Twelfth Night (1988): Theatre Royal, Stratford East
PrTwelfth Night (1988)
PRINCIPAL CAST: Tariq Alibai (Sir Toby Belch); Helen Atkinson-Wood (Viola); Alan Cowan (Malvolio); Winston Crooke (Orsino); Lyndam Gregory (Sir Andrew Aguecheek); John Matshikiza (Feste); Josephine Welcome (Olivia).
This production ran from 3 - 19 March 1988.
"If the RSC set this comedy in a 1930s colonial never never land, with Cesario running errands between a Caribbean Orsino and an Indian Olivia, there would be pages of quotes from V.S. Naipaul and Derek Walcott to say why. The Stratford East programme is more down-to-earth. 'Approximately 40 per cent of Newham's population is Afro-Caribbean and Southern Asian,' it says; adding, with a strong hint of grievance, 'Shakespeare is still studied at GCSE level and is compulsory for A-Level English.' In other words, there is no point in looking for any expressive purpose in Jeff Teare's production beyond the demands of integrated casting and community-outreach policy. Equally, it would be ridiculous to complain about the absence of style in a show that has only come together as an exercise in co-existence; where guitars and sitars mingle with Feste's thumb-piano, the text has been pruned for obscurities (so that Pythagoras's opinion on wild fowl turns into the ancient gurus' views on peacocks), and white supremacy lingers on in this 'backwater of empire' in the person of an imperially dispossessed Malvolio in a sun-helmet and silly white plus-fours....There are some good performances, and others which might have been straightened out. As it is, Winston Crooke's imperious Orsino cancels out his appearance with ingratiating speech; while Tariq Alibai and Lyndam Gregory respectively offer a nervously defensive Sir Toby, cloaked behind mugging mannerisms, and a sensible and dignified Aguecheek. Things are much better with Alan Cowan's Malvolio, a repressed bureaucrat who has to do a safe-cracking job to produce a smile; and Josephine Welcome's steely Olivia, whose melting is the high moment of the show. In this mixed company, Helen Atkinson Wood sensibly jettisons the lyrical Viola and plays for parody and fun - a neat musical-comedy principal boy in blazer and bow-tie, concealing her emotional turmoil with complete success under the mask of a golden boy. ~ Irving Wardle, "Unfair to the Bard", The Times, 9 March 1988
"Illyria, Ilea or wherever is a confused state a colonial Afro-Asian dream of how it might have been, where only the emotional harmony of the well-established order is slightly out of kilter, to be wholesomely restored by the arrival of two white prats, Viola and Sebastian who come innocently from afar and end up stealing the two most eligible hearts in the country. But no-one seems to mind or see the symbolism. Least of all the director, Jeff Teare, who has thrown in so many racial stereotypes, visual red herrings and half-followed ideas into his theatrical vision that it is almost impossible to make a coherent guess as to what it all means....Feste (John Matshikiza) is a fine, worldly clown, dressed somewhere between Nelson and Marley; Matshikiza manages to convey the sadness of the immigrant and the wisdom of the beggar. Sir Andrew, too, is an impeccable Indian hooray, and Toby Belch is a refreshingly raffish and intelligent Belch." ~ John Vidal, "When all's at sea in Illyria", Guardian, 10 March 1988