Adrian Chamberlain: Shakespeare given a rejig

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Playwright-provocateur David Mamet has said he hates it when actors and directors try to put any spin or interpretation on his plays. While he has a point, such a “sacred text” approach seems a touch extreme and egotistical.

That said, it’s annoying when theatre folk get carried away with putting their own arbitrary stamp on plays. That’s why it’s refreshing to see the Launch Pad Theatre Company’s clever new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

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Rejigged by actor/directors David Radford and Christina Patterson as Twelfth(ish) Night, this version slices the Bard’s romantic comedy from about 2 1/2 hours to an invigorating 70 minutes.

Continuing to April 14, Twelfth(ish) Night is a bracing night out at the theatre, replete with charm and panache. Launch Pad cannily fashions its productions at Craigdarroch Castle as a total experience. One arrives at the mansion 30 minutes before curtain. Theatergoers are handed a glass of bubbly and treated to light music (piano, guitar) performed by cast members. The audience is encouraged to wear cocktail attire; it’s like being invited to a classy party in a bygone age.

Twelfth(ish) Night is conceived as after-dinner entertainment from the 1920s (Sir Andrew Aguecheek wears an argyle sweater). It’s staged in a small hall on Craigdarroch’s top level. The show is bare bones — there are few props; the only downside is poor sightlines for those sitting beside tall folk. Good period costumes make up for the lack of set, as does Foley artist Emma Dickerson who deftly provides fun with the sounds of ice-cubes, rapiers clashing and so on.

In sieve-like fashion, the adapters retain the play’s meatiest chunks. The reliably good Griffin Lea, playing Sebastian, doubles as a narrator who summarizes omitted sections of the story. The long bits in which Malvolio (he of the yellow stockings and garters) is teased endlessly by his tormenters have mostly vanished.

The scene in which this pompous steward is tricked into strutting about ridiculously in stockings, in the mistaken belief Olivia adores him, is the play’s most famous. As Malvolio, Ian Case, returning to the stage after a four-year hiatus, does a terrific job with an unctuous baritone and facial expressions that channel both Jackie Gleason and Blakey from On the Buses. For my taste the scene was cut a bit short; however, it’s still uproariously funny, with Case mooning his fellow actors with a naughty kilt flip (yes, this Malvolio is Scottish).

The direction emphasizes physicality and vigour — the cast bristles with energy. Lea and Radford as Orsino are particularly good at this, as is Graham Croft playing Feste and Antonio. The entire cast — including Patterson as Viola, Connie McConnell as Olivia, Cam Culham as Sir Toby Belch and Jared Gowen as Aguecheek — project well and enunciate properly. This may seem a given, yet it’s not always the case with Shakespeare, where clarity is especially important.

The opening-night show was brimming with delightful moments: Orsino tossing Viola (as Cesario) over his shoulders, Sir Toby cavorting drunkenly to Roll Out the Barrel, Sir Andrew drawing laughs with his gormless Hugh Laurie expressions. The play concludes with Feste’s song “For the rain it raineth every day” reset as a gospel-style singalong that wraps up the evening in style.

Twelfth(ish) Night continues at Craigdarroch Castle tonight, April 4 to 7 and April 11 to 14.

New York’s Ballet Hispanico, America’s foremost Latino dance company, makes its Victoria debut at the Royal Theatre on April 6 and 7.

The program features works by three choreographers: Michelle Manzanales (Con Brazos Abiertos), Annabelle Lopez Ochoa ( Linea Recta) and Tania Perez-Salas (Catorce Dieciseis). Learn the background of the company and the dances at a free pre-show chat in the Royal’s lobby at 6:50 p.m. with artistic director Eduardo Vilaro and Dr. Allana Lindgren, a University of Victoria dance historian.

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