[Review] Shakespeare’s Twenty-Fourth Night (Rated R for Raunchiness and Revelry)

If you are able to see this play and have not seen it yet, avert thine eyes, for ’tis a piece so sad that to gaze upon it shall shatter thy joys into a miserable pile of elderberries in front of a nunnery. If you have seen it, continue on as you will have seen everything to be spoiled by!

This is what you’ll look like after the show: all smiles and bound chests. Image courtesy of Noah JD Chinn Books.

I’ll start off by warning you that this is not the first time I have seen this play performed at this venue; it had been done previously in the year of 2008, alongside King Lear, Titus Andronicus and The Tempest. I only remember parts of it, so forgive me for somewhat hazy comparisons I have drawn during the viewing of the newer one, some of which I observed to have improved or diminished the strength of the production the second time around. This may have something to do with “heightened emotions” the characters have this time around. 2013!Sebastian (Daniel Doheny) seems a little subdued and inflections seemed a little stilted, but all in good time, as this is his first show outside of the well-known acting program Studio 58. I hope to see him again at Bard next season.

[Blank Title Card]

When gimmicks in a previous production raise the bar for the next

The director for the 2008 show, David Mackay, had a very stylised portrayal of the play, particularly with respect to the beginning. While most incarnations of the piece would have standard dialogue between the Sea Captain and Viola, Mackay decided to go even further and replaced it with a 1920s style silent film, finishing with 2008!Orsino (Todd Talbot) bursting out from the screen.

I’ll concede that this is a minor point, as this really only affects people who’ve seen the 2008 production as well. Attempting to look at this anew, I was happy with some of the choices this year’s director (Dennis Garnhum) made, particularly at the end of the first half where Sebastian and Viola miss each other by a tree’s berth.

What is Pourquoi?

Wherein Aguecheek loses his bravado

In 2008, Ryan Beil graced the stage as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in the companionship of Sir Toby Belch, designated to be the comic relief of the show. His portrayal of the character is one of a high upbringing, and as useless as he is, has some sense of dignity. I didn’t really feel that from this year’s Aguecheek, Richard Newman.

I think the problem lies from the very first entrance he makes. This year Aguecheek seems to be enfeebled and a bumbling fool (which as some of you may protest the latter to be the very essence of the character). He lacks the fragile dignified shell that shatters when he comes face-to-face against Viola (then later Sebastian). He does not appear to be pompous or refined for my tastes, which is needed to augment the character’s comedic value.

Giggle Giggle Giggle

In which Olivia is a chittering schoolgirl

You cannot escape my clutches now, my pretty! Source: Canada.com (2008)

Melissa Poll portrayed mournful widow Olivia in 2008 and held a frosty demeanour among her servants. Her frosty shell began cracking (surely albeit slowly) when Viola came in under the guise of Cesario as she reported Duke Orsino’s message of love, only for the lady-in-mourning to become smitten with the messenger. Her breathless “two Cesarios? Most wonderful!” and slow head turn towards the audience was the sweet spot for me.

Naomi Wright took up her mantle this year and is more chipper than Poll. While she mourns for her brother, she seems to be in good enough spirits to hide herself amongst her chambermaids to fool Viola. She puts up little to no restraint in holding back her desires to bed Cesario (which, although is a huge part of the play, seems to have been executed a tad too hastily).

I’ve always envisioned Olivia to be an aged woman; if not physically then mentally after the death of her father and brother; that is, she is more mature and comes off as a cougar-like version of Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing. These women of Shakespeare should be proud of themselves, and while some of them will become receptive to men, such as aforementioned Beatrice and Kate from Taming of the Shrew, they should do so gradually, over the course of the play.

The Wind and the Rain Augment the Clown’s Wit

Where Feste is Fluid and Full of Talent

Feste pondering how to charm his audience next. Source: Vancouver Vantage (2013)

The 2008 production decided to have Feste as an airplane pilot. I unfortunately don’t remember much of Scott Bellis’ performance, as Jonathon Young’s blew me away.

The Fool Corruptor of Words carries with him an alluring and suave presence as he flits hither and to with fluid motion. Young is given the chance to show off his singing at several points of the production and hamminess (e.g., the entrance of Olivia), and waste them he does not.

As far as humour goes, he gives off the coyness that the older characters of Shakespeare’s comedies have. He supplements the more verbal part of the laughs as opposed to Sirs Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek, whose antics are more of the traditional slapstick comedy. He still performs some physical comedy but, as he has penned himself the Corruptor of Words to Olivia, manipulation of the English language still remains his forte, and boy, does he do it.


How Malvolio has Become Neurotic

Of all the characters in this play, Malvolio has almost always been portrayed as the straight man. He serves to please his lady, and underneath his servant’s guise is infatuation with Olivia. Malvolio is a serious man, something that Allan Zinyk has decided to forego in favour of a warmer, quirky incarnation. It’s good acting, though I find it somewhat jarring for this character.

Andrew Wheeler, who portrayed Malvolio in 2008, was dour and humourless, something that accentuated the hilarity when Malvolio attempted to be jovial in Olivia’s presence. It is this change that makes the situation funny and attests to what some people will do to be loved and admired by their object of affection.

Emotional vulnerability draws back on the straight man persona at the time of his first appearance; Wheeler’s Malvolio retains a stiff upper lip; Zinyk’s is broken, and it is heartbreaking to see him being escorted away due to the trauma of a prank perpetuated by his lady’s drunk uncle and maids. That may have been funny, but in the aftermath, this elaborate ruse evolves into something depressing.

More Hardcore than Avenue Q

Learning why the rating in parentheses exists

Alternatively, why I will never see Craig Erickson in the same way ever again.

Before entering the theatre in which a show is performed, the production will usually have written notices and verbal reminders from the staff about material the audience should be aware of before watching (e.g., gun shot effects, use of herbal cigarettes, etc.); I don’t remember seeing such a warning in the program,

This year Garnhum decided to adapt a scene from the 1996 movie, Twelfth Night or What You Will:

I liked the inclusion of this scene as it shows how out of place Viola is and the possibility of having her cover blown. I was not expecting Duke Orsino (Todd Thomson) to disrobe completely.

You get to see much, MUCH more of Todd Thomson than just this. Any subsequent pictures would have this covering everything. Source: Vancouver Vantage

Not long after, Feste comes and joins the festivities, ending with him getting him towel-whipped and chased out by every other guy, giving the audience a very large dose of male fanservice. I can only imagine what the people on the other side of the tent had seen. Hopefully they were wearing pasties.

But That’s All One, Our Play is Done

Concluding remarks

Although I don’t agree with some of the choices the actors made, this play promotes a strong cast and boasts strong direction by itself. The sets are lavish and fit well with the setting. The only possible way one’s enjoyability of the play can be diminished is by having seen it before. I hope you enjoyed the reveal of Cesario and Feste’s antics as much as I did. Cheers!

Also, I’ve had a nagging question for a long time: I’ve read and seen this play over the span of a few years now, and still cannot for the life of me understand why it’s called Twelfth Night. Does it take place over twelve nights?

My face by the end of the show.

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