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I saw this production of Twelfth Night, at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, at Stratford upon Avon, on 1st September 2012.

For anyone not familiar with the story, it revolves around a young woman named Viola, who survives a shipwreck and washes up in a country called Illyria.  Viola believes that her twin brother Sebastian has perished in the shipwreck.  She disguises herself as a man and calls herself Cesario, and finds employment with Orsino (in the original play, Orsino was a Duke, but here he is captain of the police force).  Orsino has fallen hard for Olivia (originally written as a countess, but here the owner of a hotel), and tasks ‘Cesario’ with conveying his love to Olivia, and hopefully getting Olivia to return his feelings.  However, Olivia falls for ‘Cesario’, not realising that he is in fact a woman, and things get complicated.  A sub-plot concerns Olivia’s drunken uncle, Toby Belch, and his capers and escapades with his friend Andrew Aguecheek.

The play started with Viola, played with charm by Emily Taaffe, literally climbing out of water, onto the wooden stage, which made for a dramatic opening scene.  As the action moves from Orsino’s home to Olivia’s hotel, the action moves along at a nice pace, balancing drama and comedy perfectly.  The play was performed in modern dress, and the set was clean, with only a few pieces of scenery, which worked very well, and ensured seamless switching of scenes.

The cast were all excellent, but I simply cannot review this play without making special mention of Jonathan Slinger, who played Malvalio – and was outstanding in his role.  He also got the biggest laugh of the entire play; I’m not going to say in which scene, as I would hate to spoil it for anyone who has yet to see it, but suffice to say that the auditorium exploded with applause and laughter, and I was crying from laughing so much.  Nicholas Day and Bruce MacKinnon were great as Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek respectively, as Cecilia Noble as Maria.

This is one of Shakespeare’s best loved comedies, and it’s easy to see why.  I highly recommend this production, which is part of the shipwreck trilogy (which also includes The Comedy of Errors and The Tempest; however, it is not necessary to see all of the plays to enjoy one of them). If you want to see an excellent comedy, in a beautiful theatre, I cannot recommend this production highly enough.

(For more information about this production, or about the Royal Shakespeare Company, please click here.)

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Click here for my review of the 1996 film adaptation.

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