|photo by Andrew Eccles|
The most fun I’ve had at a Shakespeare play in a very long time was at Des McAnuff’s raucous celebration of anachronism: Twelfth Night, my favourite Stratford Production of 2011.
I love anachronism as a concept. The universality of Shakespeare’s plays makes it okay for them to exist in a vacuum of “anytime, anywhere”. Oftentimes, opening up the entire world’s history of dress allows a character to express who they are in that very moment, regardless of arbitrary fashion. That same virtue applies to anachronism in music selection- whatever fits. The effect is a production that gets at the heart of who these people are and what they’re feeling. In a flirty scene, Olivia might appear dressed for a 1920s tennis game, while a later coy Olivia takes a more classical approach to her wardrobe. Debra Hanson's set is similarly contradictory, making use of classical themes with modern frames. Without limitations of time and place, Twelfth Night is not only more fun, but more expressive.
As You Like It delivered the most rousing ditties I’ve heard from my beloved comedy) and Twelfth Night is certainly not an exception with music composed and arranged by McAnuff and Michael Roth. “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” is a particularly great time as a sort of group cabaret number and the disruptively fun “Hold thy Peace” is simply outrageous. Who knew Ben Carlson was secretly a rock star? I, personally, had no idea, but his vocals as troubadour fool Feste are kind of massively impressive. Throw in a cameo by John Lennon delivering a pizza and Twelfth Night is nothing short of rock and roll.
McAnuff, a notoriously restless director whose roots are more in the higher octane Broadway world than in the text-heavy Shakespearean one, injects the production with further vibrancy by staging scenes in fun and interesting places. I’m a big fan of giving characters something to do in a scene apart from emote, and McAnuff’s various batting cages, tennis matches, golf games and steam rooms give the scenes good context and the actors more business to play around with. (The steam room also allowed for an incredibly amusing, I’m assuming accidental, mishap involving Sir. Andrew’s towel).
Cast-wise the production fares well, though the early-season injury of leading lady Andrea Runge does hinder it irreversibly; standby Viola Suzy Jane Hunt puts in a valiant effort but sadly comes up a bit short. Coming up far from short, however, is Cara Ricketts, an actress I’m so glad to finally get the chance to like. Her Maria is funny, smart and feisty, holding her own alongside stage legend scene partners like Brian Dennehy and Stephen Ouimette- a superb Sir. Andrew whose comic pauses prove twice as funny as his lines. Juan Chioran does excellent work in the completely cut-able character of Fabian, a testament to the value of bench depth, and Mike Shara is exactly as I expected in his perfectly cast role as Duke Orsino, meaning daffy-proud, a bit bewildered and utterly excellent. Sara Topham is better here than everywhere else but is still unspeakably annoying (has anyone ever tried her on a part that won’t allow for her girlish affectations? I wonder if they might go away with proper casting like Ricketts' did). The great Timothy D. Stickney is wasted in the minuscule role of the sea-captain who saves Viola, but Michael Blake delivers a refreshingly confident performance as the oft-silly other sea-captain Antonio, who saves Sebastian. Trent Pardy is mostly un-noteworthy as Sebastian, though most likely chosen for his remarkable resemblance to Viola (both Runge and Hunt).
Merry Wives’ Master Ford and Twelfth Night’s Malvolio, but he manages to play them as hugely distinct from one another. While Ford is frantic, jealous and silly, Rooney plays Malvolio as serious, tragic and surprisingly smart. He does what all great Malvolios should do, which is play the broad comedy as though it were his own personal tragedy. His highly capable Malvolio may be a victim of his own pride but as seen through Rooney’s all-consuming eyes it becomes clear what most audiences have never really noticed before- that Maria, Toby and co. are torturing and tormenting a mostly innocent man because they don’t like him very much.
|photos by Cylla von Tiedemann|
This production is simply fantastic. It’s accessible and fun for easily bored Shakespeare cynics and refreshingly different for those who’ve seen the oft-produced Twelfth Night perhaps a few too many times. But for the real text lovers looking for greater meaning even in the comedies, Rooney is there with the most poignant arc of the entire season.
Twelfth Night plays at the Festival Theatre in Stratford, ON until October 28th.