Twelfth Night

Comedy Accent In Stratford's Twelfth Night

After three revivals of past successes - and another is yet to come - the Royal Shakespeare Company's new production of Twelfth Night makes a welcome addition to the season at Stratford-on-Avon.

This is one of the most frequently-performed Shakespeare comedies and is probably the one with the most universal appeal.

The skilfully woven plot, with its generous blend of romance and comedy, requires no great efforts to follow it, even to anyone unfamiliar with it.

Distinctive touches

Clifford Williams, who has directed the new production, which opened at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre last night, has a refreshing way of making Shakespearean comedy light and amusing.

His talent in this respect has been shown to advantage in the past - many people will remember just how entertaining he made The Comedy of Errors.

His work on Twelfth Night is again notable for distinctive and imaginative touches in exploiting the humorous possibilities of the play.

The baiting of Malvolio with the forged letter and the duel between Viola and Aguecheek are memorable highlights.

Strong cast

Mr Williams has made a determined effort to play for laughs, and it pays dividends. At the same time he has been at pains to observe the sense of style the play demands.

The cast is a strong one, and includes some of the most talented members of the company.

Diana Rigg, returning to Stratford after winning fame in The Avengers, brings a great charm to the part of Viola, and looks fully at ease in boyish costume.

But it is not really her who captures most attention in this production. The acting honours must surely go to Ian Holm for his splendid, well-rounded characterisation of the ill-used Malvolio.

Another impressive and eminently sensible performance is given by Brewster Mason, whose Sir Toby Belch is a character in his own right rather than an underdrawn Falstaff.

Princely Orsino

David Warner is a comic foil as the foolish Aguecheek, and others doing good work are Patsy Byrne (Maria), Norman Rodway (Feste) and Tim Wylton (Fabian).

Alan Howard, a newcomer to the company, is a princely Orsino, submerged in melancholy, and Estelle Kohler gives a spirited performance as an Olivia rather different from what one might expect.

Christopher Bidmead seems a rather weak Sebastian, much too frail-looking to give a trouncing to Belch and Aguecheek that is severe enough for them to come on stage wearing bloodstained bandages, one using a crutch and the other with an outlandish arm support.

Mind you, as a piece of tongue-in-cheek fun, this is highly amusing.

The purposeful setting, with a gallery for the minstrels, and also the costumes have been designed by Sally Jacobs. The music, by Guy Woolfenden, is played by the Royal Shakespeare Wind Band.


The Coventry Evening Telegraph, 17.6.66.

Playing Shakespeare/Twelfth Night