Twelfth Night

By Billing, Christian M. | Shakespeare Bulletin, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview
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Twelfth Night

Billing, Christian M., Shakespeare Bulletin

Twelfth Night

Presented by the Donmar West End Company at the Wyndham's Theatre, London. December 5, 2008-March 7, 2009. Directed by Michael Grandage. Set and Costumes by Christopher Oram. Lighting by Nell Austin. Musical Composition by Julian Philips. Sound by Fergus O'Hare. Fights by Terry King. With Mark Bonnar (Orsino), Norman Bowman (Curio),James Howard (Valentine), Victoria Hamilton (Viola), Ian Drysdale (Sea Captain, Priest), Ron Cook (Sir Toby Belch), Samantha Spiro (Maria), Guy Henry (Sir Andrew Aguecheek), Zubin Varla (Feste), Indira Varma (Olivia), Derek Jacobi (Malvolio), Lloyd Hutchinson (Antonio) and Alex Waldman (Sebastian).

Alice. I know what men want.

Dan. Really?

Alice. Oh yes.

Dan. Tell me ...

Alice. Considers Men want a girl who looks like a boy.

Patrick Marber Closer Act I Scene II.

This production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night formed part of the Donmar West End 2008-2009 season, in which Artistic Director Michael Grandage sought to take productions of "great drama at affordable prices to the heart of [London's] West End." The season also aimed at taking the company's work to larger audiences than those possible in the heavily subsidized but relatively small Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden. As a result of the concomitant need to guarantee good box office receipts for the venture, each of the season's four plays was cast (and marketed) as a star-driven vehicle, with Kenneth Branagh taking the lead in Ivanov, Judi Dench in Madame de Sade, Derek Jacobi in Twelfth Night, and Jude Law in Hamlet. Performances took place in the Wyndham's Theatre--a 759-seat venue first opened in 1899 and fully refurbished in Louis XVI style in 2008.

Christopher Oram's scenography laid out the scene well before the play began. The setting consisted of a series of elegant, tall, louvered doors in distressed wood tones, which formed both an upstage wall and a set of Serlian side wings allowing for entrances and exits. The stage floor was made up of planks in distressed wood, with light lime-wash applied and false beams projecting from underneath the downstage edges to resemble ship's decking. This floor surface broke up as it jutted into the auditorium, suggesting shipwreck.

Beginning with a blackout, followed by thunder and lightning, 1.1 began not with the usual drooping Orsino, lamenting in melancholy tones the insufficiency of music as a permanent capturer of heartache, but rather with a raging Duke battling against the elements like a young Lear. As Oram's louvered doors opened center stage and flew out, the scene transformed to a beach, post-storm, and a substantial cyclorama provided the skyline background to Viola and the Sea Captain doing their own expository scene-setting. Viola (Victoria Hamilton, an actor recently described, to her embarrassment, as "her generation's Judi Dench") entered in a turquoise-bodiced dress with blue chiffon and taffeta skirts and a train much like a wedding dress (signifying, perhaps, the play's inevitable marital telos, but also evocative of a mermaid's tail, pointing to the watery subtext of Shakespeare's darkest comedy).

As performance continued, it became clear that Grandage and Oram intended to do much of the work of characterization through costume-related stereotypes; for Olivia and Malvolio this correlated largely to issues of class and confinement; but the technique was also evident in characters such as Sir Toby, whose first entrance saw the depraved lush arrive (on a stage lit to look as if it were midday) in white-tie evening dress, complete with party streamers around his neck. Feste likewise had his intellectual independence and rejection of the norms of his counterparts' society signified through a rag-patchwork cloak costume that made the balding, short-haired actor look like a European traveling hippie--complete with a distressed Spanish guitar, slung casually over his shoulder.

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