Twelfth Night (1968): Prospect Theatre Company
PrTwelfth Night (1968)
CAST INCLUDED: Helen Fraser (Maria); Sheila Gish (Olivia); Willoughby Goddard (Sir Toby Belch); Bari Jonson (Malvolio); Ronnie Stevens (Feste); Fiona Walker (Viola).
This was a touring production, although the only known venues were the Arts Theatre, Cambridge and the Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon; information comes from reviews and is incomplete.
"Prospect Productions is a roving repertory company that tours Britain with a repertoire of classics and occasional new plays of merit. As such it fills an enormous gap left by the disappearance of companies like Donald Wolfit's. And, since Prospect is a subsidised troupe, it can fill that gap with an overall quality presentation that would no longer be feasible for the actor manager operating on a commercial basis....Toby Robertson's production of Twelfth Night...is obviously designed to fit a multiplicity of stages....The Illyria here is located in the philistine environment of the English countryside where the gentry shoot, hunt, fish and carouse whilst Napoleon dominates the rest of Europe. In other words, Shakespeare is updated to the period of John Whiting's Penny For a Song which, though it suits Toby Belch's revels, ill-accommodates the androgynous passions of the lovers and the melancholy fooling of the clowns. Apart from a backdrop that...
"Prospect Productions' Twelfth Night at the Arts Centre, Cambridge, is set in a sort of Regency arcadia, and mainly out of doors; the play opens with peasant music in a cornfield....The stage is bare, the props spectacular; opulancy is indicated by sport....Sheila Gish's Olivia is well played for laughs and the Malvolio is a Jamaican actor, Bari Johnson. One wonders why; perhaps to emphasise the distance between him and Olivia or perhaps colour is irrelevant; a fine performance." ~ Valerie Grosvenor Myer, "Twelfth Night at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge", Guardian, 31 January 1968
"The production's greatest virtue is that it gives one the impression that the function of each scene has been carefully reexamined. The period is roughly Regency and the action is nearly always given a particular social context: Orsino is out shooting when he sends Viola on her first embassy to Olivia, and he later talks to her of the intensity of his love while he is sitting astride a painted wooden horse and having his portrait done. This latter device brilliantly conveys to us the way Orsino's self-regard and vanity undermine his passion for Olivia. However, the production's most publicized novelty is its coloured Malvolio. Since differences of rank, as Dover Wilson points out, meant more to the Elizabethans than they do to us, the intention is clearly to find some up-to-date way of showing the impossibility of Malvolio's social aspirations. However, I find the idea only pays dividents when Bari Johnson's erstwhile dignified steward is reduced to a quivering wreck and, while encased in a barrel, utters the tormented rhythmic cries one instantly associates with a negro slave gang." ~ Michael Billington, "Novelty without excess", The Times, 30 January 1968