Mistaken identity, gender swapping, wanton drunkenness – this production had all the hallmarks of a classic Shakespearean comedy. This production, directed by Lauren Stockless, with its minimalist set and live music provided by Fiona Russell and Mim Wright, felt extremely faithful to the Shakespearean original.
Generally the production was very well directed – however, the extensive use of the floor level meant that much of the audience were unable to see all of the action, sometimes for entire scenes. This a disappointing blip on an otherwise excellent directorial performance. The script was artfully cut and the wonderful costumes allowed the actors to fully embody the roles that they were playing, a feat for which the costume team should be congratulated.
Whilst the leads, Olivia Evershed as Viola, Francesca Sellors as Olivia, and Ben Schofield as Duke Orsino, were solid if unspectacular, this was a show lit up by its supporting cast. Thomas Noble seemed to be channelling the spirit of Brian Blessed in his vivacious portrayal of the drunken knight, Sir Toby, and his double act with the hapless Sir Andrew (Callum Pope) provided many of the show’s moments of hilarity and absurdity. These two, alongside Tom Whiston’s wonderfully effeminate Fabian and Izzy Woodhouse’s conniving, intelligent, and aspirational Maria, artfully manipulate the virtuous Malvolio.
In his portrayal of the famously wronged steward, Charlie Ralph showed an outstanding dramatic range, from the tight lipped, pompous steward of the opening, through to the man’s eventual ridicule, despair and rage. Ralph portrays each of Malvolio’s changing emotions with aplomb. The scene in which Sir Toby, Sir Anthony and Fabian attempt to listen to Malvolio while he reads Maria’s deceitful letter, all the while trying desperately, if absurdly, to avoid being discovered by the steward was a stand-out moment. This scene was indicative of the joy created by the supporting cast.
Unfortunately, the show often lacked momentum and occasionally it felt as though the plot was merely a method of moving between the comic set pieces. There were moments at which the acting felt wooden and uninspiring and, on occasion I found myself admiring the architecture of the Teviot Debating Hall. The dramatic sections of the plot failed to grasp the audience and any emotional connection between the cast and the audience was conspicuously lacking. At times I was hoping that the sub-plot and the supporting cast would return to the stage.
This was a production with many qualities but, at the same time, it struggled for momentum and sometimes failed to truly engage with the audience. The show was one with many enjoyable moments and left the audience with smiles on their faces as they remembered some of the many moments of hilarity that were dotted throughout. At its worst, this could have been no more than a school production, at its best you felt that you could have been at the RSC.
Teviot Debating Hall
Photo courtesy of Edinburgh University Shakespeare Comapny