Review – Twelfth Night, Wyndhams/Donmar

For what was unveiled as a celebrity-studded uberseason, the choices for the plays at the Donmar’s West End season at the Wyndhams seem somewhat workaday.

The star of the season is obviously Hamlet with Jude Law in the summer (although even this seems less than exciting in a post-Tennant world).

Ivanov with Kenneth Branagh was clearly chosen to open the season as a counterpoint to Hamlet closing it, the two plays being both fairly similar on a superficial level; although some of the sheen has come off this particularly marketing gambit given that Brannagh will no longer direct Hamlet due to a scheduling conflict (I always check my diaries before agreeing to direct Shakespeare’s greatest play in a major west end production, but that’s just me). But a new translation by Tom Stoppard… pretty interesting stuff…

Madame de Sade: Judi Dench in something translated from the Japanese. Bound to be good. And Rosamund Pike.

Twelfth Night
And then Twelfth Night. Which always felt like the one that they’d got to last in the season planning meeting, when everybody was a bit tired of negotiating with Jude and Judy. “How about we just do a funny Shakespeare? Will Derek do it? Probably. Can we get some yellow stockings? Done. Right, thanks everybody.”

Given the creative team (Grandage in charge) it’s hardly surprising that this is an entirely competent production, but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as enjoyable and interesting as it was.

Twelfth Night is, in essence, an ensemble piece. Victoria Hamilton as Viola and Alex Waldman (fresh from his Troilus at the Barbican) as Sebastian deserve special mention, but there’s not a single weak link in the cast. Ron Cook, Guy Henry and Samantha Spiro as Belch, Aguecheek and Maria manage to both seem childish, petty and infuriating, without resorting to Falstaffian tediousness (can there be anything more boring than some young RSC actor walking on in Elizabethan costume, grabbing his crotch and shouting “COCKScomb” in an effort to prove what a bawdy comic Shakespeare was?). Even Zubin Varla as Feste the fool manages not to be tedious.

Against all of this, Jacobi as Malvolio finds it somewhat difficult to make an impact. The character actually has a surprisingly small role (being given relatively few lines, in what is essentially a sub-plot) and displays absolutely no development whatsoever; he is summarily dismissed at the end of the play when he becomes inconvenient to plot’s happy ending; the role’s fame stems entirely from the comic potential of seeing established, elder-statesmen actors dressed up ridiculously and smiling. In this, Jacobi excels.

Twelfth Night runs at the Wyndhams’ Theatre until 7 March: book here.