the best; but only for contemporary Americana. Now, alas, we are getting Twelfth Night, staged by the playwright David Mamet as Friday the thirteenth. Start, if you will, with the costumes of Clifford Capone: unlovely, uninventive, and, on top of that, inconsistent. While most characters wear dull modern clothes—Orsino's men in West Point uniforms, Sir Toby in a corduroy sport jacket, Feste in a reindeer sweater—Aguecheek is out of Restoration comedy and Antonio out of The Pirates of Penzance. These costumes are cheap in both senses of the word, and show it, again in both. The Circle Rep's small stage is inhospitable to Shakespeare, but Fred Kolouch's set neither makes full use of the available space nor conjures up a poetic vision of Illyria. It does, however, conjure up a vision of a highschool production of Twelfth Night.

Now, take the staging. For no good reason, Mamet will have Feste doing a crossword puzzle or lighting up a cigarette. If there were consistent modernization throughout, or if that cigarette would shed light on a character or situation, very well; but these gimmicks are desultory, arbitrary, and sophomoric. When three plotters are spying on Malvolio and he looks up at them atop a wall, two sink out of sight and one impersonates a statue—meaning that he can see them. When Malvolio next looks up at them, they blithely stay put—meaning he cannot see them. The staging abounds in this sort of inconsistency. When Sebastian finally comes on at the same time as Viola, Mamet has her gazing at him expressionlessly for a long time. Clearly, the director must find a way to justify the delayed recognition; but this, like much else that is not mere surface stuff, Mamet fails to provide.

Seven performances are heartbreaking if they are meant to be funny, riotous if they are meant in earnest. Jay O. Sanders, as Orsino, declaims Shakespeare's poetry as if it were "The Shooting of Dan McGrew," and moves like a trolley conductor. Trish Hawkins, as Olivia, flutters like a dinner-theater Blanche DuBois and delivers blank verse as if it were a tremulous, flower-child dither. As Sebastian, W. H. Macy is an aging Dead End Kid trying to make like Andy Hardy. Marshall W. Mason's Malvolio is a prissy antiques salesman trying to screw up his courage to turn a trick on Central Park West; Charles T. Harper's Fabian, far from being his adversary, is his fruitier younger brother. The Antonio of Robert Lupone has a delivery as rich in variety as the knock-knock of a woodpecker. Most offensive of all is Colin Stinton as Feste. Looking like a baby Charles Durning, he rattles off his lines with smart-ass condescension and displays what the French so admirably characterize as a tàte à gifler. As for his songs, they come out as tuneless improvisations by a laughing hyena.

Jake Dengel at least looks right as Aguecheek; Marceli Rosenblatt (Maria) and Michael Lerner (Sir Toby) at least try to act, but turn Illyria into the Bronx. As Viola, Lindsay Crouse is superb. She is both womanly and boyish, separately and together; she is both ingenuous innocent and, when called for, precocious judge of character; she can, even at the breakneck speed at which she is directed to speak, make her verse signify and sing. In any production of Twelfth Night, even the best, she could easily hold her own. If Sara Sugihara, listed as musical director, actually composed what passes for music here, let her music be the food of fish.

Edith Oliver (review date 29 December 1980)

SOURCE: "Lindsay's Night," in The New Yorker, Vol. LVI, No. 45, December 29, 1980, p. 55.

Twelfth Night, which opened last week at the Circle Repertory, under the direction of the dramatist David Mamet, is deliberately informal and moves briskly from beginning to end. Every moment is clear—which takes some doing—and the preposterous story, called by Wolcott Gibbs "as irritating as a raspberry seed in a back tooth," becomes acceptable (or is easily ignored), in spite of the pun-cluttered dialogue, which impressed Mr. G. as "a torment to all but the exceptionally devout." Devout or not, I've always found the play a moonstruck and enchanting blend of friskiness and beauty, with credibility the last thing on its mind. There is no skimping (God knows) on the friskiness in this production, but what remains in the memory is the beauty and gravity and humor and mischief of Lindsay Crouse's Viola, who sets the tone of the best of the evening; without ever declaiming, Miss Crouse speaks her poetry—some of the loveliest of Shakespeare's poetry—as easily as breathing, never slighting its music or emotion or force. Even the most familiar of the set pieces—"Make me a willow cabin at your gate" and "My father had a daughter lov'd a man"—sound freshly minted. Her young, ardent Viola is the best I've ever seen (and I start with Jane Cowl), and so is the funny, lyric Feste of Colin Stinton. Stuck with much of that tormenting dialogue, he somehow makes it sound witty, and his voice and speech are worthy of the haunting songs he sings. His "Hey, ho, the wind and the rain," at the end, after all the shenanigans, with the entire cast behind him, is surprisingly moving.

Miss Crouse and Mr. Stinton are totally at home in Shakespeare. The same cannot be said for that entire cast. Although Marceli Rosenblatt's slyboots Maria is funny and in keeping, the other performances vary from the barely acceptable to the terrible. The Malvolio of Marshall W. Mason, the artistic director of the Circle Rep, is so limp and unsure (or was on the evening I was there) that it is impossible to summon up any pity for the character as the victim of a cruel practical joke—much less any laughter. The shenanigans get damned trying.

The scenery, by Fred Kolouch, is spare and unobtrusive. The costumes, by Clifford Capone, while becoming enough, look like a kind of come-as-you-are masquerade. Miss Crouse, disguised as a boy, wears the customary Shakespearean, doublet and hose (I guess); Mr. Stinton wears slacks and a sweater. The other women are in what is usually called "period" dress, but of what period I cannot tell you; as for the other men, there's a hunting cap here, a riding habit there—that sort of thing. Yet even the clothes are appropriate, in their way, to Mr. Mamet's un-conventional yet never slapdash production, which makes not the slightest attempt to be British.

Michael Bertin (review date Summer 1981)

SOURCE: "Two Twelfth Nights: New Haven and New York," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 2, Summer, 1981, pp. 196-99.

David Mamet's production of Twelfth Night opened with the sound of a distant flute. Orsino and Curio were leaning against a wall, and were lost in thought. The flute stopped and all was still as we experienced the vacancy of Orsino's expression and the stasis that engulfed him. Life without love, it seemed, was more than sad; it was plainly dull. The mood was right for the opening; both serious and laughable, it pulled us in as it offered a perspective. Mamet was careful not to rush or force his effects. He allowed each scene to search its form. Seeing, for example, that there is much talk in the opening acts, he enabled this talk to occur with an unhurried confidence, establishing character, nuance, and theme as he proceeded. New colors were added to what fast became a crisp, textured, and cumulative stage experience. In the end, Mamet's production offered a fleeting glimpse of the play's metaphysical bounty.

… [The Mamet-Circle Repertory Company staging of Twelfth Night took place in] a theatre that seats 160. The trestle stage cannot measure more than six by twelve yards. Mamet, however, mastered the limitations of his stage, and extended the space through a vision of the play that related festivity to life. Furthermore, he grounded that vision in a close reading of the text.

Fred Kolouch's deceptively simple setting was outlined by a high and decaying stone wall that broke off to blend with distant cuffs. The time seemed Mediterranean winter, and we were either in Olivia's garden or just beyond the garden gate. The gate itself was arched, fixing the scene with the prospect of a far and swelling sea. The green-blue sky and sea made the gray-brown rocks colder still. Though a potentially tragic land, however, the place held fast to hope and life, as did the lone and undulating rose vine that worked along the mountain path straining for the sun. The wall contained a mysterious empty statuary niche which was perhaps a muted echo of the unfulfilled life Viola—as "patience on a monument"—would miraculously evade. This was Illyria: antique yet modern in its ambiguity, beautiful yet potentially harsh, illusory yet real, informed by seriousness but happy in an unblinking way.

Mamet made one choice that could be labeled as gimmickry. But I thought that his adoption of a manifold costume metaphor was a fine intuition into the play's heart. Quite simply, the clothing spanned the range of modern history. There were among others, an Edwardian Malvolio, an eighteenth-century Sir Andrew in three-cornered hat, a buccaneer Antonio in bandanna with sword, a Napoleonic Officer with fixed bayonet, a military-cadet Cesario, and a modern Feste sporting Hush Puppies, chinos, and a blue ski sweater adorned with prancing deer. Some in the New York press attacked the approach as irresponsible eclecticism. But uniformity in costuming is, as we know, a relatively modern innovation, and the thought of consciously returning to the older convention for Twelfth Night was intriguing. Why then did Mamet want his costumes "visible" in so unexpected a way? He answered that since he had no idea how people dressed in Illyria, he had allowed the actors to determine their costuming on the basis of their character's needs. (The play is located sympathetically in Shakespeare's England, of course, but Elizabethan garb is not really the issue here.) Mamet's answer seemed evasive, or at best partial. This may have been the idea but, in Eric Bentley's phrase, what was the idea behind the idea?

I think there were two: the costumes functioned as emblems of consciousness and as masks. As emblems they revealed how different characters saw themselves. Some, like Feste, were free and wore whatever suited them; others, like Sir Andrew, were imprisoned in outdated modes. Malvolio wore his aspirations; Viola/Cesario wore her/his division. Fascinating perspectives in consciousness evolved when, for example, a "modern" character would address one historically older. But what exactly was modern here? What was old? In a play concerned with illusion and reality, the costumes united with the setting to create an aura of controlled ambiguity.

But as the performance progressed and its poetry took hold, the costumes began to function as masks. The differences in styles of dress dissolved in a deepening coherence of mood, implying that sexual differences were dissolving in the fundamental unity of human passions. The interpretation was not oppressively stated; rather, it seemed to breathe with the play. Mamet was not implying that men and women were the same; he was rendering the nature of their differences problematical in order to relate the mask-before-the-face to the denouement's face-before-the-mask. And when, at the end of the performance, the unity of the denouement evolved into the unity of actors donning street clothes, the happy implication of the play's ending spilled into New York's Sheridan Square, with the ultimate irony being the nature of the world they fell into. The production's philosophy could be stated in the phrase: an image of happiness and love created and questioned.

The unforced thoughtfulness of the interpretation was joyously experienced in the immediacy of performance. If Sir Toby and Olivia lacked some definition, and if Orsino had trouble with some of his verse, the other principals were excellent. But of them all, a beautifully balanced quartet stands out: Malvolio, Maria, Feste, and Viola.… Malvolio (played by the company's artistic director, Marshall Mason) was visibly controlled but suffered bouts of agitation.… Mason was elegant and reserved. He walked on the balls of his feet as if fearing contact with the common clay. Fastidiously attired in Edwardian style, sporting top hat, tails, and white gloves, he allowed himself the small sartorial excesses of the would-be dandy. He was given to modest coughs, and had a smile that broke just beyond nature into insincerity. There was a serious point to his elegance; he wore his ambitions on a brocaded vest. Here was a steward: efficient, respected, trusted, and true.… reading of the letter was restrained, leisured, and logical. He was a calm man reasoning his way to ridicule, and he held onto dignity a little while longer, which made his eventual fall a little more painful. Our laughter was insured, however, by his insufferable conceit. When he spoke the line "Jove, I thank thee," he thought of himself as addressing an equal.

Marceli Rosenblatt's Maria was more Olivia's gentlewoman than her chambermaid. Diminutive and fiercely loyal, she would interpose herself between her lady and dangers like Malvolio. Gracious, sane, and substantial, with a touch of effervescence, she was the sparkling club soda, if you will, to her lady's darker wine. She was a friend and future wife to Sir Toby and not … his mere brawling mate. Her comic timing was first-rate, heightened by understatement. Instead of yelling in an obvious and guttural way, "He's in yellow stockings," she allowed herself a degree of seriousness that recoiled into extended laughter as she broke into a grin.…

On a very different level was Colin Stinton's Feste. He can be best described in a bit of staging. After Malvolio has insulted the revelers in the "kitchen" scene, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Maria plot their revenge. Feste has no lines at this point, for Shakespeare seems to have overlooked the exit. Feste's duration in the scene is thus open to interpretation, and some directors have kept him on the stage asleep. Mamet keeps him there awake with telling results. Feste sits apart listening to the plot, and does not approach the rest until Maria's "and let the fool make a third." His silent presence offers an unobtrusive witness to the festivity, and simultaneously makes a fine character point. Feste can be played as the secret keeper of hard truths, and his silence here contributed to that aura of private knowledge and existence. Since his singing could hold the stage unaccompanied, and his speech had the precision and command of wit, Stinton was also funny and touching. When Sir Toby and Sir Andrew departed to continue their carousing, they left this modern Feste alone working a crossword puzzle.

Finally, Lindsay Crouse. Her Viola was, I think, the spirit of the Circle Repertory's Twelfth Night. When playing Cesario, she did not insist on reminding us that she was a woman, or try to play at being a man before Olivia. She played the passion of the verse instead, and stressed the truth of feeling within the sexual role. Her playing was reinforced by some shrewd staging. For example, as Viola, she responded to the Sea Captain's kindness by placing her hand on his knee in a gesture of reciprocal warmth (I. ii); as Cesario, she echoed the gesture by placing her hand on Orsino's knee (II. iv). In this way the human being shone through the particular instance of disguise, a disguise which, in any event, was rendered less restricting when viewed against the multitude of "disguises" on stage. The approach made Olivia's response to Cesario credible. Olivia was not falling in love with a woman dressed as a man; she was falling in love with another passionate human being. During the "willow cabin" speech, for instance, Olivia approached tears and paused before saying in a hushed whisper, "you might do much." With Orsino, Crouse simply expressed a restrained love which he could take as friendship and which we could see as more. The ease of the performance was a pleasure, and it was sane for today.

The image of Lindsay Crouse that remains is of her gaze. It was unsentimental, clear-eyed, and brave. It was searching.… Mamet and company took us to a new realm of experience: Shakespeare's land of Illyria.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


John Caird • RSC • 1983-84


Caird's 1983-84 production with the RSC was viewed by the majority of critics as the summation of the twentieth-century preoccupation with the play's melancholy. As Irving Wardle stated, "quite a deal of poison has been seeping into this play … but John Caird's production is the first I have seen that projects Twelfth Night as an all-out dark comedy." Set in the Jacobean period, the production accentuated a sense of decay and confinement by employing a ruined garden, rusting gates, and a mortuary chapel as components of the set designs. For many commentators, the strengths of this revival were the musical score of liona Sekacz and the performances of the principal actors. Nicholas Shrimpton hailed Gemma Jones's Maria as "the most original piece of characterization in the production … this was a high-spirited, horsey girl from a country background, now living in reduced circumstances as a paid companion." Additionally, Emrys James's Malvolio was praised for its fresh power by several critics. Richard Findlater asserted "this Malvolio is odious, even dangerous, in his moment of naked triumph, taken with splendid comic brio, and nakedly hurt in his hour of humiliation." Mirroring the bittersweet texture of the production, Zoë Wanamaker won favorable reviews for what Shrimpton characterized as her "touching, husky, gamine of a Viola, capable of shrewd comic touches." Despite its sombre tone, the production as a whole was well received by both critics and audiences. Christopher Edwards maintained that it was "a triumph of stagecraft, of acting and direction." The cast additionally included Miles Anderson as Orsino, Daniel Massey as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Richard O'Callaghan as Feste, Sara Berger as Olivia, and John Thaw as Sir Toby Belch.


Irving Wardle (review date 21 April 1983)

SOURCE: "The Illusions and Frenzies of Love," in The Times, London, April 21, 1983, p. 13.

Quite a deal of poison has been seeping into this play over the past few years, but John Caird's production is the first I have seen that projects Twelfth Night as an all-out dark comedy.

This is good news not only for jaded old spectators who have seen the piece too often. There is a limit to the amount of fun that can be extracted from the drinking scene and permutations of Malvolio's letter in a play that was never more than intermittently uproarious. And there is everything to be said for muting the comedy for once and giving full attention to the central matter of the illusions and frenzies of love.

Illyria in this version contracts to a love shrine. Robin Don (making his Stratford debut) offers a gloomy rock-strewn promontory flanked by an overgrown gateway to Olivia's estate and surmounted by the bare ruined boughs of a towering tree. Here the obsessed Orisino is permanently encamped: and the only modification for the other scenes is the withdrawal of the gate. The air is filled with the surge of the sea and melancholy sea music (by Ilona Sekacz), sometimes projecting an atmosphere of heart-break, sometimes swelling into operatic violence as for the first appearance of the shipwrecked Viola.

What emerges in this setting is a tragicomedy of erotic errors. All those involved in it are possessed and hurried on to a fate over which they have no control. Mr Caird's company show most of the character, even the lucky ones, to be mismatched. There could be no more hopeless union than that between John Thaw's swaggering, bullying Toby and Gemma Jones's Maria, not a merry prankster but a prim household official, every bit as status-conscious as Malvolio, who characteristically dusts the tree stump before sitting down.

Sir Andrew is obviously a non-stater, but that news would be wasted on Daniel Massey, his face breaking into pathetically eager smiles at every sight of the icy Olivia. As for Olivia herself she speaks for all the others in her lines on catching the plague.

Sarah Berger plays her as a sharp-featured heiress to whom disdain comes easily, who is then reduced to naked vulnerable desire; and when she intervenes in the duel (Toby just having landed Sebastian a blow in the groin) she falls on the aggressor fists flailing and pummelling him to the ground.

Most pitiful of all is Emry James's Malvolio a strutting velvet uniformed grotesque who sheds all his self-love once his mistress seems to be within reach, and finally appears before her to put simple half-broken questions. When he gets his cruel answer, he bows respectfully to the company and only screams his last line after making a dignified exit. And it is no threat of revenge, simply an explosion of intolerable pain.

As one of the few who benefit from the happy wrack, Zoe Wannamaker's Viola is at a disadvantage in a show that reserves its main sympathy or the losers. Her Viola, blank-faced and inwardly suffering, encompasses lyricism and fun, but never takes over the emotional centre.

Of the non-lovers, the most interesting is Richard O'Callaghan's Feste. We have grown used to seeing Feste as the soul of Twelfth Night, but Mr O'Callaghan presents him as a razor sharp and spiteful observer of the surrounding follies: making a living out of them, and cherishing grievances with a real zest for revenge. The Topaz scene is the ugliest I can remember—even with the comic addition of the real Sir Topaz wandering bewildered over the back on his way to marry Sebastian to Olivia.

The set finally comes into its own at the news of the marriage and Orsino's (Miles Anderson) attempts to sacrifice Cesario. The madness is such that at that moment the shrine almost does become a sacrificial altar. As it happens, there is marriage instead of death, but as the nuptual parties take their leave there is a crash of thunder and Feste begins his song in the pouring rain.

James Fenton (review date 24 April 1983)

SOURCE: "Vengeance is Mine, Says the Clown," in The Sunday Times, London, April 24, 1983, p. 42.

So, Twelfth Night (RSC Stratford) is, in fact a revenge play, in which the Clown's resentment of Malvolio provides the pivotal theme. Sir Toby Belch is the kind of bluff fellow whose bluffness is a cover for considerable nastiness. When things get out of hand, lives are not merely threatened—they are in real danger. Both the weather and the time of day are hable to change abruptly, just as love may turn to hate or the dead be restored to life, to the terror of their loved ones.

It is a reading which makes a virtue of what is often taken to be merely a worrying appendix to the piece—the unresolved resentment of Malvolio. When Emrys James delivers his last line, "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you", from the wings, he rather makes one believe that in any sequel to the piece the revenge would be as out of proportion to the insult as the Clown's retaliation has been.

The Clown (Richard O'Callaghan) is only once given his name, Feste, and it is worth, considering him as a type rather than an individual in order to test the production's hypothesis. Most clowns get insulted pretty liberally in Shakespeare, and most seem to bear their insults pretty well. This one, exceptionally, takes grave exception. Malvolio in the First Act calls him a rascal, and points out to Olivia that unless she encourages him he tends to run out of gags.

Perhaps it is the professional nature of the insult which rankles. At any rate, Mr O'Callaghan conceals his hurt behind a dry manner and a gentle, unforced delivery of his lines. He bides his time, and while he does so his behaviour must be for the audience something of an enigma. The enigma is solved as soon as the Clown has Malvolio at his mercy. Then his behaviour becomes quite vigorously horrible. Playing the exorcist with a hand-bell, he goes to extreme lengths to convince Malvolio that he is possessed of the devil. Mr James has previously held the stage as a man of absurd pretentions. He emerges from the confines of his prison in a state of extreme shock. The society which the play's director, John Caird, has depicted, is one which will not scruple to kick a man when he is down.

The Clown tells Malvolio why he has had his revenge, and in the last song (the music is largely new, set by Ilona Sekacz) tells us why he is vengeful. When he was a child, he was greeted with indulgence. But when he grew up, he found that, being a knave and a thief, he was an outcast. At the time of his marriage, he learnt that he could not make his living as a bully. So he took to drink.

This is, or appears to be, what the song says. The wind and the rain of the refrain are an invitation to the sound effects which Mr Caird so generously employs. The whole tendency of the production is towards a consistent increase in dramatic tension.

Obviously the trick could not be pulled off merely on the basis of a strong reading of Malvolio and the Clown. After all, the centre of the comedy is Viola, and the main matter of the piece is the tale of mistaken sexual identity. The story is a romance in which the sea miraculously yields up its dead alive, and in which love is a magic element. But there is nothing mere about this magic. Viola learns in the course of the play what both sides of unrequited love are like.

The programme, which offers none of the usual critical gobbets, is strewn with Shakespearean sonnets—a gentle way of reminding the audience that the telling of such a romance is a way, for Shakespeare, of talking about love as experienced in his world, and indeed in ours. The richness of Viola's experience, the ambiguity of Orsino's feeling towards her, the pain she must undergo in her dealings with the doting Olivia—everything requires a most truthful kind of acting. The romance is really a mechanism to bring you up against the harsh truth.

For me, the decisive moment in Zoë Wanamaker's performance as Viola came when, reunited with Sebastian, she showed her deep fear that her drowned brother had returned as a ghost to frighten her. She had suffered enough already, and now, on top of everything, the spirit world was playing an unforgivable trick, trifling inexcusably with her deepest feelings of loss and grief.

Miss Wanamaker is a richly gifted comic actress, with a pert and eloquent nose and the ability to raise a laugh through the most modest twitch of her body or inflection of her voice. Secure in this ability, she concentrates upon the sad truth of Viola's experience. She truly makes us feel.

Orsino is played by Miles Anderson, with ease, authority and a beautiful voice. The household of Olivia (Sarah Berger) consists of John Thaw as the strikingly nasty Sir Toby Belch, Daniel Massey, cleverly cast against expectations as the loopy, passive and very funny Aguecheek, and Gemma Jones, who strains perhaps a little to contain her great gifts within the role of Maria.

Robin Don's set, evidence of the way in which Stratford designers are now diverging stylistically, provides a rocky hillside and the largest box tree I have ever seen (an Illyrian species, of course). The fights by Malcolm Ranson look, as usual, very dangerous.

Ann Pasternak Slater (review date 6 May 1983)

SOURCE: "A Wrangle for a Ring," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4179, May 6, 1983, p. 459.

John Caird's production of Twelfth Night opens in an atmosphere of brooding impasse. Torpid thunder rumbles intermittently, achieving downpour only at the play's end—cued by Feste's "The rain it raineth every day". A sapless tree of wrinkled polystyrene overhangs the stage. Barren rascals and dry fools roister and languish beneath it, or climb its leafless branches. It dominates both the action and the programme notes. Evidently it symbolizes the fruitless love-quests in the play, where Aguecheek loves Olivia who loves Viola/Cesario who loves Orsino who loves Olivia—a neat little one-way system of Cupid's arrows, designed to keep characters and audience going round in circles. Only time can release us from the irrational directives of the heart: "What else may hap to time I will commit", says Viola towards the end of her first scene, sounding a dominant motif which she echoes later ("O time! Thou most untangle this, not I;/It is too hard a knot for me t'untie").

However, the whirligig of time brings in its revenges most pointedly on Malvolio, and it is Emrys James's Malvolio who is at the centre of this production. With justice, he takes the final solo bow and, indeed, the other players emerge as the merest weak echoes of his misguided, elephantine passion. His transformations are sillier, he suffers greater degradation, and exits (in the Lamb tradition) with the greatest pathos. The folly of love is embodied in him most grotesquely, but all the other lovers are touched with madness too. Olivia, for instance, is quickly proved mad for mourning her brother; later she admits baldly enough that she is as mad as Malvolio. Sebastian, too, constantly mistaken for Cesario, and set upon, comments: "Are all the people mad … ?" Yet, when he is propositioned by Olivia, a perfect stranger, he accepts the offer on hardly firmer grounds than Malvolio, saying. "Or I am mad …". Malvolio's mad pretensions are significantly modified in our minds by this fortuitous match and it is a virtue of John Caird's production that this parallel and others are brought out so dearly.

Failure to engage, embrace, or even understand is underlined in the fatuous non-encounter between Aguecheek and Viola/Cesario. Their fight (brilliantly arranged by Malcolm Ranson) is a hilarious parody—of a fight and of the events of the main plot. The contestants flourish their weapons, discard appropriately limp sheaths, grunt a great deal in Japanese style—yet come to no firm conclusions. Other equally good vignettes underline the burden of the play. liona Secacz's fine setting of "O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?" is at once beautiful and tinged with absurdity, as Aguecheek and Sir Toby add their muted, maudlin chorus. The atmosphere of painfully pointless infatuation recurs when Orsino listens to Feste singing "Come away, come away, death". He lies with his head in the startled Viola's lap—visibly suffering, laughably pathetic.

In this careful production the play's homosexual subtext also emerges unexpectedly poignantly. It is plain enough in Antonio's pursuit of Sebastian, and, mistakenly, of Viola/Cesario. But Caird also contrives to bring out (more clearly than any reading of the text could achieve) the harshness of Viola's assertion to Olivia. As the boy Cesario, she says, "I have one heart, one bosom, and one truth,/ And that no woman has, nor never none shall mistress be of it." For a moment, it sounds like a passionate vow of homosexual celibacy and we are precipitated into a darker, less comically tractable world, in which amorous impasse is finally insoluble. Once again, too, this theme of unrequited barren love is reiterated in the programme's lavish quotations from the Sonnets.

Yet if this makes the production sound over-schematic—a diagram of futility—one should add that the comic business is brilliantly staged in a pleasingly unbusy way. Emrys James's strangled attempts to vocalize the inconveniently arranged initials, MOAI, into something remotely resembling Malvolio is very funny. The cross-garters are excellent, too: not much to look at in the way of sartorial extravagance, but evidently tight as a tourniquet, they cause Malvolio to punctuate his sentences with unpredictable winces, little semicolons of sciatica, in all the wrong places. His final exit is also well-managed: dignified, dirty, discomfited, he bows stiffly and silently to an embarrassed court. Off-stage, we hear his shouted threat of revenge—a sad display of l'esprit de l'escalier he could not otherwise afford to risk.

Daniel Massey's Aguecheek is another excellent performance. Sheepish, pouchy-eyed, his upper lip an unbut-toned flap, doggily ambling, he has a vivid tic of tentatively touching back his dead straw hair. In fact, Malvolio and "the lighter people" dominate the evening, and you leave the theatre wondering, with a mild surmise, why you had ever thought Orsino and Olivia such important characters. Unfortunately this isn't entirely a function of the play's structure. Orsino (Miles Anderson) is best when he speaks little and confines himself to looking ugly and miserable. Olivia (Sarah Berger) looks beautiful, wilful and imperious, but her verse-speaking is nervous and unnatural. Shakespeare is partly to blame, though; he does badly by both of them in the last act. Only a natural could make "A sister! you are she" sound natural, and little can extract the jingle from "I'll sacrifice the lamb that I do love / To spite a raven's heart within a dove". Viola (Zoë Wanamaker) has also caught some of the Stratford vocal mannerisms, but improves as a pert little Cesario with credibly ambivalent attractions. The set is steeped in atmosphere, but there are too many fussy alterations to indicate different locations. The sky, too, is unnecessarily well-endowed with a selection of swirling clouds, sunsets, crescent moon, lightning, and an extraordinarily crowdy Plough. David Hersey's lighting is equally busy—hurrying the audience through a bewildering scurry of nights and days with little evident logic or justification.

But not all the theatrical dressing is over-intrusive. One piece of non-Shakespearian business seems to epitomize Caird's reading of the play. When Olivia sends her ring after Viola, Viola hangs it on the tree that dominates the stage. It hangs there, the only fruit, till the play ends. As thunder breaks and the rain falls. Feste plucks it, singing pointedly. "A foolish thing was but a toy". In this sombre production love is, in Larkin's words, a "wrangle for a ring"—a foolish thing, a toy for a fool to play with.

Richard Findlater (review date July 1983)

SOURCE: "Twelfth Night: Stratford-Upon-Avon," in Plays & Players, No. 358, July, 1983, pp. 20-1.

After six years with the RSC John Caird, one of its four resident directors has staged his first major production in the main Stratford house; and it is surely a good augury for the future that this is an all-round success in an older Avonside tradition. No gimmicky sound scores, fancy dress or constructivist sets: not a hint of agitprop or alienation; no gabbling or garbling of the text; no patronising of the characters in the play. Here be, in profusion, clear voices, lush feelings, rich sunsets, starry skies, storm light, moonlight, and the light of true Shakespearian romance. Everything happens near the sea where it all started, whose murmur we sometimes hear, and whose imminence we sense. A rocky path winds down from a mid-stage horizon to the shelter of a vast autumnal box-tree whose tangled branches, writhing upwards towards the flies, make convenient hiding places for 'the lighter people'. At its base lolls Orsino, fathoms deep in love with love, in the opening scene; and here, at the end, Feste curls up with his revenge. On the left are wrought iron gates to Olivia's house. A Cupid / Eros may be seen on one of the tall, leaf-wreathed pillars. This looks, from the first, as if it might be Illyria; with premonitory wisps of 'the wind in the rain' in the subtly pervasive music, it sounds like Illyria; and before the cast have been long at work, we know that we are there to stay.

John Caird's production combines reality with romance, visual pleasure with psychological insight, a respect for the text with a flair for theatrical effect which does not disdain the obvious, and it shows a fine company at their level best. It projects the authentic pain behind the games and deceptions of the key characters, but never permits a misplaced loyalty to realism to scrape the bloom from the bitter sweet lyric artifice. It uncovers the play's darkness without stilling its fun. With the help of Robin Don's set, Alix Stone's costumes and David Hersey's lighting it satisfies the eye as well as the mind and the heart. The pleasures of the play's language are not overwhelmed by Ilona Sekacz's music, and the songs—carefully and tunefully sung by Richard O'Callaghan as Feste—are given the right simple settings. There are perceptive reinterpretations of social context (like Maria's determination to soar out of her class by marrying her mistress's uncle) and unfussy inventions of comic business (like Sir Andrew's sudden horrified embroilment in the fight between Sebastian and Sir Toby).

Two prime reasons why Twelfth Night comes alive yet again with such fresh power lie in the performances of Emrys James as Malvolio and Richard O'Callaghan as Feste. This Malvolio is odious, even dangerous, in his moment of imagined triumph, taken with splendid comic brio, and nakedly hurt in his hour of humiliation: I shall long remember that last, lacerating hesitation in venturing a half smile at Olivia before he makes his final exit. A moustached, ear ringed, sardonically assured and almost piratical Richard O'Callaghan achieves his debut in Shakespearian repertory with an unforced mastery of his role: he imbues Feste with that inescapable here-and-now humanity, that existential presence, for which optimists wait patiently in vain from all too many classical productions. In this one, optimists will be exceptionally lucky. High praise to Daniel Massey, for his clumsy (and very funny) Sir Andrew, a smiling, gentle innocent at large: John Thaw, whose strong, callous, and resonant Sir Toby shakes off sentimental stereotypes; and Zoe Wanamaker, a pertly resilient Viola who makes up for her lack of vocal music by her abundance of comic intelligence and emotional truth. Bouquets are also due to Miles Anderson's Orsino; Christopher Neame's Antonio; Gemma Jones's Maria; and to Sarah Berger, an icily beautiful Olivia whose sudden thaw by the unrequiting Cesario is, like her treatment of the deluded Malvolio, surprisingly and winningly plausible.

Robin Don's set creates a few obvious anomalies. The buttery revels seem to happen alfresco like everything else in Illyria which makes nonsense of Maria's threat that she will turn the carousers out of doors; and it is inconceivable that a man like Malvolio would sally out of the Countess's house in his nightgown to venture forth down a rocky path in quest of Sir Toby and his fellow boozers.

I have a few other tentative quarrels with Mr Caird's production. Socially this Feste is, I feel, just a bit too conspicuously his own man even for an all licensed Shakespearean Fool. And my one reservation about Emrys James's Malvolio is that the full impact of that final cry I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you' is lost by being shouted off stage (in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Olivier). Still, if Malvolio had to do it in full view of the audience, they might well have missed that final look at the Countess.

Roger Warren (review date Winter 1983)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 4, Winter, 1983, pp. 454-55

John Caird's reading of Twelfth Night was extremely serious, especially in interpreting the lovers. Instead of quoting the usual tedious contemporary parallels and literary criticism, the program printed fourteen of the Sonnets, including sonnet 20, about the "master-mistress of my passion." Orsino spoke his first scene slowly and weightily; his obsession with Olivia might have seemed an affectation to his lethargic courtiers, but was real enough to him. So was Olivia's grief for her brother, although this did not prevent her from accepting with a good grace Feste's proof that she was a fool to mourn for her brother's soul being in heaven, a point neatly underlined when she put on his fool's cap and he her mourning veil.

Viola was distracted with grief for her brother, but a warm light came up on her as she resolved to "serve this duke." She had obviously had an immediate impact on Orsino, for his next entry was not lethargic but vigorous, attended by halberdiers. Strong, clear light, as if to underline a moment of truth and genuine relationship, came up on Orsino and Viola as they listened to "Come away, death": Orsino lay with his head in Viola's lap, nuzzling her thigh; she was agitated, afraid to respond in her page's guise. "A blank my lord" was intense and desperate rather than bittersweet, and she broke down in tears at the thought that she might be "all the brothers" of her father's house; Orsino caught her in his arms to console her, so that she had to use "shall I to this lady?" to break free. He, for his part, spat out "Ay, that's the theme" almost wearily; he was tired of pursuing the countess and frustrated because he couldn't have the page instead.

The seriousness in the first half became violence in the second. Olivia actually struck Malvolio for his presumption in the cross-garters scene, as Maria foretold that she might, something I cannot remember ever seeing before; and as Maria also foretold, Malvolio took it "for a great favor." The duels were very extended and very violent, with vicious blows to the groin: Viola accidentally nicked Sir Andrew, but Sir Toby deliberately and repeatedly kicked Sebastian, thus provoking Olivia to strike him again and again. The atmosphere became so dark, and the rhythms so sluggish, in Feste's interrogation of Malvolio (imprisoned down a well) and at Malvolio's exit, that the production almost broke down altogether: after bowing dutifully to his lady and to his duke, Malvolio left the stage and bawled "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you" from the wings. The circumstantial detail in Viola's meeting with Sebastian ("My father had a mole upon his brow" and so on) was not a delighted savoring of the joys of reunion, but a genuine wish to establish the truth, arising from a real fear that Sebastian might indeed be a spirit "come to fright us." The pent-up tensions between Viola and Orsino were released in a final impassioned kiss between Orsino and the master-mistress of his passion—at which there was a tremendous clap of thunder and a flash of lighting, heralding the rain which accompanied Feste's final song.

This was not a production for half-tones, for bringing out the mixture of sweetness and sadness, laughter and tears, in the play. Zoë Wanamaker was a grave Viola, with real tears in her eyes at the end, not so much "smiling at grief" as overwhelmed by it. Both she and Miles Anderson as Orsino spoke eloquently of their passions and frustrations, but Sarah Berger's attractive, clearly-spoken Olivia, like several other members of the cast, could make no headway against the cumbersomely Elizabethan costumes and the stifling realism of the set. The resonances established by the Sonnets in the program—"Music to hear, why hear'st thou music sadly?" and "Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye"—might have echoed on the stage itself in a more airy, spacious setting that allowed the play room to breathe. Gemma Jones's Maria was genteel rather than a "gentlewoman," anxiously trying to please Sir Toby. Emrys James (Malvolio) had been more suitably cast as Feste at Stratford in 1969; here he simply borrowed Donald Sinden's effects from that version (pronouncing "M.O.A.I." as a complete word, showing the audience the letter, and so on) without a hint of the masterly use to which Sinden put them. In the early scenes, this was at odds with the seriousness of the production; in the later ones, his sobbing and shameless playing for sympathy embodied its excesses.

Christopher Edwards (review date 1 September 1984)

SOURCE: "Lost World," in The Spectator, Vol. 253, No. 8147, September 1, 1984, pp. 27-8.

John Caird's production of Twelfth Night is a delight. It is a triumph of stagecraft, of acting and direction; interestingly it is a triumph despite its own melancholy view of Shakespeare's comedy. Gone, probably for good, is the idea that the Comedies can be played as if they were regions of warmth and sunshine. The knowledge of Shakespeare's dramatic career as a whole seems to oblige the director to hold in view the tragedies and 'dark comedies' that lie ahead whose shadows must be seen to fall across the earlier work. In Stratford the harshness of this production seemed almost wilful, as if Caird had taken literally the acerbic view put out by Auden that 'Shakespeare was in no mood for comedy'. On its transfer down to London the bitterness and discomfort are there still, but they have been allowed to mellow. The mood of comedy prevails, albeit in a minor key.

Robin Don's set keeps boldly in step with Caird's interpretation. Orsino's and Olivia's palaces are perched on the rocky edge of a stormy Illyrian sea-board, fringed with ruined columns, and dominated centre-stage by the looming withered tentacles of a huge box tree. Viola enters pursued by storm, as the skies and seas behind her writhe in flashing yellows and greys, and liona Sekacz's apocalyptic strings and percussions erupt above. This talented composer's incidental music is always arresting, even if you take the view that chamber music ought not to be made to fight intergalactic battles with quite such abandon. Her searing dissonances, laid over pleasing string harmonies, sometimes blot out the mood carefully created by the actors and verse. That said, Feste's melodies are nicely wrought, and the original 'hey-ho the wind and the rain' theme is subtly threaded through much of the evening's music as a running motif.

The cast is strong, and includes a virile Miles Anderson as love-sick Orsino, and Zoe Wanamaker as Viola. Stephen Moore's Sir Toby Belch is a burly bully of a knight, designed to repel sympathy. The scenes with Daniel Massey's wonderfully credulous sot of a Sir Andrew Ague-cheek provide some of the funniest and most humane comedy I've seen from the RSC, in particular the wild midnight abandon as they dance accelerando to the utterly misnamed catch 'Hold Thy Peace'. Gemma Jones too gives a performance of the highest calibre as Maria—genteel, mischievous, an honorary chap and a true sporting beagle. However, Caird never lets high spirits in without a corrective dose of the caustic, and in this respect Richard O'Callaghan's Feste is the prevailing mordant spirit of the evening. O'Callaghan scorns the wistful zany put forward by Bradley; he has no illusions, and no heart either. He provides an excellent study of bitter fastidious poise but, of a sudden, touches a note of sad humanity in his wind and rain song, cowering pathetically into a crevice of the tree like an abandoned waif as the storm blows in again to close the play.

As with Shylock, the treatment of Malvolio is a question of focus rather than interpretation. There is no avoiding the cruelty of his gulling, and I cannot think of a single production which has underplayed the ugliness of the Sir Topas scene where he is treated as a madman. The decision, for modern sensibilities, is whether we should just sympathise with him as a victim, or take a robust view of the whole thing. It is surely important to show that, as a petty-minded bureaucrat, thick with self-love, Malvolio is repellent to himself and opposed to the good things in life, to the jollity and revelry represented by Sir Toby Belch. In other words Malvolio is wrong and deserves to suffer. John Caird doesn't share this view as Sir Toby is never allowed to get away with just being funny; his savagery and self-regard are underlined too and we are invited to side with Sir Andrew when Sir Toby rejects him at the end. The good things in life are not just fugitive, they are tainted as well.

For different reasons this is not the view shared by the actor Emrys James either. James plays Malvolio as an absurd, suffering all the loathsome features to be comically exaggerated until the character becomes almost lovably silly. He runs with a ridiculous springing motion and pompously sniffs the air about him with the cartoon expression of a self-righteous mole. All this is well done, but in the letter scene James suddenly enrols in the Derek Jacobi school of self-indulgent campery and turns this important exposé of his character into a virtuoso turn. It is an appeal to the audience's affections and succeeds in cocooning him from our contempt. Up in the box tree Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Fabian rattle the branches in indignation at Malvolio's fantasies of preferment, but the result is one-sided and moralistic; Malvolio is not punished by an objective code of values, his incarceration appears vicious tout court. What is more, his departing howl, 'I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you', disturbs the harmonious resolution at the end. This, of course, is the intention; there is no harmony. Orsino finds Viola, and Olivia Sebastian, but they no longer enjoy the sanction of the world of romantic comedy; the knot of marriage guarantees nothing in Shakespeare's bitter Arcadia.

Sheridan Morley (review date October 1984)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Plays & Players, No. 373, October, 1984, p. 25.

Ever since Derek Jacobi's Cyrano spent the last act of that great production trying to keep his head above a sea of fallen leaves, the RSC has been obsessed by autumnal melancholy. Twelfth Night which has now come to the Barbican from last year at Stratford (with a couple of major casting changes) does admittedly begin to approach winter, but not the winter of indoor and jovial court charades generally suggested by the title. Instead the lights go up on Robin Don's wonderful set to reveal a bleak and wind-swept cliff-top with, at left, a huge wrought-iron gate from behind which you half-expect to see emerge not the gently mournful Olivia but instead the Baron Frankenstein or at the very least Mrs Danvers with news that Manderley is on fire at last.

The director John Caird has found here one of the late and barren travelogues rather than one of the early comedies: a Tempest or a Cymbeline rather than a mistaken-twin farce like Comedy of Errors, and in this the text very often bears him out. Moreover the casting of Miles Anderson as Orsino gives us from the very beginning of the play an indication of the way things are going: not the usual lovelorn prince but a grown-up Peter Pan, a character of strange obsessional love for men and women camped permanently outside the gate of a sinister never-never land. A melancholy God does indeed watch over this production, suggesting that Illyria is a lost kingdom to which have been sent the world's misfits, people nice enough in themselves but totally unable to relate coherently to anyone or anything around them.

Thus Daniel Massey's Aguecheek is not the usual wittering fool but a failed song-and-dance man forever trying to get his act together in front of an audience unable to work out what he really wants to achieve: Stephen Moore's Toby Belch has yet to settle in (Moore is replacing John Thaw in the Stratford original) but also suggests something altogether rare—a thin, intelligent fellow hoping that maybe there will be a party after all. Zoe Wanamaker is a marvellously touching and convincing urchin-Viola, Joanne Pearce (also new casting) a blandly imperious Olivia and Richard O'Callaghan an intriguingly ambivalent Feste, gentle enough until he gets the chance to turn the screws on Emrys James's manic Malvolio.

But the true star of this production, apart from Don's ruined-temple setting, is liona Sekacz whose score soars through the Barbican underlining the play's themes of shipwreck and imprisonment. It is brave to have Malvolio's final cry for revenge played offstage, braver still to have Viola and Sebastian (Nigel Cooke) make not the faintest attempt to look like identical twins: those, you feel, are not in Mr Caird's view the issues at the heart of a play which emerges here as a matching set of personal tragedies. Only at the last, and largely by accident, do people start to get what they really want and even then it looks to me as though they may soon be going to discover that they don't want it after all. Is Olivia really going to be happy with a monosyllabic refugee like Sebastian? Is Orsino really going to settle down with a wife who was infinitely sexier when disguised as a man? Already we are starting to drift back to Peter Pan and not, I suspect, entirely by accident: this may not always have been a play about the impossibility of sex, but Mr Caird has successfully turned it into one about a group of exiles who can support anything except reality.

Nicholas Shrimpton (review date 1984)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespearian Study and Production, Vol. 37, 1984, pp. 164-65.

The set [of Twelfth Night] was part ruined garden, part graveyard. A vast autumnal tree overshadowed (for Orsino's court) a pair of rusting gates and (for Olivia's house) a mortuary chapel. Sarah Berger's black-gowned Olivia was ostentatiously in mourning for her dead brother, while Miles Anderson gave us an appropriately violent, sombre, and austere Orsino. Fabian was an old man, Feste a pensive intellectual.

Malvolio apart, the other clowns were correspondingly subdued. Daniel Massey played a gawky but soft-hearted Aguecheek, afflicted by fits of depression and easily moved to tears. John Thaw, as Toby Belch, was an upper-class thug, hearty rather than jovial, more cruel than comic. The drunk scenes were very drunk indeed and the uproar so uproarious that it could only be curtailed by blasts on Maria's pocket whistle.

As that detail suggests, Gemma Jones's Maria was the most original piece of characterization in the production. She was as tall as her mistress and substantially taller than Viola, so the references to her as a 'wren' and a 'giant' went for nothing. But her lanky elegance gave the clue to her social role. This was a high-spirited, horsey girl from a county background, now living in reduced circumstances as a paid companion. Part games-mistress, part romp, her worship for this Flashman of a Sir Toby was pure reversion to type.

Zoë Wanamaker was a touching, husky, gamine of a Viola, capable of shrewd comic touches (a wild shriek of panic on 'She loves me', for example) but very much in tune with the pervasive melancholy of the production. 'I am all the daughters of my father's house' reduced her to tears and prompted a disturbing cuddle from her handsome master. Unfortunately her Olivia was not up to her weight. Rushed and sometimes squeaky, Sarah Berger's lack of subtlety significantly reduced the erotic tension of their interviews.

Malvolio's extravagance of manner had a similar effect on his exchanges with Sir Toby. 'Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?' was delivered with great weight and force, but to such a fool of a steward that the clash between profligacy and puritanism remained elusive. Emrys James's interpretation of Malvolio involved a great deal of comic biz ('If this fall into thy hand, revolve'—spins round on the spot). The audience clearly adored it. But he and Olivia between them gave an oddly coarse-grained effect to what was otherwise a memorably picturesque, sensitive and sad production.

Zoë Wanamaker (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: "Viola in Twelfth Night," in Players of Shakespeare 2: Further Essays in Shakespearean Performance by Players with the Royal Shakespeare Company, edited by Russell Jackson and Robert Smallwood, Cambridge University Press, 1988, pp. 81-91.

[In the following essay, Wanamaker discusses her performance as Viola in John Caird's Production of Twelfth Night.]

I had played Viola some ten years before John Caird's Stratford production of Twelfth Night, in a version directed by Richard Cotterill for the Cambridge Theatre Company. The sense (the constant sense in doing Shakespeare) that that version had not come up to expectations left me, however, quite ready to accept a second invitation to attempt the part. I had been in the Stratford company only once before, in 1978, mainly to play in new work at The Other Place (Piaf and Captain Swing) though I had been on the main stage as Bianca in Michael Bogdanov's production of The Taming of the Shrew. Now I was back, dauntingly, for two major Shakespearean roles, Adriana in The Comedy of Errors, and Viola.

To undertake a major role at Stratford is to be haunted by the past. As you go into the Royal Shakespeare Theatre you are faced with twelve-foot high pictures of other actors who have done other performances of your part, and their history and their triumphs loom over you: 'Follow that!' It's like coming to Mecca; the ghosts are all around and the fear of failure is very great. Having been brought up through the sixties when new work by new writers was the prime objective in my kind of theatre, the thought of speaking Shakespeare's verse on the Stratford stage was inevitably frightening.

This sense of insecurity remained when the production opened. Was I speaking the text as it should be spoken, was I being true to it, to the production, to the character? After a year in Stratford, a year of struggle to be relaxed in the role and yet to keep it fresh, we moved to London, to the Barbican, where, with some modifications to the set and alterations to Viola's costume (and some cast changes too, including a new Olivia and a new Sir Toby), and some new ideas that I had been mulling over during the break, I found myself much more confident in the words and began to enjoy myself in the part. Confidence in the text as a springboard, an innate sense of not having to think about the words or about saying them right, these things allowed the play to become a conversation in which I was at home, to become organic. But a year to find that sense is a long time.

The basic aim of John Caird's production was to focus on the pain of love. Twelfth Night deals with many kinds of love: Viola's, the most pure, constant as the sea is constant, the sea that gives her her life, and her brother his, and her brother back to her; Malvolio's love, self-deluding, ultimately self-centred; Olivia's love of mourning, for her father and, reflecting Viola, for her brother; Orsino's adoring love, which puts woman on a pedestal; Antonio's faithful, painful love of Sebastian; Maria's dogged love of Sir Toby; Sir Toby's love of wasting time; each character disguising the truth about himself and from himself. The play is a fairly simple one, really, a story about time, about growing up and growing old. It has the concentrated quality of a chamber piece, and its form is a complete circle, a point we tried to mark in our production, which began with the sounds of storm and rain and ended with Feste singing of them as these sounds returned. Illyria seems to be a place that is frozen in time, where the social order is locked, where self-delusion, disguise, and hierarchy create an impasse for the people who live with them. And then Viola arrives and her presence disturbs everyone and moves the play through chaos and at last into seeming harmony but with that last strange coda of Feste's song, and Malvolio still locked in self-delusion, disguised even to himself. The catalyst, the driving force of the play is Viola; and the responsibility of that was on me.

To have played the part before was not helpful, not relevant. I wanted to come to it as a blank sheet of paper, to let it sit in my head while I was reading it, reading it once and just trying to find where my instincts were on that first reading, what my first impressions of the play were, trying to wipe out the old tunes of the way I had done it before. Much of that early reading, too, was for the sounds, the rhythms, the movement of the iambic line, which to me is not instinctive but something I have to work at, a secret code to be penetrated, like music; but for this text, certainly, a wonderful route to the deeper flow of the play—and, indeed, to the simple process of learning the words, which for me (touched with dyslexia) is not an easy process at all. In these early stages I was looking for all the clues I could find about what kind of person Viola is, what other characters say about her, what would happen to the story of the play if she were taken away, but always concentrating on the actual structure of her text, the precise choice of words. I also did a Utile research into the twin syndrome, though time, and the sense that Shakespeare's insistence on brother and sister twins being indistinguishable means that he is not thinking very realistically, left this avenue only partially explored. Rehearsals were, as ever, a tough and arduous search, a fumbling with the labyrinthine twists and turns of the script, a slow process of getting to know the other actors and their ideas, their interpretations of their roles; of argument and discussion and trying to fit it all in and to make the story of these people understandable and the play's ideas, wonderful and extraordinary, clear to an audience.

Eventually we got onto the set, designed by Robin Don and lit by David Hersey, a rocky landscape next to the sea, dominated by a tree, an autumnal-looking tree, its branches fanning out like a sea coral, above and beyond the proscenium arch. Costumes too were autumnal, in rusts and browns and olives, and traditionally Elizabethan. From the auditorium it was, I'm told, a very beautiful set, but for us, as we discovered at the technical rehearsals, there were huge problems, particularly with the terrain. The tree, and the rocky inclines, left an acting area only a few feet across, and though there was some levelling following the technical rehearsals, difficulties remained throughout the Stratford season. The set was partly supposed to represent a sort of nightmare, and the lighting was subdued to give an atmosphere of emotional turmoil, discovery of self, growing up, but the translation of these concepts into practical stage terms was not without difficulties for us. It was hard to find your light, and the unevenness of the floor was exacerbated by the eight-inch wide trough for the safety iron, in which many an ankle was in peril of being turned during the season; getting down from the top of the rocks at the back was hazardous; and the tree, which had looked so delicate on the model, the Utile veins of the coral like a lovely leaf-skeleton, had to be made much more substantial because of the need to dismantle it so often during the season for changes of play in the Stratford repertoire system. All these things were part of the disappointment (not unusual) of turning initial concepts and ideas into concrete, and sometimes cumbersome, reality. At the Barbican I think the set worked better, partly, no doubt, because we were more used to it, but also because the wider stage allowed more room on either side of it, and there was some more levelling out, and altered lighting. In London I was much happier, too, with my costume, which had been such a disappointment when I first wore it at the Stratford technical rehearsal. The thick corduroy trousers and waistcoat, which to me had always seemed lumpy, were changed to a light suede and I found myself much more relaxed and easy, able to use the pockets. I felt much more like a boy in it, and the sense of greater ease was increased by cutting my own hair very short and so discarding the wig which had always bothered me. Audiences, I think, enjoyed the literal quality of the set, the tree, the rocks, and the thunderstorm, and the music by Ilona Sekacz, beautiful and magical, and the sound of the sea which was ever present, the giver and taker of life, dark and threatening yet at the same time mysterious and romantic.

The young woman who enters this Illyrian world from the shipwreck I took to be about seventeen or eighteen years old, brought up with her twin brother Sebastian by their father (their mother is never mentioned in the play), a man, I felt, of great intelligence and warmth, since her relationship with her brother is so close and trusting. She has already learned (or inherited) that straightforward common sense, that unclouded attitude to life, that sense of being a person without prejudice—the qualities that are so wonderful about her. I suspect that the death of her father has been a great blow to her and that her relationship with her brother is all the stronger because of it. With him she is taking a summer cruise, we imagined, a tour in the royal yacht, and then the storm, and separation, and the rocky shore of Illyria, and the memory of her father's talk of Orsino and the decision to serve him as the sole link with the lost past.

Viola's disguise allows her to know Orsino in a way that would never have been possible otherwise. In three days he confides everything to this boy, this stranger, something he would never have done to a woman. The intimacy of confidence disturbs him—and this was something we tried hard to bring out in the production—the strange love for this boy is something that he cannot understand or explain. Viola is let into his mind, his confidence, his imagination, in such a way that inevitably she falls in love with him, with this extraordinary, erudite human being. The strange inevitability of Orsino's love for her was something we constantly tried to explore. Viola's greatest quality, her directness, is in one sense liberated, in another trapped, by her disguise, through which Viola not only reveals Orsino to himself, but also discovers herself. In three days she has 'unclasped the book' of his 'secret soul', has herself fallen desperately in love with him, and now allows the audience to follow her secret, and to be led through the play observing her journey and the increasing burden of her hidden love: 'Yet a barful strife! / Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife'[I. iv. 41-42]. This sense of Viola entrapped by her disguise intensifies as the play goes forward, increasing the audience's eagerness for the resolution and Viola's own sense of helplessness. The character who has released others from self-obsession finds herself imprisoned. But it has been that ability to awaken others that has created the play. Without her nothing would go forward. Through her clarity, her simplicity, she releases from self-absorption, from death-obsession, Olivia and Orsino—by confronting them with themselves and what they are. Into the locked-up stillness of Illyria she brings life, and chaos, and hope; she is the catalyst of the play, stirring up the place, forcing them all up into a spiral, to wake up, to discuss, to learn about themselves, turning their world upside down. She arrives in Illyria like a life-force: 'What country, friends, is this?'

The moment of Viola's entry changed significantly for me between Stratford and London. I tried to make the audience witness, as it were, to that terrible moment of loss, of parting from someone so close to her as her brother, by introducing a hopeless, helpless scream, almost of an animal, to bring focus immediately onto the pain of this person. In this short scene we see not only the initial pain, but also the positive qualities, her hope, her perception of others, her belief in the power of Time. In listening to the captain's story of Olivia, shutting the door, shunning life, I used to think that this could never happen to Viola, she would never do that, she does not think of men as a threat, emotionally or physically. Life for her is not to be lived behind locked doors. So from the idea of serving Olivia she turns to Orsino, to her memories of her father's talk of him, and then, instinctively, to the idea of disguise. She does not really know who she is—having lost her past she is in search of herself—she does not want to leave the place that provides the only hope of further news of her brother, and there in front of her is (or was in our production) Sebastian's trunk, which has been washed up with her. She opens it and finds his jacket, his doublet, and puts it on. And the smell of it, and the memory of him, means that in some way she keeps alive something of her brother, not just a piece of clothing but part of his soul, and by having that, through some sort of osmosis, the hope that he really is still alive is carried with her, always. 'Conceal me what I am', and her hope begins to flow back and she decides to wait, to trust to Time, to use the confidence and hope that is in her to change the situation. And so from the despair of its opening this little scene moves to its wonderfully optimistic conclusion: 'What else may hap, to time I will commit … Lead me on'[I. ii. 60,64].

The meeting with Olivia, and the 'willow cabin' speech, were always difficult for me, rather like a horse going up to a jump, I used to feel. The scene is a conversation between two women, very different women, though similar in age, Olivia perhaps a little younger than Viola. It is just two women talking and you see the different perceptions of both of them, especially of Viola, who associates very strongly with Olivia's emotions (she too has lost a father and, she fears, a brother) and understands them. The apparent finality of Olivia's 'I cannot love him. / He might have took his answer long ago'[I. v. 262-3] forces Viola into her big wooing speech; she has to make it, she has to do her appointed job, and she just happens to get carried away with it and so applies it to herself. And thus she admits to herself her love for Orsino by saying it out loud to another woman. The springboard for the willow cabin speech is her want, her need, to talk about her own love; it comes from the depth of her own imagination and she gets so carried away with it that she surprises herself. She has reached a new stage of self-awareness by the end of it.

On her way back from Olivia's house she is overtaken by Malvolio with the ring. She recognizes Olivia's motive, her self-delusion, immediately: 'She loves me sure'[II. ii. 22]. What to do with this ring was the source of some discussion during our rehearsals, for it is never given back or referred to again. Eventually it was decided that I should hang it on a twig of the stage tree where it was found again by Feste at the end of the play. (Some members of the audience saw this as further evidence of Feste's secret love for Olivia, which they also thought they discerned at other points in the production.) As far as Viola is concerned, the significance of hanging the ring on the tree was primarily to be rid of something which she cannot accept without compromising herself. She cannot accept the responsibility of that ring, for the love which it implies is not truly given to her, should not be to her, and she does not want it to be to her. So she leaves it there for Time (or whoever) to discover, and with its rediscovery at the end we have the sense of the play coming full circle again. 'Time, thou must untangle this, not I'[II. ii. 40], she says as she takes stock of her situation, not a reckless surrender, but a declaration of trust and faith that Time, or something, is going to make things change. When we reach her next scene, however, her longest conversation with Orsino, she is losing that faith and touching her lowest point in the play.

The conversation between Orsino and Viola after the singing of 'Come away, death' I always felt a wonderfully close scene and an absolutely heartbreaking one. For here are two people in love who should love each other but cannot do so because one is incapable of seeing through disguises, not just hers but his own. Orsino deludes himself; he is blind about women and how they should be treated; supposes that they cannot be spoken to honestly or share the thoughts and feelings of men. Viola in this scene is, I think, in despair about her situation. All that Orsino says about women is so terrible for her to hear, so mistaken:

                  no woman's sides
Can bide the beating of so strong a passion
As love doth give my heart; no woman's heart
So big, to hold so much; they lack retention.
                                 [II. iv. 93-96]

Her reply, I felt, was defensive, and angry—'In faith, they are as true of heart as we'[II. iv. 106]—and the argument that follows catches her almost unawares. 'Ay, but I know'… 'What dost thou know?', and there she is nearly found out; through her unhappiness and frustration she has started into something and she has to explain: 'My father had a daughter lov'd a man'… to explain in the best way that she can … 'as it might be' … she's so close … 'as it might be, perhaps, were I a woman' … she is so close, so close to saying 'I am a woman, and I love you', but she has to disguise it, to disguise it in a way that tries to say to him that love is not about dying and despair, as he seems to perceive it. 'And what's her history?', he then asks, and that's when she realizes her situation: 'A blank, my lord; she never told her love.' That's something important, the difference between him and her; this is what might happen to her—never to speak, to remain silent and patient, for ever. 'But died thy sister of her love, my boy?' (line 119). He wants only to know about the misery of it all and she is trying to educate him, to take him in another direction that he has never perceived. But he cannot see, and she has to go around: 'I am all the daughters of my father's house, / And all the brothers too.' She is here, I think, near to despair. 'And yet I know not': the glimmer of hope is still there, but this always seemed to me her darkest moment. For Orsino, too, it is a strange moment, when he cannot decide, when he's nearly turned, and then habit, and confusion, and obsession take over again and he returns to his self-delusion: 'To her in haste … my love can give no place'(lines 123-4). At the end of the scene we see Viola, for almost the only time in the play, really depressed.

On the way to fulfil this gloomy mission, however, she meets Feste. The scene came after the interval in our production, at the top of the second act. Her relationship with Feste is another of the small joys of the play. He too is one of the play's outsiders: Malvolio, Feste, Antonio, Ague-cheek, the Sea Captain, Viola—the play is full of loners. Feste, like all of Shakespeare's fools perhaps (but surely more so), has an extraordinary perception of life, an aptness of observation especially apparent in his scene with Orsino: 'changeable taffeta … thy mind is a very opal'[II. iv. 74-75]—he is exactly right about Orsino. And here, interrupted on her way to Olivia's, Viola contemplates the skill of the man who is 'wise enough to play the fool'[III. i. 60], and finds the diversionary pleasure of playing with words. She is always discovering things about life, and taking time off during the play to talk to the audience about them (now look at this person, isn't that interesting, isn't that wonderful, or odd), to share her sense of humour with them. Her relationship with Feste is an enjoyment of the mind—like her relationship with Orsino, if only they could break through to full understanding.

The chance of that comes by way of the recognition scene with Sebastian after her disguise has taken her through the comic absurdities of the mock duel with Aguecheek—comic and absurd for the audience, at least, though increasingly embarrassing and dangerous for Viola. The wonder of the recognition comes at an awful moment for her, as she is accused of having married Olivia, of beating Sir Andrew, wounding Sir Toby, denying the open-heartedness of Antonio's love, a crescendo of everything piling on top of her. And then, there is her brother like something out of a fairy story—just like a fairy story, indeed, that is what is so wonderful about it, the sudden appearance of Sebastian, the apple cleft in twain, the mirror of herself. It is a magical moment, the resolution of confusion, the meeting of self, of each other; the whirlpool and the tempest that brought them to Illyria die down and suddenly there is wholeness again, the magical moment of seeing someone you thought was dead, the other half of yourself. 'Do not embrace me', she says [V. i. 251], unable quite to make that contact whole until she knows again who she is by putting on her 'maiden's weeds', rediscovering that other half of herself through the ritual of dressing again as a woman.

After that comes Orsino's strangely hearty, and rather awkward, declaration:

Boy, thou hast said to me a thousand times
Thou never shouldst love woman like to me.
                                [V. i. 267-8]

Viola's reply is open and direct, honest and truthful as she has been throughout the play. In front of all those people she says:

And all those sayings will I over swear,
And all those swearings keep as true in soul
As doth that orbed continent the fire
That severs day from night.
                              [V. i. 269-72]

They are almost her last words in the play. I always thought it difficult for Orsino to make this sudden change from his obsession with Olivia, however carefully we had tried to prepare for it in the 'patience on a monument' dialogue. Viola (unlike Rosalind in As You Like It) is denied her 'woman's weeds'; there is no marriage ceremony, not even a formal offer from Orsino. 'Let me see thee in thy woman's weeds' he simply says, and a little later the bald statement that 'a solemn combination shall be made / Of our dear souls'(lines 383-4). The scene is a difficult one to make work, a director's nightmare (like the last scene of Measure for Measure, perhaps), and I do not think that our production ever really found it, though we worked hard at it and discussed and argued about it for two years! Perhaps the problem was just being a woman in 1983: putting out a hand to say I am going to marry you seemed an anti-climax. Whatever it was, our final scene never seemed to me thorough enough; it was never fully clear to the actors so could not be to the audience. It is a very public scene, everyone gathered together, a royal event with high and low characters all present and all their stories coming together, and I don't think we ever resolved its complexity or found the play's real ending. But then came the clap of thunder that marked the end of our production, and the returning darkness, and Feste finding the ring on the tree and singing of the wind and the rain. Things have come round full circle; they have reached a point of happiness—for some of the characters at least—but will they be happy ever after? It is the last verse of Feste's song that is so extraordinary.

I do not know how successful our production was; to be so involved in a play means that you can never fully know its effect on those watching. Like my first attempt at Twelfth Night, this one did not quite come up to hopes and expectations. Trying to write about it now I feel inadequate, and a little pompous. I am no authority; I can only try to do my best given the materials I have, the director, the set, the costume. Twelfth Night is a story about Time, and growing up, and growing old, beautiful, and elusive; and whichever way people try to direct it or to focus it so that it becomes a '1983 production', or so that you do it standing on your head, or hanging from the rafters, whatever you do as you dig and dig, and get deeper and deeper, the text remains for another attempt. I shall always be wanting to try it again.


Wilford Leach New York Shakespeare Festival 1986


Leach's New York Shakespeare Festival production in 1986 generated hostile responses from reviewers. Mel Gussow explained that it was not "a question of liberties taken but of abandonment of the play's essential nature as one of the most irresistible of Shakespeare's comedies." This production advocated an approach to the play that stressed elements of low comedy and farce. Actors were clothed in Renaissance dress, and the set featured a revolving platform with a central stage tower that flashed "Welcome to Illyria." The butt of critical disapproval, however, was directed towards the central performances. Tony Azito's clownish rendering of Feste failed to tap into any of the role's deeper significance. Gussow described him as a "body in motion but out of sync with his character." Kim Greist's rendering of Viola fared slightly better. John Simon asserted "Miss Greist cannot act very much … but she has a tolerable voice, is not deliberately offensive, and tries hard." The sole performance to receive a modicum of praise was F. Murray Abraham's Malvolio. John Beaufort mirrored the opinions of most commentators in writing that Abraham projected "the fussy aplomb and self-infatuation that make the censorious steward all too susceptible to the cruel trick played on him."


Diane Solway (essay date 29 June 1986)

SOURCE: "An Actor Prepares for Malvolio," in The New York Times, June 29, 1986, pp. 1, 4.

Despite the sultry midday heat, all was astir in Central Park. At the Delacorte Theater, seemingly a world away, the actor F. Murray Abraham strode about the stage in straw hat, T-shirt and shorts reciting Shakespeare.

The actor—best known for his Academy Award-winning portrayal of Salieri in Amadeus—was rehearsing a scene from Twelfth Night in which his character, the vainglorious steward Malvolio, gets his comeuppance.

Behind him, stage hands were quietly transforming the Delacorte stage into the mythical dukedom of Illyria, set in 16th-century Yugoslavia. A figurehead was being affixed to the frame of a ship, a sign was being painted, and tiles were being secured to the roof of a yellow and lavender housefront, whose Slavic design was inspired by a book on Bulgarian monasteries. Undaunted by the activity, the actor gamely read the forged love letter that Malvolio assumes his mistress Olivia has penned to him, a letter that leads to his ludicrous appearance before her in cross-gartered yellow stockings.

"Don't forget your chicken walk," counseled the director, Wilford Leach, trailing behind the actor.

"Oh, yes, that's lost, isn't it?" replied Mr. Abraham. "It makes him seem grand," he added, as he stuck out his chest and broke into an exaggerated strut, much to his own amusement.

This Wednesday, the latest interpretation of Twelfth Night, directed by Mr. Leach and produced by Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival, officially opens the 31st season of free theater in the park.

As Malvolio in this knotty comedy of love, shipwreck and multiple mistaken identity, Mr. Abraham, 46, makes his debut in a leading Shakespearean role. It is his first major stage appearance since winning the best-actor Academy Award in 1985 and playing a rabbi in The Golem at the Delacorte two seasons ago. The Twelfth Night cast also includes Peter MacNicol—last seen in Rum and Coke at the Public Theater—as Sir Toby Belch, Kim Greist as Viola. Tony Azito as Feste and Kathleen Layman as Olivia. The production reunites Mr. Leach and the composer Rupert Holmes, both of whom recently won Tony awards for their collaboration on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a Public Theater production that moved from Central Park to Broadway.

Mr. Abraham wound up in this production of Twelfth Night partially through a chance meeting about a year ago with Mr. Leach, to whom he expressed his longing to do comedy. Though Mr. Leach had never seen the actor in a comic role, months later, when casting the play, he easily imagined him as the farcical, yet sympathetic Malvolio.

"When Wilford suggested Murray, I thought 'Perfect'" recalls Mr. Papp. "Murray has an air of comedy about him. There's always something slightly comedic about his manner and demeanor even if he's doing something quite serious."

Mr. Abraham, in turn, describes the experience of playing in Central Park "Camp Delacorte" and says he savors the opportunity to perform before a live audience. "On stage, I must rely on myself and that's why I love the theater, and comedy in particular. No one has to tell me if I was good or not. Either they laugh or they don't."

"'Present mirth hath present laughter,'" he says, quoting a song in Twelfth Night. "It's only funny if the laugh comes. Shakespeare would not be pleased if his lines didn't get any laughs. That's why updating Shakespeare's comedy is legitimate."

To make Malvolio ridiculous to a contemporary audience, the actor decided to play him with a stiff upper-crust British accent. He considers Malvolio "a pompous right-wing politician" whose puritanism, lust for power and lack of humor he sees reflected in modern-day religious extremists. "We may laugh at them, but they are really quite dangerous."

Mr. Leach also sees a value in approaching a classic with fresh eyes. Ignoring prevailing theories about Twelfth Night, he decided to examine it anew.

"The play is usually seen as a melancholy comedy," he says, "but I don't think it's in the material, and I don't think the Elizabethan audience experienced it that way. The play is much closer to the raw virile tradition of early street pageants than is generally thought."

In an effort to highlight the play's vibrancy, Mr. Leach opted for lavish color in the costumes, rather than the muted tones predominant in the contemporary theater. "Lindsay Davis told me he hadn't used colors like that since grade school," says Mr. Leach of the costume designer. The director likens the probable effect of his interpretation to the cleaning of the Sistine Chapel. "Now that they've removed the dirt from the ceiling," he says, "it's completely different, and many people find it too bright. I think that's what happens when you do a classic this way. To many people, it won't seem properly golden, it won't have that patina they associate with Shakespeare."

He credits Mr. Holmes's original music with capturing the mirth he feels is often missing from performances of the play.

"Comedy can be serious without being solemn," says Mr. Leach. "To me, the clown's final song says, 'Yes, death is a reality, so life should be lived with gusto,'" adds the director, who eschewed traditional approaches by choosing young actors for most of the roles. "One of the play's major themes is the madness of love. When your hormones are acting up, of course you're crazy. That's the way I understand the play—as mad kids going through all the torments and hell over love and then being able to flip right over to someone else."

In working with the actors Mr. Leach tries to remain as unobtrusive as possible. Says Mr. Abraham: "Simple directions take me very far, such as 'faster,' 'funnier.' That's why I love working with Wilfred. I trust my instincts and if a suggestion is made, I just go with it, I don't analyze it and discuss it. He let me pull out all the stops."

Mel Gussow (review date 3 July 1986)

SOURCE: "Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night' in Central Park," in The New York Times, July 3, 1986, p. C22.

Given Wilford Leach's record for brightening so many al fresco evenings with Shakespeare, as well as The Pirates of Penzance and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, anticipation about Twelfth Night was as high as the Belvedere Castle that shadows the hospitable Delacorte Theater. In addition, the show was headlined by that Oscar-winning actor, F. Murray Abraham, turning to Shakespeare and returning to comedy in the choice role of Malvolio.

Sad to say, almost everything is awry in this Illyria. It is not a question of liberties taken but of abandonment of the play's essential nature as one of the most irresistible of Shakespeare's comedies. Productions have, of course, artfully departed from, or reinterpreted the original text. Last season, for example, Twelfth Night was pleasurably transformed into a Cole Porter party by Mark Lamos at the Hartford Stage Company. However, Mr. Leach, principal director of the New York Shakespeare Festival, has simply unmoored the play in the interest of unmannerly broadness.

The director has chosen to set Twelfth Night in 16th-century Yugoslavia, a fact that would have remained the deepest secret had it not been so reported in an article in last Sunday's edition of this newspaper. The atmosphere is, instead, hugger-mugger, or Tatar-Cossack. Some of the actors look as if they are outfitted for a bus and truck tour of Kismet. Flouncing stands in for stage movement and mugging might be seen by a hovering helicopter.

As the evening begins, there is a hint that the performance is intended to be artificial, a play within a play, as in Edwin Drood. Actors roam through the audience and those on stage declaim their lines as if they are amateurs auditioning for a provincial company. Any minute one expects—and hopes for—a character such as that played by George Rose in Edwin Drood to step out and stop the performance. This does not occur; the imitation of bad acting is an end in itself, and, in some instances, it is totally successful.

One could perhaps chalk up the ineptitude of the actors in the romantic roles to inexperience. This is not possible with the character roles, for these are filled with actors of proven merit. First of all there is Tony Azito playing Feste as a kind of carnival roustabout. As this rubber-limbed clown has demonstrated on countless occasions (most notably as a policeman in The Pirates of Penzance), he can be a droll vaudevillian.

Here he is overcome by his own hand wiggles. He is a body in motion but out of sync with his character and when faced with the challenge of pretending to be two people (taunting Malvolio in captivity) he hopelessly blurs the voices while affecting an accent of unknown derivation. His singing—words by Shakespeare, music by Rupert Holmes—is closer to the mark. Together with William Duff-Griffin's Sir Toby Belch and Peter MacNicol's Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Mr. Azito is the hypotenuse of an effete triangle, each missing the ineffable shenanigans of these allied troublemakers.

Mr. MacNicol has chosen—or been encouraged—to play the persistent suitor, Sir Andrew, with a falsetto and a foolish grin. Though as misguided as his colleagues, the actor does earn a few smiles and in a less cavalier production his concept might be defensible. But, surrounded by fellow campers, he loses individuality.

Before the play begins, Mr. Abraham makes a brief appearance. Patiently we wait for his reentry, for him, in effect, to save the sinking show. In goatee and pantaloons, he looks something like a fakir. He is, however, merely a mildly aggrieved misanthrope. Except for some eccentric affectations—an unfunny chicken walk and a habit of prissily lifting the tails of his costume whenever he exits—his performance seems oddly uncommitted. It is as if the actor had been cross-gartered by his character.

In his principal set piece, when he spies the bogus love letter from his mistress, Mr. Abraham's Malvolio is passingly amusing, which is insufficient for a scene that, even in the hands of lesser actors, often rises to hilarity.

The production's variations offer no comic solace: Olivia holding up a cross to ward off Malvolio; the italicizing of innuendo; the sound effects that accompany the reaction of the actors. At the critics' performance on Tuesday, at times I felt as if I were at Wimbledon watching seeded players on an off day; every volley struck the net. The only relief could come, perhaps, from rain, which would curtail the match and allow for a revamping of one's resources.

About 40 minutes into the evening, rain briefly fell. The actors responded with an aplomb that was otherwise lacking. During and after the rain, the performance continued, sacrificing both "present mirth" and "present laughter" as well as the darker Malvolian side of the comedy.

John Beaufort (review date 9 July 1986)

SOURCE: "Slapstick 'Twelfth Night' with F. Murray Abraham," in The Christian Science Monitor, July 9, 1986, p. 24.

"What country, friends, is this?" asks the ship-wrecked Viola in the second scene of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

"This is Illyria, lady," replies the captain of the sunken vessel.

And so it is, in a manner of speaking, Shakespeare chose the name of an Adriatic city with a history rooted in antiquity as the setting for this comedy of mistaken identities and love at cross purposes.

Taking his cue from the play's full title, Twelfth Night or What You Will, director Wilford Leach has given the production a 16th-century, Eastern European touch. Costume designer Lindsay W. Davis has met the challenge with a colorfully exotic wardrobe that turns out to be the most fanciful and picturesque feature of the New York Shakespeare Festival production at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.

Possibly in an effort to offset an evident lack of classical experience among his players, Mr. Leach has settled for a broad, colloquial, low comedy style of playing.

The revival abounds in horseplay, sight gags, and gimmicks. Bob Shaw's neatly efficient scenery (a central stage tower atop a revolving platform) features occasional signs like "Welcome to Illyria." Sir Andrew's horse, Capilet, is heard to neigh offstage. (A critic, perhaps?) And when Malvolio struggles to smile, his painful efforts are accompanied by the amplified creak of a rusty gate. Such are the hey-nonny-nonny features of the Leach approach.

When it comes to the serious business of comedy and the even more delicate business of light romantic comedy, this Twelfth Night is not equal to the sum of its better parts.

As Malvolio, the admirable F. Murray Abraham (seen in the film Amadeus) projects the fussy aplomb and self-infatuation that make the censorious steward all too susceptible to the cruel trick played on him. Kim Greist's very modest experience has scarcely prepared her for the demands and rewards of Viola. The best that can be said of Miss Greist is that she perseveres. Kathleen Layman doesn't fare much more happily as Olivia, that "lady of great beauty and fortune" temporarily smitten with Viola disguised as Cesario.

The comics work hard and energetically to fulfill Leach's notions of Twelfth Night. Peter MacNicol makes a sunnily silly booby of Sir Andrew Aguecheek. William Duff Griffin minces through the role of Sir Toby Belch. Tony Azito—affecting one of the several pseudo-cockney accents encountered in this Illyria—clobbers Feste out of all recognition.

Other principals include Thomas Gibson (Orsino), Perry Lang (Sebastian, Viola's twin brother), and Meagen Fay (Olivia's serving woman, Maria, who sets the subplot in motion).

The pleasant incidental music and song settings are by Rupert Holmes. Stephen Strawbridge lighted the production, which is scheduled to continue the usual free Central Park performances through July 20. Perhaps this revival should have been retitled, Twelfth Night or What You Wilford.

John Simon (review date 14 July 1986)

SOURCE: "Acts of Darkness," in New York Magazine, Vol. 19, No. 27, July 14, 1986, pp. 62-3.

Is it cynicism, insensitivity, or merely total benightedness that prompts the New York Shakespeare Festival to mount the kind of travesty of Twelfth Night now on view in Central Park? The subtitle What You Will was surely not meant as an encouragement to cast rank amateurs or equally rank professionals, and to camp up a high comedy into the lowest, most effete farce. Either Joe Papp and his director, Wilford Leach, think that a non-paying audience enjoying a night under the stars does not know any better or ask for more (which may be true, but is no excuse) or else they are incapable of responsible thinking and don't know any better themselves. Neither hypothesis is particularly cheering.

It is, of course, possible (though not advisable) to turn the more broadly comical scenes into outright farce, but a production in which almost everything is horseplay and bad acting, so that you don't even know where romance and poetry might come in, may be anything you will but isn't Twelfth Night. The tacit assumption here is that anyone can play Shakespeare, regardless of lack of training, lack of experience, or lack of basic suitability. Also, that it is fine to cast very young actors as the lovers, even if that most dubious of qualifications, youth, is all they've got, and that the director's vaudeville ideas will take care of the rest. With the kind of casting Leach has perpetrated, he could not have swung it were he ten times the director he is.

There are four major performances here that are beneath anything constituting acting. Kathleen Layman's Olivia, aside from having not the slightest style, timing, or stage presence, rattles off words without the faintest indication that they might have such a thing as meaning. As Orsino, Thomas Gibson is a simpering, mealymouthed, lowborn youth who perhaps could wait on tables in a lesser Columbus Avenue restaurant. Marco St. John's Antonio, rather than a noble sea captain, is a brutish stevedore who, instead of delivering a line, heaves it into the hold of the ship he is loading. As Sebastian, Perry Lang merely looks and acts cretinous, resembling his twin sister, Viola, as little as he does an actor.

A step higher is that dreadful clown Tony Azito, to my mind one of the more offensive presences in the New York theater, who turns Feste (exactly as he does every part) into an oleaginous lout with undertones of viciousness who adores himself every step of the way. It is the crudest kind of camp, mistaking ugliness for wit, but at least it is done with self-assurance and conviction. A step above is the Viola of Kim Greist. Miss Greist cannot act very much—she uses her arms, for example, as obsessive semaphores—but she has a tolerable voice, is not deliberately offensive, and tries hard.

Somewhat above this is the low-grade professionalism of William Duff-Griffin, whose Sir Toby is the sort of performance you get in provincial reps or summer theaters: correct as far as it goes, but wholly uninspired. Slightly better—more straightforward and well spoken—is the Fabian of James Lancaster, who, however, had the benefit of quite a bit of acting experience at Dublin's Abbey Theatre. I vastly prefer the Aguecheek of Peter MacNicol: Though as yet no Shakespearean, he has a great natural sweetness and intuitive playfulness. Much the best supporting performance is Meagen Fay's Maria, who, with better direction, could have been impeccable.

As Malvolio, F. Murray Abraham—an actor so enamored of himself that self-adulation oozes from his every pore and syllable—is properly cast and gives a thoroughly professional performance. He, too, could have profited from better direction, which would have eliminated, say, his holding up his coattails like a Trockadero ballerina while chasing after Viola. But he has a rich, fruity voice and a certain spontaneous oiliness that, in this role, come in handy. Even handier, however, is the huge incompetence of most of the actors around him.

Although Bob Shaw's scenery and Lindsay W. Davis's costumes are cute mostly in the likable sense, Leach's staging revels in the wrong sort of cuteness. If Leach has any notion of the historical, philosophical, social, and poetic concepts in this play, he certainly manages to keep it well hidden. Even the idea of turning Illyria visually into Greek Orthodox, Turkish-influenced Serbia is wrong; if anything, it would be Catholic, Italianate Dalmatia. But what Shakespeare had in mind was, clearly, England. And music—often verbal—as the opening Une makes plain. Significantly, this production switches the first two scenes and begins with the shipwreck. Talk about omens!


Bill Alexander RSC 1987-88


Alexander's RSC revival set Twelfth Night in an Illyria that resembled a sun-drenched Greek island. This feature, like the production as a whole, elicited contradicotry responses from critics. While Michael Ratcliffe, for example, maintained that "there can rarely have been a version of this disturbing comedy so bland, humourless and cold," Gary O'Connor hailed the production as "outstanding," commenting that the use of dazzling which architectural motifs in the set design accentuated "the confusion woven by illusion and self-illusion." The most controversial aspect of this staging was Antony Sher's Malvolio. Sher, whose costume was reminiscent of the liturgical garb of an Orthodox priest, took seriously the possibility that Malvolio becomes mad as a result of his confinement in the "dark room." For Stanley Wells, this portrayal was ultimately a failure. He maintained: "Sher technically as brilliant as ever, allows the effort to be both funny and original to take precedence over the establishment of a credible character who believes in himself." Taking the opposing view, O'Connor lavishly praised the performance as "a gloriously infected piece of work," asserting that the actor's comic excess was "beautifully judged in its degree." Other principal performances included Harriet Walter as Viola, Bruce Alexander as Feste, David Bradley as Sir Andrew, and Deborah Findlay as Olivia. In 1988 the production transferred to the Barbican Theatre in London, where John Carlisle replaced Antony Sher as Malvolio.


Michael Ratcliffe (review date 12 July 1987)

SOURCE: "Thirteenth Night," in The Observer, July 12, 1987, p. 19.

The current RSC production of The Merchant of Venice at Stratford, directed by Bill Alexander, designed by Kit Surrey, lit by Robert Bryan and starring Antony Sher, grapples with the savagery of the play more powerfully than any Merchant in recent years. The same team has moved straight on to Twelfth Night (RST, Stratford) and the difference is extraordinary. There can rarely have been a version of this disturbing comedy so bland, humourless and cold. Its destruction is completed by a star performance from Sher whose effect is about as subtle as a run-away truck.

Surrey sets the play, handsomely enough, on the little square of a white Greek island against a brochure-blue sky, but this architectural setting, which abounds in door-ways, roofline steps, windows and climbing-joists, is hardly used at all. It is mere scenery. There is little sense of time, heat, day, night, Greekness or any sort of enjoyed theatrical space.

The comedy is performed by an ensemble which, with one exception, has no natural comedians in it. The exception is David Bradley who plays Aguecheek like some grim and irritable newt, muttering all his remarks as though he would rather have snatched them back before releasing them to the sure mockery of the world. Bradley apart, the best performance comes from Deborah Findlay, the strange, ruminant colouring of whose voice makes something intelligent and sympathetic of the often tedious Olivia.

It is an evening of actors in distress. Three of the company's best struggle for firm ground beneath their feet: Bruce Alexander is a wilfully blank Feste (albeit exceptionally well sung); Harriet Walter is a gentle and self-effacing Viola confined to the outer edges of the play by the gross central performance and kept there by a drily conventional Orsino (Donald Sumpter); Roger Allam, who would make a Toby Belch of fastidious unpleasantness (and for that matter a marvellous Malvolio) elects instead to roar and bellow Sir Toby like Bottom seizing the lion's part, an offence against his own gifts. There is no attempt to illuminate the interesting and awkward conjunction of venality and pride which modern productions of Twelfth Night usually do.

It so happens there have been two exceptionally interesting and contentious ones, both playing to packed houses earlier this year. The touring Cheek by Jowl company explored the sexual ambivalence in the play, suggested that every character at some point or other runs slightly mad, and plumbed a well of deep feeling beneath the exuberant techniques of vulgarity, anachronism and shock. The text emerged with a glittering sharpness that has become rare in main house productions of the RSC. (Titus Andronicus in the Swan is another matter entirely). A Sheffield Crucible production set the play in some waking nightmare on the twelfth day of Christmas before Feste dowsed the crackling fiery tree in water and plunged the carnival back into night. Figures dreamed one another into existence and observed one another's confusion. Disorientation—territorial, sexual, social—is the master key to Twelfth Night. 'What country friends is this?' 'This is Illyria lady' but we all know there is more to it than that. Maria, for instance, does not have to be a tearful saxophonist (Cheek by Jowl) or a vengeful housekeeper bent on Malvolio's destruction (Crucible), but there is surely more to her than the dull soubrette Pippa Guard makes of her here.

Sher plays Olivia's steward like a mad holy man on the run, a corsetted hysteric with gobstopper eyes, stiff with terror at the prospect of losing his place, flipping his lid at the slightest reverse. It is a loud, violent desperately unfunny and miscalculated performance. Barren of genuine physical inventiveness and low on textual wit, it aspires to sensational tragic stature without earning it and passes clean through the middle of the play like a missile that destroys whilst leaving no trace.

Robert Hewison (review date 12 July 1987)

SOURCE: "The Problems of Paternity," in The Sunday Times Review, July 12, 1987, p. 49.

In the main house at Stratford the Royal Shakespeare Company presents … Twelfth Night. Bill Alexander has chosen a specific Aegean setting, with mock-Mykonos architecture by Kit Surrey and superb costumes by Deirdre Clancy, which create a romantic but entirely consistent late 17th-century Greek world.

In spite of blazing white walls and blue sky, however, the initial atmosphere in Illyria is decidedly chilly, and only gradually do Alexander's intentions become clear. Thus the belligerently broad playing of Roger Allam's Sir Toby and the infinitely subtle silences of David Bradley's Ague-cheek are bright lights against a deliberate shadow, first cast by the pathos of Bruce Alexander's unaccompanied singing as Feste, a bitter clown, and then by the treatment of Malvolio.

Antony Sher, who has transformed himself into Simon Callow—or how Callow might look as a Greek majordomo—at first seems to be straining for laughs, but the stress turns out to be Malvolio's incipient madness. And unlike most Malvolios, once maddened, he stays mad. Alexander has borrowed the device of Peter Shaffer's Black Comedy, and presents the prison scene, not in darkness, but a blinding light. Malvolio is chained like a rabid dog, the object of real cruelty.

The strength of this conception, which eschews easy laughs, makes up for weaknesses elsewhere: as Viola, Harriet Walter has adopted a strange, adenoidal, mincing voice, effective in the first scene, when she is about to burst into tears, but distracting for the rest of the play. Donald Sumpter lacks all sex appeal as Orsino, and there is little passion, though some petulance, in Deborah Findlay's Olivia. But the moral tone of the production, under the baleful eye of Feste, is refreshingly right.

Stanley Wells (review date 17 July 1987)

SOURCE: "Acting Out Illyria," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4398, July 17, 1987, p. 770.

I was once taken to task for describing Twelfth Night as the most elusive of Shakespeare's comedies, but Bill Alexander's new production confirms me in my opinion. Much about it feels right. The setting—an open space half-surrounding a mounting jumble of white, sunbaked archways, receding alleys, little steps, windows, and benches fixed to walk—permits one scene to flow into the next with an easy continuity. Although the firmly Adriatic setting (this is Illyria, Lady) sacrifices the sense of two distinct households, the ethnic costumes and customs provide a useful compromise between fantasy and localizing actuality.

In the opening scenes, the world of the play authentically establishes itself. On her first entry Viola, carrying her brother's clothes, is still choking back sobs for his apparent loss. Roger Allam's Sir Toby, younger and handsomer than usual, finds an easy unforced humour in his opening passages with Maria and Sir Andrew. Olivia's entry with her black-clad train, headed by Malvolio as an obsequiously zealous director of mourning, on her way to pay tribute to her brother's memory at a shrine let into the wall, helpfully establishes the resemblance between her situation and Viola's. And the production's heart seems to be in the right place during the wordless interplay of emotion within and between Orsino and Viola, as Bruce Alexander's unaccompanied singing of Feste's song "Come away death" moves Orsino with thoughts of his despairing love for Olivia and relaxes the disguised Viola to a point at which she comes close to revealing her love for Orsino. This is beautifully conceived and executed.

But as the action continues, the mood is too often broken. Sir Toby drunk is too like Sir Toby sober, except that he belches louder and longer and plays tricks with the smoke from his cheroot. Harriet Walter's Viola, though gently appealing in her wistfulness, lacks comic drive, vocal mannerisms obtrude, and her eyebrows develop a nervous life of their own. But the wrongest-headed performance is Antony Sher's, as Malvolio, because it seems more concerned to make a series of points about the character than to find a way of presenting him from his own point of view.

This stands in direct contrast to David Bradley's brilliant Sir Andrew, a coherent, self-consistent portrayal of a recognizable individual. Bemused, bedraggled, energetic in his efforts to keep up with his more sophisticated companions, he is touchingly uncomprehending in his failure to do so. Merely to contemplate him is enough to induce sympathetic laughter. On the other hand Sher, technically as brilliant as ever, allows the effort to be both funny and original to take precedence over the establishment of a credible character who believes in himself. As a result, his performance seems no more than a collection of actorish points, whether he is turning his hat and his pockets inside out to show that they too are yellow, or popping up unexpectedly close to Olivia in response to her call, or exposing himself to her attendants in gleeful self-satisfaction. The performance is based on a theory: that Malvolio goes mad as a result of the tricks played upon him. In the prison scene he emerges through a trap, tethered to a stake, visibly suffering. The darkness that surrounds him has to be mimed by Feste, who torments him with exploding caps, and a half-naked Sir Toby and Maria are seen at a window, more absorbed in their love-making than in what is going on beneath them. At the end Malvolio is distressingly insane, a broken man flailing out at "the whole pack" of those on stage like an enraged bear. This is as forced and sentimental as the efforts of actors other than Sher to provide a tragic conclusion to the role of Shylock. If Malvolio has a tragedy, it is that he is irremediably sane.

Sheridan Morley (review date 22 July 1987)

SOURCE: "Sher Madness," in Punch, Vol. 293, No. 7647, July 22, 1987, pp. 49-50.

Stratford's new main-stage Twelfth Night, directed by Bill Alexander, has one of those sets (here by Kit Surrey) that do most of the acting before the players have a chance to take up residence. "Which country, friend, is this?" "Illyria, lady" is thus an odd opening exchange, since we are clearly in downtown Paxos or on some neighbouring Greek island where you constantly expect to find Zorba setting up a dancing academy for the tourists. A hugely picturesque, sunbaked and white-walled little square, with its own functional water pump and a candlelit shrine to Olivia's dead brother, might not appear to be the most likely location for this traditionally chilly play, and its permanence means that we cannot actually move with Feste from Orsino's court to Olivia's mansion or Malvolio's gaol: in order for anything to happen or anyone to meet, the cast have instead to assemble around the pump. But once you make that geographic leap, and get acclimatised to the heat, there emerge certain distinct advantages.

First of all, Antony Sher can play Malvolio looking like Groucho Marx dressed as a Greek none-too-orthodox priest, with black fez and pointed beard in a performance which allows for a reversal of the usual character development; this steward starts effectively mad, pursuing Viola around the square with Olivia's ring like a manic travelling salesman, and only becomes increasingly and alarmingly sane as he is incarcerated in a prison for lunatics. Yet, although he is single-mindedly taking on all the great Olivier roles in his time with the RSC, first Richard III and in this season a Shylock as well, Sher seems to recognise that he is not a natural or leading comedian: when the going gets tough, he neatly replaces Malvolio somewhere down the castlist in what then becomes a company play about mutual deceit.

The rest of the casting is equally offbeat: a thin and distinctly unjovial Sir Toby Belch from Roger Allam, an unusually meek Olivia from Deborah Findlay and a Viola from Harriet Walter who looks as though she would far rather be leading a troupe of Girl Guides on an archeological dig around the island than sorting out the complex romantic obsessions of Orsino and Olivia while disguised as her own missing twin brother.

Orsino himself (Donald Sumpter) is an aged, melancholic loner, out-classed even in this specialist category by David Bradley's superb Aguecheek, a man of such total exhaustion under a burning sun that he can barely drag himself to the end of a sentence, let alone the beginning of a duel. Add to them a Maria (Pippa Guard) who instead of the usual chubby housekeeper is far and away the most sexily glamorous character on stage, and it becomes clear that Mr Alexander wishes us to consider the play not only in a new setting but also peopled by eccentrics we have never really met before.

The result is a kind of holiday romp shot through with dark and scary moments when the sun suddenly goes behind a cloud and it gets unexpectedly chilly: there is no attempt to pretend that, even when all the partners do get sorted out into their correct sexes and couplings, the general happiness will last for much longer than the average summer romance, and we are left alone with Feste singing of the wind and the rain presumably somewhere well away from the offices of the local tourist board.

Garry O'Connor (review date September 1987)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Plays & Players, No. 408, September, 1987, pp. 16-17.

Shakespeare may have had the taste of olives in his mouth when he wrote Twelfth Night. Viola, Malvolio, Olivia not only have an anagrammatical closeness of sound, but during the play they are lovingly crushed, and while one yields pure oil, another a bitter taste, the three as characters have flavour rather than depth. The lovesick Orsino, his name a cross between arse and obscene, is himself as about as enticing as a whole bowl of olives; Feste, with his callous wit and melancholy songs, spits out the stones.

This outstanding production has been set by the director, Bill Alexander, and designer Kit Surrey, far from the Jacobethan box-hedges and well to the east of Illyria in a sun-baked village square whose Greek Orthodox ikon is tucked away in a wall niche. The confusion woven by illusion and self-illusion gains considerably from the dazzling whiteness. Olivia's entourage, when they cast away their mourning, wear alluring brocades of the traditional myrtle and vine. Feste, dressed in more sombre shreds and patches, benefits from the surreal indeterminateness of period: Malvolio, a character on the fullest Byzantine scale, disports himself in the neo-clerical black of Constantinople.

Given the stark setting the players themselves have to find the resources to show the comic and emotional changes wrought by so much mixed-up identity. Harriet Walter aims at and hits Viola's gruff and gritty side, offering escape to Olivia and Orsino by her managerial competence, and neatly sidestepping their narcissism. Orsino becomes, in Donald Sumpter's performance, a balding fakir of love, a Gandhi on the nailbed of desire. Deborah Findlay as Olivia, in her mixture of imperiousness and self-aware silliness, has rather more character, and therefore humour, than one might expect of Olivia. Bruce Alexander, as Feste, projects wit and songs alike with perfect pitch and acerbic modulation.

As engineer of the Malvolio subplot Pippa Guard portrays Maria as an enticing Machiavel: the passion between her and Toby Belch, not usually as torrid as this, is fanned by the sight of Malvolio cross-gartered and consummated when the poor steward, condemned as mad and tied to a stake, is abused by Feste in the disguise of Sir Topaz. This cruel and juvenile scene is heavily underlined and goes a bit far, yet the actors can hardly be blamed for a current taste for violence as primitive as that in the playwright's day. A youthful Belch, Roger Allam, played with excoriating variations on the activity enclosed within his name, is the best I've seen. No less funny is David Bradley's Aguecheek, who cunningly and intricately faceted, gives off glimmers of light as, like a shrunken planet, he revolves round Sir Toby.

'His very genius hath taken the infection of the device', Toby says of Malvolio. Antony Sher's interpretation of the steward is a gloriously infected piece of work, a blot or extravagance on the face of humanity. His self-deceit defies sexual limits as he flaunts the concealed stockings as much like a male flasher as like a French can-can girl. The comic excess is beautifully judged in its degree and if Sher effortlessly reaches the peaks of laughter it is because he is a master of the art of preparation. He can conceive himself as a theatrical image, climb in and out of himself, and stand the image on its head. This is a production the public will love without reservation.

Franàois Laroque (review date October 1987)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Cahiers Élisa-bethains No. 32, October, 1987, pp. 106-09.

Illyria this time has moved down to the shores of nineteenth century Greece, with cobalt blue skies, white blocks of houses, arched narrow streets, splashing fountains and open-air benches on both sides backstage.

The play opens on a frozen tableau-vivant. Orsino (Donald Sumpter), oldish, bald on top, with a curious, Chinese kind of plait of hair hanging on one side, holds a double lute to speak the first famous lines If music be the food of love.… The men wear hats, baggy breeches, and boots.

Sir Toby Belch (Roger Allam), wears a brown velvet coat, looks both young and very red in the face and he is courting a young, pert, and pretty Maria (Pippa Guard), which is a welcome change from the tradition of the nightgowned spinster. Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a very tall, awkward fellow with long hanging yellow hair (David Bradley) also wears baggy trousers, complemented by green stockings and leather slippers. He and Roger Allam form a wonderful comic pair, catching the audience's attention and raising laughter very early on in the performance.

Viola (Harriet Walter) finds no apparent difficulty in her change into a man and when she reappears as Cesario she wears deep bottle-green trousers and jerkin with her ginger hair now cropped short. Being rather tall, she will manage to carry the illusion of her transformation fairly well throughout. One may add here that the choice of the actor to play her brother Sebastian (Paul Spence) seems to have obeyed the same desire to lend credence to the central notion of the comedy of errors as the resemblance between them is fairly close.

Feste (Bruce Alexander) wears batik style motley, with hanging stripes, and he has rouge on his cheeks and a crew cut. He looks deliberately out of touch with the rest of the cast, but he will slowly, and with great talent, make himself part of the entertainment.

The tolling of the church bell prepares for the slow entrance upon the stage of the Lady Olivia (Deborah Findlay), who is followed by a mourning procession of women in black. They all have black veils on their faces and wear dresses of black and golden brocade.

Malvolio (Antony Sher) has a trimmed, pointed beard, and is dressed in black from toque to gaiters and has the appearance of an orthodox priest. His stiffness is reinforced by a thin straight white collar and the chain of office that hangs around his neck. He shouts a lot and seems to boss everybody around, but executes his mistress's orders with extreme zeal, as when he literally runs after Cesario to give him Olivia's message and ring. When Cesario arrives at Olivia's house, the black mourners that all walk round her convey the impression of an oriental harem.

Toby expectedly belches his way along for most of the play and he is sometimes answered in this by Aguecheek's as it were absent-minded farts, but this is more funny than vulgar and it represents a human and almost inevitable sign of their horrible abuse of food and drink in this period of festivity and excess. To keep up the atmosphere of carousing and merry-making, here more genuine than forced or sad (probably because Toby and Aguecheek look fairly young) Feste sings—with an excellent voice and without musical accompaniment. The three men then fall to their catches until Maria is woken up and joins in a dance that appropriately turns out to be a form of sirtaki, making for a highly entertaining moment in the production.

It is an empty bottle which Feste throws through his open window that rouses here the soundly sleeping Malvolio from his bed rather than the racket of the revellers. When he suddenly emerges on the stage to restore order, he comes with a net holding both his hair and beard into place, so that the contrast between the severity of his speech and his pompous stance on the one hand and bis ridiculous aspect on the other is irresistible. This is the beginning of a series of astonishing transformations. In the letter scene, he becomes almost hysterical and starts jumping around, red in the face as he discovers the contents of Olivia's letter. When Toby and Fabian come on stage, just before the interval, they are split double with a contained laughter that seems so painfully intense that it takes a while before it breaks out into sound.

After a twenty minute interval, Feste arrives and starts beating on his drum in a rather maddening way. This raises our anticipation as the joke on Malvolio is about be taken a step further.

Toby now has a beard and Olivia wears a veil about her headgear. As for Orsino, with his Leeds accent and his bald patch, he seems to overindulge in his melancholy humour. He is probably too much of a foil to the rest of the company so that it is easier to understand why Olivia (who is here more of a coquette than a rich, cold aristocrat) rejects his suit than why Viola-Cesario secretly falls in love with him.

When Malvolio comes to sport his yellow crossed garters under his black coat, which he keeps flashing at Olivia with leering eyes, the comedy of love's misunderstandings reaches a farcical climax. His black toque, when turned inside out, also appears to have been lined with yellow. Then, like some eerie juggler, he pulls out more lining—from his pockets this time—which hangs like long yellow scarves, and follows Olivia around in a frantic and mysterious erotic dance. When his Lady has gone he splashes his face with water at the fountain as the cicadas begin to pulse louder in the heat of the day—a clear enough indication that Malvolio suffers from sun-stroke and midsummer madness.

Then Toby, Fabian, and Maria arrive with crosses and garlic garlands to exorcize him: Greece, as it seems, has how turned into a Transylvanian hotbed of vampires … But next comes a more straightforward medical allusion to madness with the urinal which Maria carries with her and deftly manages to have filled quickly during one of Malvolio's fits.

In the madness scene, Malvolio, pilloried, is brought up from below. He gives the impression of groping around in darkness while his voice is amplified to suggest a hollow cellar. When masquerading as Sir Topaz, Feste goes down a ladder which leans against the window where Sir Toby and Maria are watching the scene while exchanging love kisses. Malvolio is tied to a stake like a bear and he whirls round it like some mad animal. At the end of the scene, he presses Olivia's crumpled letter against his cheek, with a tormented, hallucinated look on his face. This is an extremely powerful scene, which suggests, in a pathetic way, that the borderline between the light abuses of festive misrule and real madness has now become an extremely thin one.

When Malvolio reappears on stage at the end, he is totally bedraggled and, red-eyed, tries to shield his sight from the recovered daylight. But after Feste has once more taunted him with the whirligig of time speech, Malvolio says the expected I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you in a curiously slow way that ends in a singsong. When he goes away, with a strange smile on bis face, one understands that the joke has really been pushed too far and that he has become truly mad. This last, dark note is in keeping with Antony Sher's remarkable interpretation which manages to reveal the dark potentialities of Shakespeare's last comedy.

So, all in all, this is a superb and memorable production which brings out the festive as well as the serious dimension of the play. While Antony Sher as Malvolio gives an astonishing performance that sheds new light on the character, Roger Allam and David Bradley are no less remarkable and funny as Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. Pippa Guard, who was revealed by the parts she played in the BBC Shakespeare series and has now made a very welcome appearance on the Stratford stage, plays a lively, arch, and beguiling Maria. Feste also gives a strong performance and the rather disappointing Donald Sumpter and Deborah Findlay, who seem to have been miscast in the roles of Duke Orsino and Olivia, do not finally detract too much from our pleasure.

Edward Pearce (review date November 1987)

SOURCE: "Modern Dress, Old Hat," in Encounter, Vol. LXIX, No. 4, November, 1987, pp. 64-6.

The RSC production [of Twelfth Night]. . . , has the sort of clever charm which would make a forward-looking stomach turn. It is set very beautifully (a serious lapse already) in a Greek island or town, identifiable to British theatre audiences who holiday in such places when they can. Most critics were reminded of Mykonos; I was inclined to see Lindos on Rhodes. But there, chacun à son goùt.

The change of setting is valid. Geography, unlike poetry, was a hazy matter for most Elizabethans. Shakespeare tended to put Italian-named characters down in places like Bohemia or Illyria about Which he knew gloriously little, and set them speaking English. Twelfth Night has, thank God, escapist tendencies. It asks for a faraway, faintly exotic Levantine place in which to set up Italianate Englishmen to play against women as English as cucumber sandwiches, and generally to get on with the show. A fancy, sparkling-white, island Greece will do very nicely—especially as it gives Anthony Sher a chance to play Malvolio as Archbishop Makarios in buttercup tights.

There are defects and weak performances—an Orsino (Donald Sumpter) as limp and perfunctory as a flannel dipped in lukewarm water, a Viola/Cesario (Harriet Walter) with a touch of the plucky lady lacrosse-player about her, and in Anthony Sher's Malvolio we go clean back in time to Actor's Theatre. Sher, a South African with application and talent in unstable proportions, has a lot to give. But we have to understand that with Sher we are back with Sir Donald Wolfit, a double-jointed, speeded-up, mocking and flailing Wolfit, without the old man's Churchillian pomposity but with the same carnivorous, team-despising presence on stage, very old-fashioned, an actaw, laddie, and no messing about.

Bill Alexander, the director here, likes nuance and refinement. Antonio and Sebastian are drawn to one another, Antonio knowing, Sebastian not; we are given to understand this, but nothing is done to make us wince and Mr Alexander famous.

Sir Toby is played as a coarse conman getting by on his wits. The part at all times hangs betwixt sympathy and dislike. This Sir Toby is at the dislikable end. He would be one of those marginal chancers raising money for the Conservatives before they are arrested. Sir Andrew is a grass-green innocent, a lame self-doubting shadow—funny in a way, but funny-pitiful.

Mr Alexander dithers happily between tragic and comic elements. He has an angelic Maria in Pippa Guard—too good and psychologically right, with the proper vivacity for this cousin of Beatrice's, to get the notices she deserves—but it is harder than ever to see why she would want to marry this one-jump-ahead-of-the-receiver Toby.

The tragedy acts out Feste's description of Malvolio in confinement, "Truly, madam, he holds Beelzebub at the stave's end", in a way which suggests that the stave has snapped. Malvolio (an insistence of the actor, or Mr Alexander's idea?) is noisily mad in a way which draws a lot of attention to Anthony Sher. It all hangs rather perilously between a moving pity and comic business. The overt jolly cruelty of the Elizabethans, who set dogs on to bears as well as writing sonnets, leaves a nation of compassionate souls with tin ears understandably jarred by the treatment of Malvolio. Lacking their rough complacency, we usually go overboard the other way. Sher's fraught freak simply goes crazy in spades.

The production, then, doesn't quite work. The limp premiers are more remote than usual from a comic plot which seizes power and declares a state of emergency, and Sher is allowed out on his own in a way never wise. Yet it falls honourably short. There are beautiful things in the bouquet of inconsistencies: Maria, for one; a sweet-singing Feste permitted the Morley tune, another. And anyway a production full of contradictions does no harm to a play which in all its manifest glory is full of them itself.

Irving Wardle (review date 11 April 1988)

SOURCE: "Surprisingly Lively Night," in The Times, London, April 11, 1988, p. 14.

John Carlisle's Malvolio (replacing Antony Sher) is the only major cast change in Bill Alexander's production since Jeremy Kingston reviewed it in Stratford last July; but the immediate impression is that its characters are meeting for the first time.

Nothing quite fits. There is a distracted, hollow-eyed Viola (Harriet Walter) who suggests more the last act of a tragedy than the opening of a comedy. Donald Sumpter's Orsino is a grizzled autocrat with none of the expected marks of a romantic lover. In years, at least, he is a match for Deborah Findlay's Olivia; but it then comes as a shock to meet her uncle Toby (Roger Allam) who could be half her age.

Feste (Bruce Alexander) is another middle-aged figure who pushes the privileges of folly to the limit of sardonic bombast and haunts the Illyrian courts in rags; though even his costume is more prepossessing than the bedraggled rompers in which the well-to-do Augucheck (David Bradley) hopes to seduce Olivia.

Illyria this time appears to be a part of the Greek hinter-land, represented (by Deirdre Clancy and Kit Surrey) with baggy trousers and embroidered full-length skirts; and a village setting with a bell tower at the apex of a honeycomb of massive walls, perspectives of deep blue sky through rough-cut archways, and benches on the the house exteriors. It is on those benches that the show starts taking shape.

Toby and Maria (Pippa Guard) flop down on one of them and start gossiping while she feeds him slices of melon. Olivia sits Feste down to advise him that his jokes are offending people. An intimate atmosphere at once springs up in this public square. It may not be the usual interior world of Twelfth Night—traditionally a play of mirrored rooms—but if affords the characters a means of coming to life.

On this occasion it is less an exquisite lyric comedy than a boisterous piece for the market place, animating every inch of the space. In particular, it excels in false exits, prolonged down narrow alleyways and out of sight, and then brought hurtling back like a ball just before the elastic snaps.

Harriet Walter shows signs of wilting in the face of all the full-blown ruderies, and comes into her own only when her knees turn to water before the Aguecheek duel. But the multiple intrigues go off like a bomb.

Allam's Sir Toby is a virile young hell-raiser, equipped with all the gentlemanly graces which vanish in a roar when the drink gets to him. Bradley's Aguecheek hovers round him as an grim-faced pleasure-seeker, always missing the point, and trying to preserve his dignity by pretending he understands perfectly.

It is a cruelly funny relationship, and the cruelty runs riot when it fastens on Carlisle's Malvolio, an invincibly stately personage who then arrives in the likeness of a Greek dancing girl before being chained up by the neck in a dripping dungeon. Seldom has the horror of the farcical climax been projected with such impact.

There is also comedy in the most unexpected places; as where Orsino's musicians flock round to give him lute therapy when Olivia finally rejects him; and in Toby's last act line, "I hate a drunken rogue" delivered straight to his patroness as a plea not to throw him out of the house.


Kenneth Branagh • Renaissance Theatre Company • 1987


Kenneth Branagh's production with the Renaissance Theatre Company set Twelfth Night in a wintry Illyria that evoked the England of Charles Dickens. H. R. Woudhuysen cautioned, however, that this was not "the Dickens of Pickwick or A Christmas Carol but of Bleak House and Little Dorrit, where secrecy and tragedy will eventually give birth to revelation and joy." Making full use of the play's seasonal associations, the set of the Riverside Studios featured a Christmas tree and a snowy cemetery in the center stage that was used for Malvolio's imprisonment. Critics generally approved of the director's sole liberty with the text: Branagh transposed the first and second scenes of the drama in order to combine the charm of the play with its underlying strangeness. Audiences and critics alike responded favorably to Branagh's direction; Kenneth Hurren declared it to have been "quite the most enjoyable production of the comedy I have seen for decades." This staging was further praised for several fine performances; outstanding among them was Richard Briers's Malvolio, which Hurren characterized as "as fine a realisation of that famous role as you could wish to see." Reviewers additionally praised the performances of Abigail McKern as Maria, Frances Barker as Viola, Anton Lesser as Feste, James Saxon as Sir Toby, and James Simmons as Sir Andrew Aguecheek.


Martin Hoyle (review date 5 December 1987)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Financial Times, December 5, 1987, p. xvii.

There's no stopping Kenneth Branagh. No sooner has his face disappeared from our Sunday night television screens and The Fortunes of War than it reappears on the large screen in A Month in the Country. The West End is already enjoying his production of John Sessions in The Life of Napoleon, and now Branagh's bravely named Renaissance Theatre Company opens its first full-scale Shakespearian enterprise at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. A dankness has seeped up from the Thames; for this Twelfth Night is a chill affair, sober, respectful and curiously mirthless.

Branagh as director opens the play with Viola enquiring of the sea captain what country this is, from behind a gauze. The ensuing scene is decently spoken, if fitfully visible, and sets the tone for the rest of the production. When the curtain rises (or rather falls to the ground) it reveals a spacious set, by Bunny Christie, that rather dwarfs the performances. Balustrades, broken masonry, scattered statuary, ivy-twined gates, bare trees, the odd piece of furniture—all combine for a cemetery with terraces and ramps, on one of which four musicians (wind, cello, percussion, piano) play Pat Doyle's melancholy music.

The mood takes its cue from the bitterly misanthropic Feste of Anton Lesser, a faintly gypsy-like hobo with a carpet bag, whose smouldering anger and contempt reach a natural climax with his furious baiting of the imprisoned Malvolio. This intriguing reading is saddled with a final setting of "The rain it raineth every day" that is vocally ungrateful and plainly a strain to sing; otherwise there is immense promise here.

Promise too in Caroline Langrishe's Olivia, immediately yearning for some sort of relationship when she sees the disguised Viola, genuinely upset by Malvolio's final humiliation. The Victorian setting provides her with fetching mourning—black velvet and jet—and she is patently an efficient as well as humane mistress of the household.

Inevitably attention focuses on what that superb comic technician Richard Briers will make of Malvolio. The fussy air of primly affronted fastidiousness faintly recalls the late Stafford Cripps. This dried-up functionary of the creaking voice thrusts out a Gladstonian jaw as he rumbles out his fantasies about Olivia in a tone of loathing. The opening of the hoax letter is a comic vignette: his final exit, ragged, begrimed and degraded, is taken with absolute dignity, and quite rightly left the house silent and embarrassed for him. There are signs that Mr Briers is holding himself in nobly. He may be a victim of the lack of buoyancy that causes the comic scenes to bog down. James Saxon's Toby is the most colourless and characterless I have seen, and James Simmons's Aguecheek is simply undeveloped.

The gem of the production is Frances Barber's Viola, played in what one can term the Judi Dench mould: plucky, loving, sweet-natured, warm-hearted, sturdily convincing as a boy in her three-piece grey suit. The reunion with her brother (Christopher Hollis, a little stiff) worked its magic. A thoughtful, intelligent production, then, that needs to relax and enjoy itself much more.

Michael Billington (review date 5 December 1987)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in The Guardian, December 5, 1987.

At first I thought we might be in for some shocks as Kenneth Branagh's production of Twelfth Night at the Riverside Studios reversed the order of Shakespeare's first two scenes. But it turns out to be a genial, generous actor-oriented production chiefly remarkable for its use of a Victorian Christmas setting and for Richard Briers's outstanding Malvolio, a cross between Mr Murdstone and Samuel Smiles.

The snow-flaked Christmas setting strikes me as very odd. It enables the designer, Bunny Christie, to fill the wide stage with white from Olivia's portals on the right to Orsino's tomb-decked manor on the left. It is also possible that the play was first performed as a post-Yule entertainment at Whitehall in 1601. But everything in it cries out summer. Olivia dismisses Malvolio's cross-gartered, yellow stockings as "mid-summer madness." Fabian describes Sir Andrew's challenge as "more matter for a May morning." That doesn't suggest to me a world of Christmas trees and gift-boxes.

But although Mr Branagh, in only his second Shakespeare production, comes armed with a strong visual concept, he gives his actors a lot of elbow-room. This works very well when—like Mr Briers and Anton Lesser—they are naturally inventive. It also leaves certain darker areas of the play unexplored. Nowhere in James Saxon's bland, checktrousered Christmas-card Sir Toby do I find a hint of the character's exploitative cruelty. And while Abigail McKern's Maria is a neat Victorian lady's maid, where is the doting admiration for a drunken sot and the attempt to impress him with a cruel practical joke? Mr Branagh leaves some of the relationships suspiciously vague.

The chief beneficiary of the Victorian setting is Malvolio whom Richard Briers plays superbly as a frock-coated, wildly-ambitious fanatic: a Mr Hudson who can't wait to get upstairs into his lady's chamber. With his flattened, centre-parted hair and mouth down-turned like a reversed crescent moon, he is almost unrecognisable; in the box-tree scene he skirts the usual innuendoes to stress his dream of being "Count Malvolio"; and when he bares his teeth in a distorted smile, it is like watching the unveiling of some grotesque monument from which you would hide the children's eyes.

Yet when Mr Briers crawls out of his prison cell on all fours like a wounded animal, he evokes one's pity without unbalancing the play or suggesting that Shakespeare was writing a Steward's Tragedy.

It is a star performance without being a stage-hogging one, thanks to strong casting elsewhere. Anton Lesser's shaggy-locked Feste (singing Come Away Death, incidentally, to Pat Doyle's arrangement of a Paul McCartney tune) looks as if he might be waiting for Godot rather than Olivia but has the right vindictive asperity. Frances Barber, crop-haired in grey flannel, makes Viola a clear-spoken and giggly sport: all I miss is the hint of orphaned melancholy with which Shakespeare invests the character. And Caroline Langrishe is a fine Olivia combining aristocratic beauty with clear hints that she cannot wait to get her hands on the boy-emissary as she buries her head in her lap.

They say there is a perfect Twelfth Night laid up for us in heaven. In the meantime, we have a briskly-enjoyable one on tap in Hammersmith. Mr Branagh's RTC (Renaissance Theatre Company) may not be quite ready to oust the RSC but it is right that Shakespeare should not be a Stratford monopoly and I shall long remember the sight of Mr Briers extending an outflung hand to an imagined Sir Toby like a Richard the Third who has been boning up on Self-Help.

Peter Kemp (review date 5 December 1987)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in The Independent, December 5, 1987. Reprinted in London Theatre Record, Vol. VII, No. 25, December 3 - 16, 1987, p. 1577.

Opal and taffeta—materials that flicker between one tinge and another—are both mentioned in Twelfth Night: appropriately for, placed at a time of the year when festivity shades back into sobriety, the play itself ceaselessly ripples between the bright and the sombre. Comic emotings clench into aching emotions. Appearances fluctuate, setting up undulations between pleasure and pain. It is entirely typical of the play's atmosphere that the songs of its clown, Feste, are forlorn.

Recognising all this, Kenneth Branagh's superlative production highlights it by setting the drama in nineteenth-century dress. The play's graver side gets translated into the Victorian preoccupation with mortality. Ivy-wreathed tombstones and a funerary monument form part of the scenery. The self-indulgent luxuriating in grief mocked by Twelfth Night is decked out in the extravagant trappings of Victorian mourning.

Olivia—her melancholic posturings gracefully caught by Caroline Langrishe—wears a jet-black velvet dress, swathes herself in a black veil and languishes on a black chaise longue. To convey Orsino's voluptuous mopings, Christopher Ravenscroft—at first too genuinely hang-dog, but gaining in affected strickenness as the play proceeds—paces round in a sable-coloured frock-coat

In Twelfth Night, the memento mori—"Youth's a stuff will not endure"—both whets and dampens joie de vivre: decay is a reminder not to delay. Knuckling aside tears at thoughts of her brother's death as she briskly sets out to survive, Frances Barber's lively, lucid Viola demonstrates this sensitively and robustly.

Balancing the Victorian inclination towards the mortuary, the production stresses its gusto for Yuletide revelry. Stark wintry branches are silhouetted against the back-ground of Bunny Christie's set, but at its forefront is a candle-bedecked Christmas tree. Lanterns glow through flurries of snow. Swirls of music—by Pat Doyle and Paul McCartney—exuberantly accompany the whooping gamesomeness of Toby Belch and his cronies. Cheerily fleshed out by James Saxon, Belch resembles a genial toper in a nineteenth century print.

James Simmons' permanently wooden-faced Aguecheek looks like a Victorian toy soldier in his Hussar's uniform with its braid and frogging. Maria, performed with dashing skill by Abigail McKern, is a perky parlour-maid. Fabian—a slight role cleverly made substantial by Shaun Prendergast—becomes a dapper, knowing butler.

At the centre of the evening's success is Richard Briers' masterly Malvolio. Black-suited, shoulders hunched in tetchy sub-servience, cheeks biliously sucked in, he at first makes the character hilariously appalling, like a disgruntled undertaker gradually succumbing to megalomania. Then his portrayal modulates into something harsher—with astute help from the production.

Sparing none of the savagery of his tormenting and incarceration, it has Belch, Maria and Feste suddenly falling silent and avoiding each other's eyes in embarrassment as they realise how far their euphoric vengeance has taken them towards cruelty. Matching this, self-contempt regularly rips disgustedly through the professional foolery of Anton Lesser's restless, farouche Feste.

To the end, the production keeps up Twelfth Night's shot-silk shimmer between the cheering and the chastening. As the couples lope off enthusiastically, two casualties of the marital happiness—Antonio with his redundant love for Sebastian, and the rejected Aguecheek—are left alone at the sides of the stage.

Throughout, placing of characters is always finely judged—as is the pacing of events: so that the play's elegant structure stands out beautifully. In this production by the Renaissance Theatre Company, Kenneth Branagh has achieved a first-rate feat: doing sensuous justice to Twelfth Night's velvety surface while never letting you forget the bones underneath.

Kate Kellaway (review date 6 December 1987)

SOURCE: "Frosty Festivity," in The Observer, December 6, 1987, p. 23.

From the programme arranged like an advent calendar and the stage upon which at first you can make out only wintry shapes because of an expanse of gauze which veils the view, it is apparent that Kenneth Branagh's Twelfth Night (Riverside) takes delight in mystery and discovery.

And when the world is unwrapped, the gauze lifted on Bunny Christie's set, the effect is entrancing. Illyria is a luxurious but ruined place of broken balustrades, statuettes and fugitive furniture—a grandfather clock and chaise-longue stand out incongruously in the snow. Throughout the evening, high up on a stone terrace, musicians play Pat Doyle's and Paul McCartney's sweet but melancholy music, specially commissioned for this production.

The period is imprecisely defined, Edwardian perhaps—or Illyria's equivalent. Viola and Sebastian are both got up in grey flannel suits. Kenneth Branagh has made sure that they also resemble each other in mannerisms and tone—both are fervent, humorous and emphatic. Frances Barber's charming Viola has exactly the right blend of self-consciousness and excitement at the impropriety of her disguise. Grave and animated by turns, she is also wonderfully cheeky, delivering Orsino's compliments to Olivia with her hands stuffed into her pockets. Olivia (Caroline Langrishe) and Orsino (Christopher Ravenscroft) also, in a sense, resemble each other: their characters are, here, complementary: intelligent, courtly and obsessive in love.

Although this is a festive, magical version of Twelfth Night, celebration is never untouched by sadness. Feste (Anton Lesser) ensures that this is so, playing a sweet and bitter fool, supplier of champagne and sad songs—a fool and a wayfarer only because it is too painful to be wise. He drowns his sorrows in the company of James Saxon's wonderful, uproarious Sir Toby, a rosy reprobate popping Alka Seltzer pills, and of James Simmons's emaciated, self-pitying Sir Andrew Aguecheek who honours the role down to the last detail (his hair really does look like 'flax on a distaff '). Diminutive Maria (Abigail McKern) has an extraordinarily infectious laugh, but we do not need her help in responding to Richard Briers's memorable Malvolio. Briers plays him as an elderly valet stupefied with self-importance. Hilarity is followed by pity. When he appears at the end, mud-spattered and humiliated, the message is clear:

In nature, there's no blemish but the mind
None can be called deformed but the unkind.

Christopher Edwards (review date 12 December 1987)

SOURCE: "In Festive Spirit," in The Spectator, Vol. 259, No. 8318, December 12, 1987, p. 41.

Too much has been made of the supposed bitterness of Shakespeare's Arcadia. For instance, to Auden, Shakespeare was in no mood for comedy in this play. Instinctively, I side with Hazlitt who held that Twelfth Night was one of the most delightful of the comedies, containing little satire and no spleen: 'Shakespeare's comic genius resembles the bee rather in its power of extracting sweets from weeds or poisons, than in leaving a sting behind it.' At any rate, the spleen should not be seen as paramount. For this, among other reasons, Kenneth Branagh's generous-spirited, unsplenetic production at the Riverside Studios is very welcome.

Those mourning the passing of classically spoken blank verse may find only patchy comfort here, it is true. And those who prefer their Feste songs to be sung to traditional tunes may resist the contributions of Paul McCartney and Pat Doyle to the musical side of the evening. For my part, I disliked the crooning ballads but enjoyed the occasional accompanying passages. All the same, this is a skilfully wrought production—funny, moving and festive in its vaguely Edwardian Illyrian setting. Seasonal touches include generous helpings of false snow, a Christmas tree and an advent calendar programme. But it is Richard Briers's Malvolio who offers the most welcome cheer. At first sight it may have seemed just shrewd marketing by Branagh to cast a television sitcom star in the part, but Briers makes the part memorably his own, rising high above his cosy television persona.

The set, by Bunny Christie, is both skilful and serviceable. Shrouded at the back with white sheets, Illyria is an artful clutter of broken balustrades, odd pieces of furniture, bare wintry trees and, for Orsino's opening 'If music be the food of love' speech, a raised seat overlooking a graveyard. Despite its apparent bleakness, an essentially celebratory spirit lurks not far below the surface—vide Toby Belch's secret haul of liquor hidden beneath the fringed flap of one of the tombstones. Enter, in Scene HI, the round, bearded, pink-cheeked form of Sir Toby Belch himself (James Saxon). 'You must come in earlier o'nights,' says Abigail McKern's sprightly, engaging Maria, as she obligingly pops an Alka Seltzer into his glass. James Saxon is a worthy leading reveller; Sir Andrew Aguecheek (James Simmons) his natural, credulous and absurdly funny gull.

Briers's first entrance—dressed in black, hair slicked down, nose in the air—bears the true stamp of Malvolio's sickly self-love; the pinched, overweening air of self-importance makes us all willing collaborators in Maria's device to ridicule him. Immediately before the letter trick is sprung, his fantasies of preference are both ferocious and funny—Briers's eyes rolling dementedly as he fancies himself Count Malvolio, crushing Sir Toby and his followers. Briers is very amusing in these scenes, as he is painfully moving later on when he realises how thoroughly he has been duped. It is a notable performance.

Of course, there are elements of harsh discord in the play. Malvolio, locked up as a madman, is cruelly treated, but he deserves it and his punishment is, more or less, just. Nor is Sir Toby just a genial bon viveur. He cruelly exploits Sir Andrew, but here too he is punished with a cracked skull from the martial Sebastian. It is a question of focus, of what elements you allow to prevail. Branagh admits the minor notes but allows harmony to prevail.

Anton Lesser's Feste, as well as supplying much of the play's humour, channels those discordant elements. His clown is possessed of more than a merely professional cynicism. For all his wit he is also genuinely weary at the world's folly—at times he seems driven with impatience. Lesser, looking like a hippy pop star on a low-budget tour, carries the role through—crooning ballads and all—with effortless authority and pointed intensity. Finally, there is the unifying presence of Viola, played by Frances Barber with considerable (if at times slightly forced) charm, humour and spirit. For once, this Viola makes a very plausible-looking twin to Christopher Hollis's Sebastian.

Sheridan Morley (review date 16 December 1987)

SOURCE: "Great 'Night' Out," in Punch, Vol. 293, No. 7668, December 16, 1987, p. 53.

"If music be the food of love, play on" is arguably the most famous and oft-quoted opening line in all Shakespearian comedy. It takes, therefore, a certain amount of courage to start Twelfth Night without it, or indeed that whole first scene. Instead, Kenneth Branagh's new production at Riverside Studios plunges us straight into scene two and Viola's shipwrecked arrival: "What country, friends, is this?" "This is Illyria, lady" but it is like no Illyria we have ever seen before. Far from any seashore, all later references to May mornings and sunshine ignored, we would appear to be deep in some park surrounding Anton Chekhov's winter residence. There, taking the play's title quite literally, the designer Bunny Christie offers us snowflakes, half-ruined statues, immense gothic tombstones and a generally ravishing if melancholic landscape apparently only waiting for someone to come and paint it as a Victorian Christmas card.

Through the snowflakes wander Aguecheek and Toby Belch and Maria and Feste and Fabian, not figures of the usual slapstick fun but poets and dreamers and losers apparently all in search of Vanya or at any rate the next train to Moscow: at any moment you expect to hear the fall of trees in some distant cherry orchard. This may not, therefore, be a Twelfth Night to appeal to Shakespearian purists: but it is one of the most thoughtful and beautiful of recent years, characterised by a haunting new score by Paul McCartney and Pat Doyle and crowned by a Malvolio from Richard Briers which is far and away the most comically tragic since Olivier played the role at Stratford all of thirty years ago.

Mr Branagh has all kinds of other ideas about the play: Orsino eventually gets his opening scene, albeit in flash-back, and we then get a dropout hippie Feste (Anton Lesser), a Viola (Frances Barber) who is alone the pure innocent abroad in a park where all are trying to betray her, a bully-boy Fabian (Shaun Prendergast) and a Belch/Aguecheek (James Saxon and James Simmons) double-act thin, enough to hide behind the Christmas tree which masks them from Malvolio.

Everything about this production suggests that the actors are back in charge, and that what they have done under Branagh's leadership for his own Renaissance company is to restructure an all-too-familiar text locate a palm court trio high above the stage and then go to work on an immensely intriguing collection of character studies. True, the Olivia and the Orsino are a little nondescript, and there are moments towards the end when invention and courage seem to flag, but that is a small price to pay for the realisation that Malvolio goes within an act from comic fool to tragic victim, so that his final off-stage scream of revenge is worthy of Lear, or that Viola alone retains awareness of a world elsewhere, far removed from all these manic Chekhovian romantic defeatists. It is a rare and wondrous Christmas treat: hasten along, as they close it in mid-January.

H. R. Woudhuysen (review date 18-24 December 1987)

SOURCE: "Melancholy Pleasures," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4420, December 18-24, 1987, p. 1405.

It is ten to eight in Illyria, snowing, and Christmas is well under way. There are plenty of drinks and jokes, a tree and presents, as well as songs and hangovers. The twelve days of Christmas pass; there is more snow; time untangles the lovers' knot and Malvolio swears his revenge: it is still ten to eight on the grandfather clock. So many things have happened: the usual family rows and disagreements, barely suppressed jealousies and resentments, choice specimens of bad behaviour and semi-private romantic intrigues are all remembered through a haze of drinks which satisfy various appetites; Christmas has come and gone again, but clock-time for once has stood still. Illyria is not hot and sunny, but neither is it really cold. It has that warm dampness that comes with snow—a place somewhere between laughter and tears, but which is never merely sentimental. The country has its large houses for Orsino and Olivia, but its only visible part is an iron-gated graveyard, broad enough for the Duke to feed his melancholy love, Olivia to mourn her dead father and brother, and where her Steward can be imprisoned and tormented within a convenient tomb. Illyria is not quite Victorian England but very like our Dickens-inspired idea of it: black, formal clothes, stiff, formal behaviour covering a world of restrained erotic desire and unrestrained imaginative power: not the Dickens of Pickwick or A Christmas Carol but of Bleak House and Little Dorrit, where secrecy and tragedy will eventually give birth to revelation and joy.

The pleasure principle lies firmly behind Kenneth Branagh's production of Twelfth Night, resulting in a carefully measured reading of the play which brings out its irresistible charm, without suppressing its undeniable awkwardnesses and strangeness. This is deliberately emphasized by reversing the order of the play's first and second scenes, making Viola's resolution to serve Olivia even more abrupt and lacking in credibility than Johnson found it to be. Branagh is well served by a young Viola (Frances Barber) and an attractive Olivia (Caroline Langrishe). Most of all, he has a first-rate Maria (Abigail McKern), who moves convincingly between her mistress and the five satellites of the household. This quintet, Belch, Ague-cheek, Malvolio, Maria and Feste, come perilously close to taking the play over, so assured and well worked are their performances. Indeed, in a sense, Twelfth Night offers less to the actors playing the four lovers (especially to the Duke and Sebastian) than it does to Olivia's house-hold. James Simmons and James Saxon as the thin man and the fat man, with Anton Lesser's sinister, longhaired Feste, under the supervision and direction of the expert Maria, are a real match even for Richard Briers's superb Malvolio. Briers creates a painfully credible Steward, in turns pathetic and hateful, both Uriah Heep and Mr Guppy, cruelly abused but, we feel, badly in need of some pain and humiliation.

It is no mean achievement to create a Twelfth Night which so successfully evokes and captures the moment and mood of the play. This is partly made possible by the production's well-judged lighting, but more is contributed by pleasing music written by Pat Doyle and Paul McCartney and played by a quartet of musicians (piano, cello, horn and timpani), who are on stage throughout the production, discreetly hidden by some bare trees. Perhaps the only disappointment of an evening otherwise completely without vulgarity, is Feste's singing in an American folk-song drone. But this is only a small failing in a production which fulfils most of what one wants and always hopes for from the play.

Kenneth Hurren (review date February 1988)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Plays & Players, No. 413, February, 1988, pp. 26-7.

Confronted with the business of reviewing yet another production of Twelfth Night, which sometimes seems to occur about every three or four weeks. I have often thought to fill up a bit of the space by detailing the plot. Not in this journal, of course, but there are other readerships that must be constantly irked by reviewers' assumption that everyone is as familiar with Shakespeare's plots as they are. I have felt it would be helpful to these happy illiterates to distinguish, at least, between the two great transvestite comedies—Twelfth Night, whose heroine passes herself off as a boy so successfully that another woman falls in love with her, and As You Like It, whose heroine passes herself as a boy so successfully that even the man who has already fallen in love with her can't tell the difference.

The great kindness of this would ordinarily be to protect the innocent: it is a terrible thought that they should find themselves unwittingly exposed to Sir Toby Belch and his cronies when the worst they had mistakenly expected was Touchstone. But, as it happens, that would not be so terrible in the case of Kenneth Branagh's production. God knows, the low-comedy crew attached to Olivia's house-hold cannot be other than painful, and the more their 'business' is elaborated the worse they become. Here they are judiciously subdued. They go through the necessary motions of the Malvolio jest, but are otherwise handled with a discretion that precludes their actually becoming an active nuisance.

What a remarkable talent is amongst us in young Branagh. I begin to think there has not been such a boy wonder since Orson Welles. Not only is he one of the finest actors of his generation, he also writes plays (not, so far, with spectacular success, but that will may come), has formed his own Renaissance Theatre Company which has three major Shakespearian productions on its agenda in the next few months, and he directs—with, it may be said on the evidence of this Twelfth Night, considerable distinction.

This is quite the most enjoyable production of the comedy I have seen for decades, and it is achieved with, by today's lights, a merciful minimum of innovative 'interpretation' and wayward eccentricity. There are, to be sure, one or two aspects that may disconcert pedantic purists. The first two scenes, for example, are transposed—but that, I am persuaded, is advantageous to the flow of the narrative. And all is set outdoors in winter, which is less defensible when there is reference to 'midsummer madness' while snow is perversely falling; but anyway it makes for a pretty and seasonable setting (stunningly designed by Bunny Christie, with the residences of Orsino and Olivia at opposite sides of a white winter-garden with graveyard statuary, and a quartet of Spartans on the terrace to provide the music) and allows the conspirators to bring on a portable Christmas tree to hide behind in Malvolio's letter scene.

The costumes are vaguely Victorian, which seems odd when we come to the Viola-Aguecheek sword duel, but any tetchy criticism of period anachronisms is disarmed by the otherwise incongruous presence under a leafless tree of a grandfather clock, its hands stationary while the comedy's fancies and fantasies are enacted during some wondrous breathing-space in the history of the world.

All would be lost, of course, if the performances did not match the conception. Happily, they do; and while the Malvolio of Richard Briers is as fine a realisation of that famous role you could wish to see, encompassing all the gravity and absurdity of the man's pretensions with the confident technique of a superb comic actor and catching as well the touching pathos of his humiliation, it never unbalances the play into a one-man show. The wit and style of Frances Barber's Viola, the cool passion of Caroline Langrishe's Olivia, the dark hint of sadness in Anton Lesser's vagabond Feste, the sprightliness of Abigail McKern's piquant Maria, and indeed a cast without a single damaging weakness see to that.

Jill Pearce (review date April 1988)

SOURCE: Review of Twelfth Night in Cahiers Élisa-béthains, No. 33, April, 1988, pp. 63-4.

The newly-formed Renaissance Theatre Company was launched in style at the Riverside Studios with a sell-out run of Twelfth Night, directed by Kenneth Branagh and produced by David Parfitt, who together direct the new company. Other interesting productions to be taken on tour in 1988 are Much Ado About Nothing (director, Judi Dench), Hamlet (Derek Jacobi), and As You Like It (Geraldine McEwan—who was taking a keen interest in Twelfth Night the evening we were there).

This was a very brightly-lit seasonal Twelfth Night with a Christmas tree used to hide the conspirators from Malvolio. The very wide stage at the Riverside Studios was unobtrusively broken up into different areas, and yet the size was also exploited cleverly (designer, Bunny Christie). On the left, a white door with steps leading up to it was used to great effect as the entrance to Olivia's house, while on the right, an ironwork fence and white backcloth gave an effective final exit to Malvolio, whose vow to be revenged on the whole pack of them could be heard as he made his way out of the green garden gate and down the path. A four-piece orchestra, set on a raised dais left stage, provided accompaniment to the songs, reworked by the Renaissance Company composer and musical director, Pat Doyle, in collaboration with Paul McCartney. Centre stage was dominated by a snowy cemetery, one of whose vaults provided Malvolio's prison. A ramp led up to a throne-like chair, perched in isolation, where Orsino was first to be seen, listening to the music, while the opening scene of the play, brought forward, was Viola's arrival in Illyria.

The costume was late nineteenth-century, and for the most part the colours were subdued greys, black and white. James Simmons as Aguecheek added a touch of colour when he appeared in full regimental uniform to fight his reluctant duel, and James Saxon as Sir Toby Belch was also more colourfully attired, although his performance was somewhat subdued. Maria (Abigail McKern) was seen to be the only driving force behind the conspiracy against Malvolio and rather overdid the merriment on observing the results of her efforts. Shaun Prendergast, pitching his voice very high, was good as Fabian. One only caught a brief glimpse of Viola (Frances Barber) in her maiden's weeds before she reappeared as Cesario, tightly buttoned into a three-piece suit to conceal a somewhat buxom figure. Her appearance was a little incongruous in the romantic lyrical part of her role with the melancholy and good-looking Orsino of Christopher Ravenscroft falling for her as heavily at the end as the beautiful and lively Olivia of Caroline Langrishe had earlier. However, it went well with Cesario's pert manner when trying to manage the recalcitrant Olivia. Christopher Hollis make a credible Sebastian and Tim Barker a sinister Antonio with a terrible birthmark. Anton Lesser played Feste as a gipsy with long tangled locks and ragged clothes, frequently swigging from a flask and always seemingly in the angry stage of drunkenness. It was an interpretation too heavy on the cynicism—the lines, We are some of her trappings … were uttered with venomous hatred—and it was at odds with the gentle melancholy of the songs which he sang in-differently.

The gem of the evening was Richard Briers' Malvolio. A centre parting and false teeth made it hard to recognize this well-known comic actor as he stepped out of Olivia's house and paused on top of the steps to dazzle us with his amazing smile. Everything about his performance was impeccable, his strut, timing, peevish manner, voice and measured speech and above all the dignity he maintained when he emerged dishevelled and ridiculed from his prison. He even managed to look dignified when he appeared in night-gown and Wellington boots to remonstrate with the carousing Toby Belch and company. He must rate as one of the great Malvolios.

It would certainly have been worth seeing this Twelfth Night for Malvolio alone, but other aspects will make it memorable, in particular, the effective wintry set.


Peter Hall • Playhouse Theatre •1991


Eschewing a recent trend that emphasized the ideological potential of the theatre, Hall presented Twelfth Night without imposing contemporary political and social concerns on the narrative. Critical opinion varied markedly as to the success of Hall's approach. Peter J. Smith argued that the production "failed to satisfy," despite having "captured both the magic and the melancholy of the script." Similarly, Eric Sams maintained that the staging was hampered by a lack of direction. Bernard Levin, by contrast, lavishly praised Hall's shaping of the drama, making particular mention of the cast's sensitivity to Shakespearean diction. Hall set the play in the Caroline period, and the stage designs presented an Illyria that Christopher Edwards described as a "glorious autumnal prospect—apple trees and falling brown leaves—which dips down to a stretch of mist-shrouded water." Among the performances, Eric Porter's Malvolio proved the subject of controversy. Irving Wardle, for example, maintained that nobody would shed any tears for Porter's "fatuously capering Malvolio," while Michael Coveney took the contrary position that "there is simply no better Malvolio in the world than Eric Porter." While this staging pleased audiences, critics such as Roy Walker voiced certain objections: "This was a Twelfth Night that did not altogether succeed, but a production that continually threw fresh light on a comedy about which most of us have long ceased to think freshly." The cast further included Dinsdale Landen as Sir Toby Belch, Richard Garnett as Orsino, Sara Crowe as Olivia, Maria Miles as Viola, and David Ryall as Feste.


Benedict Nightingale (review date 1 March 1991)

SOURCE: "The Sun Returns to Illyria," in The Times, London, March 1, 1991, p. 22.

Not long ago Twelfth Night was regarded as Shakespeare's most serene comedy. Then the scholars remembered that the great tragedies came only a few years later, and began to see darkness, danger and malice behind the play's smiles, and, inevitably, the directors followed. Toby Belch became a horrid, bulbous drone, the practical jokes he plays on Malvolio almost demanded investigation by Amnesty International, and Illyria seemed barely sunnier than Birnam Wood or Dunsinane.

Peter Hall clearly wants to edge back the pendulum. The orange tree in Timothy O'Brien's courtyard set is shedding autumnal leaves David Ryall's clown has his lugubrious moments, but otherwise melancholy is missing. Indeed, Dinsdale Landen's Belch, with his curls, looping moustachios, red Carolean garb and genial grin, seems to be auditioning for a famous painting by Frans Hals. He is not just a laughing Cavalier but a hilariously gurgling one. There is no more meanness in him than might be expected of Santa Claus after a tiring night spent clambering down the world's chimneys.

That is not the only trend Hall challenges. His production rejects the guileful detail, the verbal nuances, the pregnant pauses so beloved of the RSC in particular. That entails some loss (Landen burbles "byarenthprpshn" for "be yare in thy preparation") but also a new briskness and momentum. Moreover, Hall takes pains to establish points important to the plot usually neglected by super-subtle directors.

Thus Richard Garnett's Orsino clearly feels a half-conscious pull towards Maria Miles's fine, bold Viola. At one moment he actually strokes her chin and kisses her lips. That makes it easier to believe his renunciation of Sara Crowe's pert Olivia for a girl he thought a boy. Again, Martin Jarvis has been encouraged to play Ague-cheek, not as the drip of tradition, but as the "great quarreller" the text calls him.

True, that doesn't explain why he dresses in what I at first mistook for a huge wicker picnic basket but later realised was a yellow plaid blanket that had been converted into knickerbockers stretching up to his wispy off-white hair. The visual impression is of Beckett's crazed Lucky playing celebrity golf. Nevertheless, this incongruous figure has a surly truculence, a macho swagger that for once explains why he is quick to cuff or challenge those he thinks he can beat, such as the "male" Viola.

That leaves what could, should and maybe will be the evening's major performance, Eric Porter's Malvolio. Certainly, his clay-coloured, pock-marked face exudes a wonderfully wintry disdain. Certainly, he twists in plausible glee when upmarket fantasies seize him, and certainly he frisks comically enough in his yellow stockings. But if the idea is to suggest that inside the old, gristly mutton is a lamb, waiting for release, it does not yet come off. His two Malvolios have yet to cohere into one. Time may do it.

Malcolm Rutherford (review date 3 March 1991)

SOURCE: "Operatic Twelfth Night," in Financial Times, March 2-3, 1991, p. XX.

Sir Peter Hall's production of Twelfth Night at the Play-house Theatre is remarkably pretty to look at. The dominant colours in the set are red and green: a tree with bright red apples, the windfalls lying on the grass. Nature spills over into the costumes. Sir Toby Belch appropriately has more than a touch of red about him. There is also the black and yellow of Malvolio.

Other characters are more flaxen. This is late summer or very early autumn. The Playhouse has a very tall stage which lends itself well to this display of colour schemes. There is a shade of opera rather than drama to the production.

Otherwise, this Twelfth Night is uneven. Since Sir Toby is played by Dinsdale Landen and Sir Andrew Aguecheek by Martin Jarvis, those performances at least are very professional. Their singing and drinking scenes are outstanding. The best of the bunch, however, is Feste, the Fool, played by David Ryall. He is older than you might expect, and also wiser. This is the first time that I have seen the Fool as the central figure in the play.

The main weakness among the performances is Sara Crowe's Olivia. Ms Crowe is the actress who recently played Sybil alongside Joan Collins's Amanda in Noel Coward's Private Lives and was widely praised for making so much of the part. Here she is a pouting, petulant spoiled child who looks and talks like a dumb blonde. Since we know that she can act and speak perfectly well, the blame cannot fairly be placed on her. Playing the role this way can only have been imposed from the top. The result is pointlessly perverse, mildly irritating and should be corrected.

Malvolio, played by Eric Porter, has his moments. He is especially good when reflecting on his social ambitions before finding the near-fatal fake letter. Yet I wonder if I am alone in finding some aspects of Shakespeare's comedies increasingly unsympathetic. The maltreatment of Malvolio, which starts as a joke but degenerates, is offensive to our age.

The current English Shakespeare Company's production of The Merchant of Venice tries to get round this kind of problem by being as sympathetic as possible towards Shy-lock. I suspect that Peter Hall is trying the same approach by being kinder than usual to Malvolio in his opening scenes. There are limits, however, to how far you can play against a text that is not overflowing with the milk of human kindness.

It is also possible, judging by this production, that Hall thinks that Twelfth Night really would be better as an opera. I am not at all sure that he is wrong. The twins, Sebastian and Viola, could just as well step out of Mozart. The brilliant designing and lighting are done by Timothy O'Brien and Rick Fisher respectively, both of whom, like Hall, have considerable opera experience. Their work here would look very good at Glyndebourne.

Irving Wardle (review date 3 March 1991)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Independent on Sunday. March 3, 1991. Reprinted in London Theatre Record, Vol. XI, No. 5, February 26-March 11, 1991, pp. 256-57.

Anyone who has kept up with the Shakespearian repertory over the past 15 years will have noticed a gradual erosion of the old boundary between the "dark comedies" and their popular counterparts. As You Like It now plunges the pastoral refugees into worse conditions than those they left behind; Much Ado About Nothing celebrates the union of two dislikeable, sharp-tongued wall-flowers, while Twelfth Night has been all but engulfed in cruelty, pain, and the sense of mortal transience.

Peter Hall's production calls a halt to this process. Nobody will shed any tears for Eric Porter's fatuously capering Malvolio; or recoil from the sadistic brutality of Dins-dale Landen's relentlessly genial Sir Toby. The show is out to reclaim the play's lost territory. It does nothing to gratify the critical appetite for ugly secrets; but I think it will please a lot of spectators.

Hall takes his cue not from the middle-period dark comedies but from the late romances. What he emphasises most is the story of a tortuous journey towards a long-desired reunion. Viola, a creature of the sea, continues her voyage on land; and if, as a heroine, she does little to navigate her own course, it is because she is no match for the surrounding elements. When John Caird directed the play in the early 1980s he set it on a desolate promontory and underscored the action with lavishly orchestrated sea music. Hall reduces the music (by Stephen Edwards) to a string motif that recurs like a distant memory, and opts for a masque-like setting—a formal park overcast with cypresses (by Timothy O'Brien) where the Caroline velvets and satins glint darkly as in a Watteau fête champàtre.

The mood is melancholy without becoming oppressive, and responsive to delicate atmospheric shifts. Orsino (Richard Garnett) languishes through the opening scene to an onstage lute number which then mingles with the sea music as the castaways crawl ashore: thus the show distinguishes from the outset between narcissistically self-induced emotion and the feelings of the heart. Melancholy evaporates like the sea-mists when Toby is trucked on, a scarlet hogshead boozing in his half-timbered inglenook; but once Feste joins the party with "O mistress mine", his oafish listeners, too, are overcome with a shared sense of loss and regret.

Otherwise, their usual relationship is reversed. Landen plays a perpetually beaming Toby to a truculent Ague-cheek (Martin Jarvis) who is always looking for a pretext to draw his sword; which pays handsome dividends when he arrives at the duel scene. There is not much depth in the comic partnerships: Aguecheek is spared his erotic humiliations, and Maria (Diane Bull) is simply a bundle of fun with no evident marital designs on Toby. But that way darkness lies.

The spirit of the show resides in the casting of the remaining four principals so as to contrast youth with age. Maria Miles's gamely cherubic Viola and Sara Crowe's virginally strangulated Olivia are at the beginning of their emotional lives: Porter's grizzled Malvolio and David Ryall's wearily laconic Feste at the end of theirs. It takes some believing when the stately Porter erupts into a last tango for a partner who could be his granddaughter; but at least he emerges as the production's supreme victim of erotic delusion. Ryall, who controls the house with his songs and abandons his gags as a lost cause, appears to be savouring the human comedy from long distance; and then, from the Sir Topaz scenes, moves into action as the cruellest character in the piece. Hall has preserved one small area of darkness.

Michael Coveney (review date 3 March 1991)

SOURCE: Review of Twelfth Night in The Observer, March 3, 1991. Reprinted in London Theatre Record, Vol. XI, No. 5, February 26-March 11, 1991, p. 259.

It would be charming, but dishonest of me, to be complimentary about Twelfth Night at the Playhouse, the theatre you can never quite find near Charing Cross. There is simply no better Malvolio in the world than Eric Porter, who repeats the silkily incensed Puritan he first launched in the RSC's very first season in 1960 and repeated, more gustily, at the ill-fated St George's in Tufnell Park some years ago.

But all the rest is not so much dire as dull. This can be the most tedious of comedies if played without sex appeal and inventive comic inflection. It is here played without sex appeal and inventive comic inflection, although it is seductively designed by Timothy O'Brien. Sara Crowe's Olivia talks in a curdled, irritating voice similar to the one she employed in her over-praised Private Lives role. I would hate to think that she might talk like this all the time, but I am beginning to worry since seeing her performance in the television ads for soft cheese. What country, friends, is this? This is Philadelphia, lady.

The purplish red leaves of the garden tree are picked out in the costume of David Ryall's incipiently ancient, foot-sore Feste, an admirably painstaking performance. Maria Miles is Viola, and is excellent in the first scenes, tolerably delightful in the wooing by proxy, competent in the farcical byways. But you have to love Viola, or at least get to know her, and Miss Miles is miles away. Dinsdale Landen plays Sir Toby as a laughing, snorting cavalier, and Martin Jarvis is a traditional Aguecheek.

Peter Lindford makes something positive of Sebastian, no mean feat, and David Hargreaves is an honest, nautical Antonio, living up to the 'notable pirate' tag. Rick Fisher's lighting is haphazard, but Diane Bull's Maria is anything but.

John Peter (review date 3 March 1991)

SOURCE: "Not a Night to Remember," in The Sunday Times, London, March 3, 1991, p. 13.

Sir Peter Hall's new production of Twelfth Night (Playhouse) is a labour of love, but I do not mean that as a compliment. Hall last directed this play in Stratford 31 years ago: the brilliant 29-year-old who had just founded the RSC and set out to rediscover, underneath Shakespeare the Romantic poet, Shakespeare the hard-headed political writer, the ruthless psychologist, the ironic joker. I saw that first Twelfth Night as a young student and still remember its irresistible freshness, its vigour and its hard but generous humour. Hall showed you precisely how the exquisite lyricism was constantly being undercut by irony: how people laughed through other people's tears.

He now revisits the play in a spirit of uncritical generosity. It unfolds like a Caroline idyll, bathed in soft light and melancholy music. Orsino is a lovesick cavalier whose longings have no subtext: you would never think, from Richard Garnett's statuesque performance, that all this poetic elegance is meant to cover up a heavy streak of exhibitionism and self-pity. Dinsdale Landen's Sir Toby comes on twinkling and rubicund, like Frans Hals's Laughing Cavalier, lovably tipsy: you would never think that the man was a professional sponger who was busy fleecing Aguecheek, almost playing Iago to his Roderigo.

Aguecheek is thus reduced to a comic; and perhaps because he has little to press and fight against, Martin Jarvis turns in a most uncharacteristically actorish performance. I liked Sara Crowe's spoilt, petulant Olivia at first, but she has none of the gravitas of a great lady (which would make her situation even funnier), and I did not think that her cutglass voice was always fully under control.

Eric Porter's Malvolio is quite another matter. This is an authentic Shakespearian victim, sombrely conscious of his status, unaware of mockery, analysing the famous letter like a Foreign Office mandarin studying a coded diplomatic message, the melancholy prune face cracking into a pitiful smile. The other gem of the production is Maria Miles, whose Viola is a troubled adolescent, both innocent and touchingly calculating, taking her first steps into adult-hood as if it were a minefield. During Feste's song, Orsino casually takes her hand: Miles's face is a study in pain which is only just beginning to be understood.

Yes, this play is a cruel romance, a comedy with real tears. But the production as a whole has a decorous, nostalgic air about it, as if Hall had met a long-lost friend and decided not to remember his faults. You hardly ever feel that anyone could get hurt. It leaves you emotionally safe—and, no Shakespeare play should ever do that.

Christopher Edwards (review date 9 March 1991)

SOURCE: "Clear as Day," in The Spectator, Vol. 266, No. 8486, March 9, 1991, pp. 35-6.

Peter Hall has directed a charming, intelligent and enjoyable production of Twelfth Night. These qualities, by themselves, may not satisfy the dwindling band of diehards pursuing novelty or deeply topical reinterpretations of Shakespeare. Feste is not projected as a proto-Green, nor is Malvolio a Shi'ite Muslim. Instead, the play's delicate shifting moods and its magnificent language are, on the whole, allowed to operate upon us with a minimum of interference.

Timothy O'Brien has designed a Caroline Illyria. In Orsino's court a chandelier hangs above dark-stained floor-boards. Everyone wears Cavalier costume. Beyond the court is a glorious autumnal prospect—apple trees and falling brown leaves—which dips down to a stretch of mist-shrouded water.

After Orsino's opening. 'If music be the food of love …' (a speech, and indeed a performance, handled with rather too much self-mockery by Richard Gameti), a bedraggled Viola (Maria Miles) emerges from the mist. This young actress is delightful. Fresh, earnest and captivating (the willow-cabin speech is particularly well delivered), she succeeds in retaining her essential femininity while coming across plausibly as a boy.

Sara Crowe's Olivia is the only oddity in the production. She completely upstaged Joan Collins in last year's production of Private Lives, with her performance of Sybil. Everyone said how hilarious she had made Sybil sound with that squealing, scalded, brittle, baby- doll caricature voice she gave her. Oh dear. It seems that the voice belongs to Sara Crowe. Olivia is heavily Sybilised, at some cost to the poise and gravity of her feelings.

Dinsdale Landen is an excellent laughing cavalier of a Sir Toby Belch (although, along with the cakes and ale, he does swallow some of his lines). Huge-bellied, bearded and rubicund, he is content cheerfully to lead Sir Andrew Aguecheek on. Often we are shown a Sir Toby whose love of pleasure has a decidedly malicious bias—not just in the gulling of Malvolio, but in his exploitation of Sir Andrew. Dinsdale Landen does not overdo the malice: he is funny, good company and not particularly nice, except to Diane Bull's spritely Maria. He sees Sir Andrew as a rich twerp and treats him accordingly. The subtle part of Martin Jarvis's portrait of Sir Andrew is that, while retaining the twerpery, he also fleshes out the character's frustration and resentment. His final exit, head broken by Sebastian, rejected by Sir Toby, his amorous designs shot through, is both comical and touchingly dignified.

Eric Porter's Malvolio is one of the most convincing I have seen. His sense of his own importance, flawed though it makes him, has a wonderful kind of integrity about it. Eric Porter is funny enough, but dignified as well. His reading of 'Olivia's love letter is a superb study in self-delusion. I was very impressed too by David Ryall's dry, philosophic Feste. This Feste really has seen it all before, and the experience shows in his manner which manages to sound world-weary while remaining quicksilver. His taunting of Malvolio at the end is cruel enough and the moment when Feste bangs down the trap door on his imploring face is uncomfortable. Malvolio deserves some of his punishment, but he justly complains that he has been 'notoriously abused'. All the same, this prison episode is not handled in a spirit of pointed viciousness. It is this refreshing lack of insistence—of letting the text speak for itself—that helps make the production so enjoyable.

Bernard Levin (review date 23 March 1991)

SOURCE: "No Tricks in Plain and Simple Faith," in The Times, London, March 23, 1991, p. 19.

Others abide our question; thou art free. But for many years now, thou hast been anything but free. When, and how and why, did the modern vogue for buggering Shakespeare about start? More to the point, why do we put up with it? True, we smile tolerantly when we read of the outrages to which he was subjected by 18th century actor-managers; but surely we should have progressed beyond the crudities of earlier times?

Well, we should, certainly, but let me give you a mild example of our modern equivalent of the habit (quite customary two centuries ago) of giving King Lear a happy ending.

Not long ago, there was in London a production of The Merchant of Venice, I do not name the director, for a reason he will spot if he reads on. In the trial scene, an extraneous, almost aleatoric, item was included, which Shakespeare had not written or indicated. Three actors, playing louts, were perched in the gallery of the court, and as Shylock was indicted they chanted, "Jew, Jew, Jew".

Clearly, the director was convinced that audiences had never noticed that Shylock, in the play, is reviled as a Jew; until that pioneering interpolation, they had always been under the impression that he was a rigid Presbyterian and, for good measure, chairman of the Lord's Day Observance Society. It was then that I began to take to Shakespearean performances a rabbit's foot, which I would surreptitiously finger in the dark in the hope (vain, as it turned out) that it might bring me at least as much luck as would be needed to discover which play I was seeing.

A symbol, that; but perhaps a significant one. I could not possibly count my evenings of Shakespeare in the theatre, but it must be many hundreds by now; I think I have not missed a production at either the RSC or the National for many years, and of course I have seen many elsewhere. (I bet I am the only man you know who has seen The Taming of the Shrew in Danish.) And I own to a powerful conviction that the quality of Shakespeare on out stages has declined, and is still declining. I think it is worth wondering why.

I must not recall the past to belabour the present. I am just old enough to have seen Gielgud's last Hamlet and Olivier's Hotspur, and easily old enough to have seen Ashcroft's Cleopatra. On such memories I inevitably dwell; who wouldn't? But I think it is now getting very rare indeed for younger Shakespeare theatre-goers to experience a production or a performance that they will be able to treasure, and to call up at will, for the rest of their lives.

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past.
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought.
And with old woes new wail my dear times'
   waste …

Of course, all is not yet lost, as anyone who saw Ian McKellen as Coriolanus recently will agree, but if you did see it and now try to think of a recent half dozen of such memory-catchers, you will, I assure you, be disappointed.

What happened? Naturalism became the watchword, or rather the vogueword, perhaps encouraged by the verismo of directors such as Zeffirelli, Visconti and Strehler in their sensationally successful rescue of Italian opera. It soon conquered the Shakespearean stage; but in so doing it opened the gates to disaster. In no time, declamation was a crime, scansion a disreputable disease, elocution itself was unnecessary—nay, there was no need for all, or even most, of the words to be heard by the audience, provided sufficiently striking things were happening on stage.

Soon, the Royal Shakespeare Company (in one dire season all the players seemed to have been told to talk only out of the corners of their mouths), followed smartly by the National, had added to the belief that audibility was old-fashioned the notion that Shakespeare wrote some lovely lines but didn't really know his job, particularly in the matter of stress and cadence; the former, it was argued, should be used at random, and the second abolished entirely if the audience was to stay awake.

So it went on, year after year, until it seemed that never again would Shakespeare's words take precedence over lesser people's ideas. But hark! Who comes, with drum and fife, to raise the siege? If you are as parched as I am for the real thing that once reigned almost universally, go quickly to the Playhouse, hard by Charing Cross. There you will see that real Shakespeare has not vanished entirely, that there are actors and actresses who not only speak verse as though it is verse but speak it so every word—every single word, I swear—is audible, meaningful and Shakespeare's. For in that theatre, Peter Hall has directed Twelfth Night, and the counter-revolution has begun.

The diction throughout is not just impeccable; Hall has got out of his players a lode of truth by the very sound of the words. Clarity is only the start; every word is caressed and honoured, and the effect is to deepen the joy of the play and the feelings it offers. But the reason it has this effect is that Shakespeare, contrary to the belief widespread in our theatres, knew his job; he knew that if the rhythm in which he wrote was followed, the force of the words would work effortlessly. Is it not shocking that actors and directors putting on Shakespeare today repeatedly reveal that they do not understand that precious rule?

If you think I exaggerate when I commend the scrupulous clarity of these players, I offer you a tiny, infinitely delicate, proof. In Act I, scene 5, Sir Toby Belch is assiduously living up to his name, and after one tremendous eructation he matters as excuse the Une, "A plague on these pickle herring". Dinsdale Landen (a wonderfully crisp as well as ripe performance, remembering, as few Tobys do, that he may be a roistering gentleman but he is a gentleman none the less) speaks the words just as I have printed them. But if you look at the First Folio, you will find that then of "on" is elided; the Urtext has "A plague o'these pickle herring". Thus, Hall and Lansden have given Shakespeare more than he asked for, Can fidelity to an author go further?

I must not give the impression that we are here for a talk on diction; the production, and most of the players, are pure enchantment from the very first moments, as we savour Timothy O'Brien's lovely, simple set and Rick Fisher's magical lighting. But when I said that the counter-revolution is upon us, it was not just a metaphor; Hall's production could indeed set new standards and see them, over time, adopted.

What is so wonderful at the Playhouse is not just the complete absence of the usual anachronistic absurdities and perversions of Shakespeare's words; Hall has taken an immense risk. For the production is well-nigh invisible; when Shakespeare wants a character to move, he or she moves, and everybody else keeps still. When Maria Miles, for instance, a lovely, innocent, bruisable Viola, gets to, "A blank, my lord, she never told her love", she stands still, looks at Orsino, and delivers, without affectation, fidgeting, or wrenching the words the wrong way, let alone speaking the lines while riding a bicycle round the stage. (Her performance was the more creditable for the fact that she was suffering from an appalling cold. Why wasn't she bundled off home and put to bed? I would willingly have brought her orange-juice and read to her.)

Or Aguecheek; Martin Jarvis is one of the most interesting I have ever seen, but it is hard to say why, until you sit back and realise that he simply takes each word and squeezes ripe juice out of it, thus demonstrating that if you trust Shakespeare he will never let you let you down. The same goes, even more strongly, for David Ryall, a sad and autumnal, though never cynical, Feste; I have never known an audience so turned completely to stone for the final song. As for Eric Porter, this truly great actor has seized Malvolio as firmly as Olivier did, and gives the part not just three dimensions but four.

But I said that Hall had taken a risk; where lies it? Read the reviews and you will know. The tone is generally of disappointment; the clue lies in the use by more than one critic of the word dull. But it is not Hall's work that is dull; they have been dulled by what they have seen and heard for so many years, until they cannot see authenticity and beauty if it is quiet and simple and real and pure and faithful to Shakespeare. Let them revisit to the Playhouse, where their eyes, and ears, may be opened whereupon the repentant sinners could help further the revolution. To the barricades! To the barricades!

Eric Sams (review date 29 March 1991)

SOURCE: "Plain-Speaking in Illyria," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4591, March 29, 1991, p. 16.

Surprisingly, and disappointingly, this production lacks direction. Its aim is plain, and deserving of applause; let Shakespeare speak, without superimposed interpretation. The play itself, from its first line to its last, pleads for just such a performance. It avowedly strives to please us by presenting love and drama in terms of music, of which we can also make what we will. For this purpose, Peter Hall eschews both the broad approach of the English Shakespeare Company and the subtler individual detail of its Royal counterpart. His musical models are neither choral works nor Lieder but Mozart operas; in theory, the perfect paradigm for the exposition and resolution of sexual ambiguities and tensions. At The Playhouse, the actual onstage music is minimal, if not minimalist; but the quasi-musical effects are pervasive. Thus Maria Miles, who has an occasional twinkle of star quality, inserts a deliberate pause before each of her set speeches, as if to introduce a Viola solo. The three merry men in the caterwauling scene are arranged as an operatic trio. Above all, the dénouement works wonders by stage grouping and delivery. Against the background of real ungrudging reconciliation, as in Figaro and Cosi, the added theme of revenge strikes a painfully jarring and unresolved discord. The great era of Shakespearean tragedy is waiting round the corner, out of sight.

So, sadly, is much of this comedy. As yet, the company is hardly an entity, let alone a unity; and it achieves no more than a good concert performance, in which the artists address the audience. In consequence there is too little sense of the required interplay within the play. The characters fall in or out of love with themselves instead of each other; so no independent dramatic world is created except by individual effort, which is fitful. The steadiest highlight is Eric Porter's Malvolio, whose malevolence is not merely nominal. His study could achieve greatness, if it were more strongly supported by stage action and reaction. But his tormentors are unhelpfully lightweight. Dinsdale Landen offers too much literal Belch and not enough poetic Sir Toby; that malicious mischiefmaker is concealed in a cosy Santa Claus character and costume. No one could have guessed from Diane Bull's Mrs Mopp impersonation that Maria is a gentlewoman, still less the brains behind the counterfeit-letter plot. Martin Jarvis makes an intelligent Aguecheek, which is a genuine achievement; but that paradox proves impossible to sustain. The glum laughter and sad clowning of David Ryall's Feste, on the other hand, are convincing enough; but his dry, throwaway style of singing does little for lyricism in Illyria. Sara Crowe's amorous metamorphosis from dark mourning into bright morning is well effected, with the help of costume and lighting changes. But neither aspect of Olivia makes any special appeal to Richard Garnett's Orsino, who seems strangely serene for so desperately frustrated a lover. His philosophical reading remains unperturbed even when his page turns into a woman before his eyes. As her non-identical twin brother Sebastian, Peter Lindford makes the most of his part; so does David Hargreaves, who for some brief but compelling moments not only holds but dominates the stage as the sea-captain Antonio.

Of course there is much else to admire and relish, including many a deft directorial touch if no very strong or consistent grasp. The design and décor are unobtrusively expressive and relevant; the autumnal setting of flamecoloured foliage with a hint of frost to follow, and the alternation of smoky mists with sunny radiance, are modestly yet memorably managed. But where are the expected fire and warmth?

Peter J. Smith (review date October 1991)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Cahiers Élisa-béthains, No. 40, October, 1991, pp. 80-2.

In its potted history of the Playhouse Theatre, the programme boasts that 1988 was the year in which "Jeffrey Archer, politician, novelist and playwright, acquires the controlling interest in the Playhouse". For those on the Left in England, Archer's threefold description might sound slightly exaggerated, perceived, as he is, as a Tory-party fundraiser and writer of potboilers, but, be that as it may, he is now the controlling share-holder in a newly reopened theatre.

Archer's theatre houses everything one might expect. Gaggles of beautifully turned-out public-school children, besuited businessmen and furred, ostentatiously encrusted, and almost unfeasibly hugely shoulder-padded women. At the risk of sounding like Jimmy Porter, there is something about this kind of theatre that smacks unembarrassedly of privilege. "From 1991", the programme triumphs, "the Playhouse will be the home of the Peter Hall Company". Twelfth Night is then the company's first production in its new venue and, fittingly, it seemed to espouse the values and the ethos of the Playhouse itself.

Along with the iconoclastic revaluation of Shakespeare in academic circles, Shakespearean production has also altered. Companies like the English Shakespeare Company with their full-time commitment to educational backup and the even more theatrically radical Cheek by Jowl, treat these plays as vehicles for discussing political and social issues as inseparable from theatrical ones. Theatre, as it was in Shakespeare's own day is, once again, inherently ideological. This approach is anathema to Hall and consequently his Twelfth Night is a production that is about thirty years out of date.

Recently, Hall's predilection has been for the Caroline period. Like all of his late plays at the National in 1988, this new Twelfth Night was full of Van Dyke figures. Richard Garnett's Orsino looked like the fated king himself with long hair and sharp beard. The Caroline setting made stage sense in as much as Viola and Sebastian were allowed to look strikingly similar, in long feathered hats and pantomime boots, but apart from this, one is tempted to make a connection between the self-indulgence of the Caroline court and the escapist and essentially mystical tone of the production itself. Hall's attitude to the Bard is that of the 'enlightened' Caliban to Prospero—respect and absolute trust; indeed, at times, this Twelfth Night was close to an act of blind faith. Hall's ethereal production was underscored throughout by the sounds of the waves' repeated fresh collapse (as Larkin has it) and the atmospheric music of Stephen Edwards which, reminiscent of the work of Brian Eno, comprised synthesised tonal impulses rather than melodies.

Timothy O'Brien's set was, like the costumes, full of rich colours. The cyclorama was suitably marine blue, while IIlyria was composed (almost compost) of deep autumnal reds and browns. Rick Fisher's lighting was warm and comforting. Benevolence and reconciliation seemed to be watchwords. Sara Crowe's beautifully youthful Olivia languished on a floral swing as her ladies swept up around her and Garnett's gracefully refined Orsino indulged himself in his rich language while a cavalier lutenist (Robin Jef-frey) played live music in the background. Garnett's performance was the best of the evening. He caressed Cesario's cheek as he noted that all is semblative a womans part and inclined his head to kiss 'him' in response to the page's story of his lovesick sister. The delicate homoeroticism of the relationship was touchingly conveyed and the Count's abrupt return to male bravado in response to Cesario's question, Sir, shall I to this lady? was a fitting mixture of egocentricity and pragmatism, Ay, that's the theme. The impetuosity and self-pity were galvanised into dangerous wrath in the final scene as he threatened first the countess and then his page with a wildly flourishing dagger.

Against what was for the most part a lingering mildness were set the figures of Eric Porter's Malvolio and David Ryall's Feste. The former's was a disappointingly undistinguished performance from a rightfully distinguished actor. One of the major focuses of the play was, here, transformed into a mere foil for the malevolence of Belch and Fabian. There was little in the way either of Malvolio's withering condemnation of the drunks or of a pathos which he so often attracts when incarcerated and taunted by the oxymoronic Sir Topas. The box tree scene was the most subdued I have ever seen and the audience found Maria's later hysterics about the approach of the cross-gartered and yellow-stockinged steward, a little exaggerated having not been adequately prepared for it earlier.

Feste's motley was faded and tired. He was an old grey fool, a hanger-on (as the play makes clear) from the house-hold of an earlier generation. There was a nice touch as he directed his question to an audience that, as he soon realised, was too new-fangled ever to have heard of his authorities. For what says Quinapalus? he asked us hopefully, before resigning himself to the reality that, as Olivia tells him, his fooling has grown old and people dislike it. His wailing of the songs was melancholic and his final rejection occurred as Olivia rounded on him, blaming him for the torture of Malvolio. She drew herself up and shouted at Feste, He hath been most notoriously abused. Like Fal-staff, Feste was finally outcast by the court and he retreated into his doomed and pathetic final song, beating his tabor faster and faster to simulate the increasing rainfall.

Aguecheek, played by Martin Jarvis, was an interesting and original, if not entirely successful, version. This Andrew was blustering, crotchety, crossly-assertive and thoroughly dislikable. Even his usually pathetic / was adored once too, was issued here as a challenge or a "So there!" rather than as a piteous lamentation. Andrew, in daft yellow checked culottes and huge yellow hat which he snatched off and hid behind his back when Maria told them that yellow is a colour [Olivia] abhors, was closer to Belch's description of him as an ass-head, and… a thin-faced knave than usual. Dinsdale Landen's Belch with his falstaffian twinkling eye was both corpulent and competent, but, as with Porter's Malvolio, he brought nothing of great interest to the role. His drunken stagger, his stage belching (a plague o'these pickle-herring) and his phallic business with his walking stick, as he jokes about the housewife taking Andrew between her legs and spinning off his hair, were all features of the knight I had seen before, though at Sneck up, Belch wittily and irreverently lifted Malvolio's nightshirt on the end of his cane. Maria (Diane Bull) broke down during the taunting of Malvolio the madman and this gave real force to the desire of Toby to be well rid of the business.

One of the central problems of the production, for this reviewer, was the woeful undercasting of Viola (Maria Miles). There was no time, in her performance, for Viola to think. Olivia drew back her veil and asked if her face was not well done. Viola's double-edged response was instantaneous, Excellently done [no pause] // God did all. When Malvolio offered her the ring that she had apparently just left with his lady, there was not a glimmer of recognition that Olivia had engineered the gift as a sign of her burgeoning attraction to the page. She took the ring of me, I'll none of it, followed too fast upon Malvolio's lines. Viola's resignation to the constructive forces of time (thou must untangle this, not I) was again wasted—shouted straight up into the flies rather than thought through. Indeed, Miles had a tendency throughout to shout and lacked the verbal modulation and the intelligence that make Viola such an adroit personality.

Hall's Twelfth Night is at home in the Playhouse. It looked superb and its richly indulgent and autumnal spirit captured both the magic and the melancholy of the script. The production though somehow failed to satisfy; fundamentally, it was unchallenging—accomplished, detailed and consummate but unmoving, without verve and, at times, tired. At its most basic, the problem is this: that Hall's crafted professionalism is not all that interesting to watch and it is a problem of which the Peter Hall Company will have to take account whether it finds its new roost in Archer's well-feathered nest or elsewhere.


Ian Judge RSC 1994


Judge's 1994 RSC production was faulted by several critics for a lack of depth, though it charmed the majority of commentators with what Irving Wardle termed its "fresh and truthful detail." The set design featured a wintry Jacobean representation of the city of Strat-ford-upon-Avon itself. Judge explained: "When I look through the hedges of New Place or sit in the gardens of Hall's Croft, I understand Illyria." The director emphasized the comic and wistful nature of the play, thereby softening its melancholic elements. While praising the clever staging of this production, Jackson nevertheless deprecated its lack of "carnival or carnality," arguing that "theatregoers who prefer their comic worlds a little more romantic may find this tame, and it will be too sentimental for those who want more bite in their comedy." Among the performances, commentators generally admired Desmond Barritt's Welsh Malvolio, whom Irving Wardle characterized as "an immobile, puddingy poseur, galvanized into a garter-snapping flasher, and then into a tragic clown, howling frantically in the dark." Additionally, reviewers frequently singled out Derek Griffiths as Feste, Tony Britton as Sir Toby Belch, Clive Wood as Orsino, and Emma Fielding as Viola.


Nicholas de Jongh (review date 26 May 1994)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Evening Standard, May 26,1994. Reprinted in London Theatre Record, Vol. XIV, No. 11, May 21-June 3, 1994, p. 695.

Although Twelfth Night is Shakespeare's most sexually subversive and ambivalent comedy, most modern directors steer clear of its erotic potential. So it proves in Ian Judge's jovial new production, which plays the broad comedy to the hilt, with picturesque flourishes. The romantic and sexual aspects drift discreetly into the shade.

Not surprisingly then, Judge seizes upon Malvolio, impersonated with dazzling comic buoyancy by Desmond Barrit. The puffed-up Welsh puritan due for his come-uppance is the production's chief example of the self-deceiving and self-unaware.

But the prime sexual business happens elsewhere in the play. Duke Orsino and the Countess Olivia both fall in love at first or second sight with a youth, or rather with Viola, who convincingly passes herself off as male. The aristocrats' wooing ought be comic, ironic and disturbing all in one fell swoop.

But for that to happen, Viola must be played—as in Shakespeare's day—by an actor, or by a thoroughly androgynous actress. The Viola of Emma Fielding—a small girlish figure with matching hair—hardly comes across as boyish, let alone a young man.

So Orsino, to whom a long-haired Clive Wood gives the look of an unromantic lecher and the manner of a flaunting Narcissus, and Haydn Gwynne's anxiously mourning Olivia, do not communicate the play's sense of sexual danger. The notion that love is a game of wild caprice, in which the androgynous win, passes us by.

Miss Fielding, nearly everyone's most promising young thing in 1993, disappoints by suggesting so wanly a Viola awakened to secret love and grief. She reacts with studied calm—and little comedy—to the tentative touchings of duke and countess alike. And there is no feeling of heart-felt discovery, or self-discovery, when at last brought faceto-face with the brother she thought dead. Judge disastrously stages this crucial scene as a display in which they circle each other like a pair of suspicious dogs.

Yet the production is atmospherically powerful and precise. John Gunter, the sumptuous designer, conjures up a Tudor village with distant houses pictured in gloomy mid-winter, decked with evergreen trees and bare branches. And Miss Gwynne's Olivia presides over a household in which Mr Barrit's Malvolio looms as a comic enormity. Acting as foil to Tony Britton's bluff Toby Belch, Joanna McCallum's bland Maria and Bille Brown's over-pantomimic Sir Andrew (silly hat, walk and voice) this lightly-moustachioed Malvolio achieves Lady Bracknell's outrage and the ponderous self-importance of Mr Pooter. He oozes pomposity from every pore until the idea of Olivia's love catches him out.

Then he swaggers on, swathed in masses of black and yellow like a trussed wasp, as he ogles his astonished mistress with a leer-like smile, tongue flicking in and out like a toad. Confronted with the truth, he has all the pathos of a very large balloon, impaled after the party.

This Twelfth Night may make too little of the warning against dangerous romanticism but Barrit's Malvolio lights up the evening and makes it.

Alastair Macaulay (review date 27 May 1994)

SOURCE: A review of Twelfth Night in Financial Times, May 27, 1994.

Part of what makes young Emma Fielding, the RSC's new Viola in Twelfth Night, so captivating is that she is made up of contrasts. She is elfin, tiny, vulnerable, with vast eyes; and yet she is forthright, living intensely in the moment, with an inquiring little nose that is a vital part of her profile, and an eager stance whereby her weight rests keenly on her toes. This mix of opposites is why she was so heartcatching as Thomasina when Stoppard's Arcadia was new; and no less so in Jonathan Kent's School for Wives at the Almeida.

She is heartcatching again in Twelfth Night. Her voice is deep, strong, firm (though she does not always enter words cleanly enough), until in an instant some new thought renders it high, clear, light. This sudden illumination from within is what makes Olivia lose her heart, when in male disguise Viola tells her that she/he would "call upon my soul within the house … And make the babbling gossip of the air/ Cry out 'Olivia!'" And it is what halts Orsino and confuses him when Viola/Cesario tells him that the history of her father's daughter is "A blank, my lord. She never told her love …"

She is surrounded here by a fine cast, but I am in two minds about the production that frames them. Ian Judge, the director, tells the play's story surely and briskly. Sometimes he is alert to its affecting shadows: the way we see both Viola and her brother Sebastian is potent, as is the moment of their final reunion. Sometimes, however, he treats it like the merest artificial farce. The funereal