Twelfth Night strikes right balance of romance & bawdy fun

May 18, 2014

New Calgary production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night strikes right balance of romance and bawdy fun

By Louis B Hobson, Calgary Sun

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Because Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night juggles comedy, cruelty and romance in equal measures it takes a skilled director to find the proper balance.

In Kate Newby, The Shakespeare Company has a director who revels in mining the bawdiest aspects of the play while refusing to shy away from either the silliness of the romantic entanglements or the nastiness of the play’s cruel games.

What Newby gives us is a riotous and ribald evening in which people are not quite what they initially seem.

Twins Viola (Lara Schmitz) and Sebastian (Brett Dahl) are separated in a storm at sea with Viola being washed up in a country called Ilyria.

Fearing for her virginity Viola disguises herself as a male page named Cesario and is welcomed into the employment of the lovesick Duke Orsino (Nathan Schmidt) who is unsuccessfully wooing the beauteous Olivia (Sarah Wheeldon) who is mourning her recently deceased father and brother.

The first moment Viola/Cesario meets Orsino she is smitten as is Olivia when she meets Cesario/Viola.

As Shakespeare observed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream mortals in love can be such foolish creatures and the course of true love never did run smooth.

It’s hilarious to watch Schmidt getting all bromancy with Cesario/Viola one moment and then seeing Wheeldon fawning all over Cesario/Viola the next.

It’s high spirited cross dressing nonsense even if we never believe for a second that anyone could mistake Schmitz for a man but suspending disbelief is part of the fun in Twelfth Night.

The first time Schmidt entered as Cesario wearing the tightest jeans and sporting a pony tale I feared costume designer Ronda Borneman had boxed herself into a corner because somewhere out there at sea there’s Sebastian who is supposed to be the spitting image of Viola.

Incredibly, Borneman managed to squeeze Dahl into equally form-fitting jeans and she even gave him a matching pony tale and kudos to Dahl for going along with it especially when Wheeldon turns her ravenous charms on him.

While these nobles are falling in love, Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby Belch (Duval Lang) is toying with another of Olivia’s suitors, the silly Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Devon Dubnyk), and plotting to make a fool of her pompous steward Malvolio (Cam Ascroft) with the help of the serving wench Maria (Ayla Stephen).

It is with this comic subplot that Newby throws caution and decorum to the wind layering everything with sexual innuendo, double entendre and bawdy slapstick, giving Calgarians a hint of why the groundlings of Elizabethan England loved Twelfth Night.

Too often Belch is played as an alcoholic buffoon, but not so with Lang who gives him a genuine nastiness.

His delight in making a buffoon of Aguecheek and in humiliating Malvolio is devilish.

Dubnyk who looks like a praying mantis is hysterical; Ascroft is wonderfully pompous and Stephen is gleefully lusty.

Every time he steps into a scene as Feste, Olivia’s jester, Graham Percy owns the stage in what is a stand-out performance in a truly talented ensemble.

When Feste gets stoned on magic mushrooms and remains so through the end of the play it really is one of the high points of a Twelfth Night that is a carnival of fun and frivolity.

True to his promise that all his company’s Shakespeare offerings would come in under 140 minutes with intermission, artistic director Haysam Kadri has trimmed almost an hour out of Twelfth Night sacrificing none of the pleasure and revelry of the play.

The Shakespeare Company’s Twelfth Night runs in the Vertigo Studio Theatre until May 24.

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