Twisted Shakespeare: Twelfth Night
JOYCE MCMILLAN on TWISTED SHAKESPEARE: TWELFTH NIGHT at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 3.8.12
3 stars ***
IT TAKES SOME nerve, to stage a youth theatre production of a Shakespeare comedy that lasts just a little under three hours. These days, the usual way of dealing with an encounter between the bard and young performers is to keep it short and noisy, to focus on the physical action, and to let the poetry fend for itself, in gabble of high-speed dialogue.
There’s no chance of that, though, in Mary McCluskey of Scottish Youth Theatre’s immensely detailed and almost leisurely account of Shakespeare’s darkest comedy, with its sombre intimations of mortality, and of looming social conflict between puritans and pleasure-seekers. On a dark stage designed by Kenny Miller to look a little like a tomb, but backed by a series of huge screen images of a glorious, formal Italian garden, McCluskey allows her young cast to explore the text at what at first seems an almost funereal pace. There are long pauses between lines, but also – often – a rare sense of understanding, as Rosa Edwards’s elfin Olivia makes her way to the court of Orsino, there to discover the fierce pangs of love for her master, while dressed as his page boy.
One of the problems with McCluskey’s production is that she slightly spoils the joke, so far as Viola and Orsino are concerned, by setting the play – like the SYT’s Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Edinburgh Botanics – in a world where same-sex relationships are not a problem; although Emily Deans’s noisy female Malvolio, falling instantly for the cheeky forged letter suggesting that her boss Olivia is in love with her, has an impressive command of Shakespeare’s text, and of its multiple comic meanings.
There’s plenty to relish, though, in the detail of this show, not least Kirsty Alexander’s outstanding Maria – fluent, clever and witty – and some gorgeous singing from Katharine O’Donnelly as Feste the clown, helped by Dave Gillies’ lush live score. Like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this Twefth Night suffers from a few over-emphatic dance sequences, each one about twice as long as it needs to be to make its point. This is the kind of show, though, that rewards a little patience; and it pulls off the rare achievement of leading a young cast through every twist and turn of Shakespeare’s play, without compromising at all on its complexity, or its uneasy sense of comedy itself as an increasingly fragile defence, against the approaching dark.