Twelfth Night, Axbridge Town Hall. November 21, 2015
This was a softer and gentler Twelfth Night with its haunting music, masquerade make-up and vivid Mediterranean colours.
Music was the central core thanks to the work of Stella More on harp and Anna Hind’s arrangements. Her soft and emotive voice textured the show with soulful interludes that gave this production a particular vocal beauty.
Directed by John Bailey the Axbridge Community Theatre production was also noted for its artistic visual impact. Wendy Mace designed the colour scheme and the costumes using as inspiration the bright hues of the Adriatic Sea and the coast of Illyria. There were turquoises and flame reds, blues and yellows and lots and lots of scarfs. With a combination of illusion and mystery – in a play that has disguise as its theme – the striking make-up blended the style of the harlequin and the masked balls of a Venetian night to great effect.
There were excellent performances from Chris Jarman as Malvolio and Sarah Kendall as Viola although it was the Grayson Perry-like figure of Peter Honeyands as Sir Andrew Aguecheek who got the laughs with his impossible wig and bright red lips.
Chris Jarman was comfortable in what appeared to be his natural skin of the emotionally constipated Englishman who doesn’t get the jokes and vows vengeance at the last. It was his awkward jerky C-3PO movement, his silent asides and raised eyebrows, his exits and his entrances – combined with a fluctuating voice full of restrained anger – that so compelled.
Peter Honeyands was excellent value as the blustering blade and cowardly buffoon who still has our sympathy as he displays his foibles and his feelings for all to see. When it comes to stage presence Peter has it in spades.
Sarah Kendall gave a wistful and knowingly knavish performance in her role as lost twin and cougar bait. The tone in her voice and occasional raised eyebrow gave a lie to her real gender as she schemed her way in the court of the Count and the heart of Olivia.
Sue Hughes as a middle-aged Olivia gained some unexpected and smutty chuckles from the audience with her hormonal advances on anyone who wore matching white chemises and purple sashes. A striking figure in her blue gown this was her best performance yet for the community theatre group.
Trieste and Venice must be twinned with Junction 25 of the M5 when it came to Tony Wilson’s Italian accent. He threw himself with gusto into the role of Orsino as he proclaimed ‘if music be the food of love, play on,’ as he plots the wooing of Olivia. An enjoyable performance from an actor itching to play a mafia boss but harnessed by John Bailey into his character of love sick bachelor.
Feste played by Anna Hind had the most beautiful voice any fool could have as she gave a feminine take on the part of the court’s jester in her blue and black outfit and matching cap.
There were also strong performances from Sian Tutill as Maria in her Tarentella inspired outfit and Phil Saunders as an estuary-vowelled Sir Toby Belch, as well as Janie Gray as a gravel voiced Antonia. David Parkin as the captain, Wendy Mace as Curio and Carole Maclean as Valentine were all good value while Greg Tyrrell as Sebastian enjoyed a coming of age appearance as confused cougar-bait Sebastian.
And there were excellent appearances by David Maclean, Maggie Stanley, Nigel Newton, Robin Mace, Janet Gwinn and Charmaine Fulbrook who made up the remainder of the cast.
To be critical for a moment the production needed more pace. The switch between scenes was at times clunky and slow while some of the dialogue was ponderous in its delivery. Shakespeare can be delivered at speed without losing the gist. And there was a case for editing some of the text to shorten the play. But these are minor points.
Twelfth Night is a comedy with cross dressing, gender swapping and practical jokes. There is also perhaps in Malvolio a hint of the Puritan backlash and civil wars to come. Certainly Chris Jarman’s final speech seemed an omen for that future reckoning while the comic trio of Peter Honeyands, Sian Tutill and Phil Saunders were the anti-dote to Malvolio as the Lords of Misrule.
A symmetrical set entwined with ivy and brightly lit created a space that was practical as well as evocative of an imagined Illyria – which we assume is somewhere on the Dalmatian Coast although with the accents perhaps lies closer to the A38. Despite the hiccup of the Thursday night cancellation due to the illness of John Kendall this was a highly successful production warmly appreciated by the audience and another creative milestone passed in the evolution of ACT.