Saturday, November 9, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Twelfth Night

Whence Ev’rybody Knows Thy Name
by Spencer Malthouse

It’s just a little pub frequented by nobles and fools alike, where bawdy hijinks and serendipitous romance intermingle. Hart House Theatre’s latest interpretation of Twelfth Night evokes the humour and camaraderie of the archetypal local pub.

This production succeeds in blending slapstick with some sweet romance. Viola (Darcy Gerhart) finds herself in Illyria. She disguises herself as a boy in order to work for Duke Orsino (Liam Volke) with whom she falls in love. Duke Orsino ardently loves Olivia (Arlin Dixon). Olivia rejects him but falls in love with Cesario (who is Viola as a boy). Confusion, hilarity, and homoeroticism ensue.

The piece is very well paced and the two and a half hours flew by. The set is an elegantly crafted Irish style pub. The sundry stringed instruments employed in this musical play form part of the backdrop and the many corners of the bar divide the scenes. The set’s major drawback is that it draws too much of the action upstage.

Indeed if we had been able to see the actor’s faces we might have been able to hear them more easily. Many lines were partially or wholly lost due to overly rapid delivery, poor projection, and some quiet voices. During the second act the actors’ voices generally picked up. Unfortunately, Akexander Offord as Feste was scarcely audible for the entire play.

Despite his softness Offord did provide a lightning quick clown. However, the decision to clothe the clown in grey did little to express his character. His interactions with the alcoholic Sir Toby Belch (David Tripp) and the fumbling, flaming Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Christopher Manousos) delight the audience. The absolute comic king of this piece was the puritanical Malvolio as interpreted by Scott Farley. He takes us right up and over-the-top, destroying the conservative with the absurd. Although it appears that his energy disappears with his moustache (wardrobe malfunction or contrived device, it was difficult to tell).

Gerhart excels as Viola with a perfect pretend boy’s swagger and an engagingly hilarious infatuation with Orsino. The homoeroticism blends with the slapstick to great effect. The fight scene between Viola and Aguecheek is perhaps the crowning moment of the play. Volke as Orsino gives a few splendid moments, filling his homoerotic struggles with well-timed pregnant pauses. Finally, Dixon’s attempts to win over Cesario and her slow progression from mourning black to seductive red are very well executed and complete the breadth of comedy of the play.   

This is an handsome and thoroughly entertaining production. I recommend it to anyone with a bit of Shakespearean background. The attractive cast is energetic and you will enjoy yourself in the audience as much as they are clearly having fun on stage.

Twelfth Night runs Nov. 6 - 23

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