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Twelfth Night

Eleanor Bishop



by William Shakespeare
Directed by Matt Wagner
Produced by THEA 302 StudentsStudio 77,
15 – 19 May

“The rain it raineth everyday”. These words were emphasised in Victoria University Theatre students’ publicity of their production of Twelfth Night, which matched perfectly the dark comic interpretation of the play.
I was going to continue Karin’s trend of skipping plot synopses, except to say that Viola turns up shipwrecked in Illyria, thinking her twin brother dead, decides to dress up as man, becomes Count Orsino’s servant, attempts to woo Olivia for him, who falls for Cesario (Viola) instead, her brother Sebastian turns up (not dead) and cue hilarious mistaken identity Shakespearean comedy. Oh, and a fool and some drunken servants decide to play a trick on Malvolio, Olivia’s pompous manservant.
I shouldn’t really add that as an afterthought, because this plot arch becomes the main focus of the play, adding to the overall darkly comic interpretation. Ralph McCubbin Howell leads the cast as Feste / The Fool and has the audience entranced from the moment he sets foot on stage, with his mischievous glances and excellent command of verse. He opens and closes the show, bowler hat and umbrella in hand, which becomes the aesthetic throughout the play. A watchful eye over the events in the play, he is “wise enough to play the fool”.
James Devonport’s set design is truly ingenious. A type of cardboard overlays the stage, in which the footprints of the cast are imprinted as they walk upon it. The beach is conjured physically, and the stark barren beauty lends much to the interpretation of the text. Tiffany Franks and Richard Keene’s lighting accompanies the set perfectly, with blue beach-y hues and stark backlights. Costume wise, the rolled up trousers and shirts also reference the setting of the beach.
Much of the music has been composed or arranged by members of the cast, who have done an excellent job of communicating the emotional qualities of the piece – from flute, cello and Feste’s humorous use of the ukulele, to ensemble singing.
Hats off (bowlers of course) to Ralph McCubbin Howell who leads a fantastic ensemble of fine young actors – Sophie Head brings a quiet strength to Viola, who speaks her witty banter with ease, but strongly conveys a sense of secret longing love for her master Orsino. Sophie Stone is excellent as the feisty Maria; her long drawn out scene of giggling at Malvolio in his stockings and garters is played to maximum comic potential.
All the cast played their parts with a deep understanding and an excellent grasp of the verse. Maria, Sir Toby Belch (a hilarious Rawiri Jobe) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (a bumbling Tiffany Franks) make an excellent trio as they meddle with the impeccably played pompous Malvolio (Jeremy Downing). His downfall and final embarrassment in front of Olivia (a splendid Cherie Jacobson) is marked by the absence of these characters, and is not comic, but softly sad.
As the play ends, the cast (clad in bowler hats and clutching umbrellas – for the rain of course), the audience thinks not of the happy couples (there is no whooping, cheering and dancing) but of Viola’s line – “Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness”.
The ending is melancholic, a fitting tribute to the rest of the production, as Feste wanders off stage into the fading light, and the strains off the singing voices die out singing “The rain it raineth everyday”. A thoroughly enjoyable, unique production from a talented ensemble of young actors, designers and musicians.