Muddy reviews this inventive fun-filled treat at the RST with Ade Edmondson, Kara Tointon and a luminous performance by Dinita Gohil.
Christopher Luscombe follows his superb RSC double-bill Much Ado About Nothing and Love Labour’s Lost with a sumptuous Raj era Twelfth Night where Illyria is set in Victorian London. It has echoes of Victoria and Abdul with Olivia, herself in mourning, kept entertained by Beruce Khan – excellent as intelligent, witty and musical fool, Feste – played here as her Indian attendant or ‘munshi’.
The first two scenes in Act I are switched around. Petite Dinita Gohil, a luminous shipwrecked Viola, opens the play in vibrant blue sari and lovely rich vocals. As the captain tells her about Olivia and Orsino, they appear on stage. Dainty and elegant, Kara Tointon makes a silent entrance across the stage in a black lace bustle and veil. Nicholas Bishop’s bohemian Orsino is in a gold domed art studio painting a male muse in red loin cloth shooting a bow-and-arrow. All very homo-erotic.
Designer Simon Higlett’s stunning styling is based on London’s Leighton House – the former home and studio of leading Victorian painter and sculptor Frederic Leighton; while Wightwick Manor near Wolverhampton was the inspiration for Olivia’s home.
Adrian Edmondson in his stiff black suit and Lincoln Abraham beard is outstanding as Olivia’s buttoned up steward Malvolio forever spoiling everyone’s fun. Edmondson brings down the house with his hysterical all-singing, all- dancing mandolin-playing yellow stocking scene breaking into ever more extravagant jigs egged on by the audience’s reaction.
Shakespeare’s brilliant comedy pairing of Sir Toby Belch and his drinking partner Sir Andrew Aguecheek is devoured with great relish by the wonderful John Hodgkinson and Michael Cochrane. A proper pair of Victorian eccentrics – Hodgkinson, tall, gangly and dishevelled, Sir Andrew slight, frail and doddery – making way for some very funny physical comedy.
The Victorian period details are lovely – the train station with its map of London; a Victorian Polyphone – disc-playing mechanical music box – and exquisite costumes. It really does look beautiful.
There’s enjoyable performances all-round from a super-talented cast who after taking their bows return onstage to perform an exhilarating original number by composer Nigel Hess inspired by Gilbert and Sullivan and other contemporaries. As the lights go up I notice Jennifer Saunders sat in the row in front and nearly faint with shock and excitement!
Twelfth Night runs at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon runs until February 24 2018. It will be broadcast live from Stratford on Valentine’s Day, Wed Feb 14. Find your nearest cinema here