Sometimes you see a production in a theatre that leaves you so shaken it takes a while to get over it. Peter Hall's latest whack at Shakespeare's TWELFTH NIGHT has left me thus... and not in a good way.
The production sold out to the National Theatre mailing list punters so tickets have been on the rare side - when two popped up on the NT website a few weeks back I nabbed them. No doubt Peter Hall wanted the Cottesloe so we are close to the action and, as is his lifelong mission, can concentrate on the text.
The production marks Peter Hall's 80th birthday and it's his fourth go at the play. I have to say that rather than seeing a production that showed that experience, I saw a production obviously directed by an old man.
An unavoidable problem was the clanging amateurishness of Rebecca Hall. Damn girl, how did you get the gig? Oh yes, I forgot for a minute. Her film career might be in the ascendant with roles in VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA, FROST/NIXON as well as winning a BAFTA for the RED RIDING trilogy on Channel 4 but her stage work leaves her with nowhere to hide.
Although she won the Ian Charleston award in 2002 for her performance of 'Vivie' in her father's production of MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION I found that portrayal a bit two-dimensional but that at least fitted the kill-joy character, and felt she only succeeded playing Hermione in Sam Mendes' 2009 WINTER'S TALE at the Old Vic when she played the statue at the end!
Time and again Rebecca Hall give us true moments of jaw-dropping thinness. In her solo speeches to the audience she gave a masterclass in coarse acting - her arms stiffly raised from her sides for emphasis or looking from one side of the auditorium to the other to 'include the audience in' on her thoughts. It was a performance that semaphored cluelessness to the audience and more than once I found myself groaning quietly.
It all reminded me of when Jennifer, another of Hall's offspring, appeared as Helena in MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at the Lyttleton in 1983 and gave a performance of resounding averageness.
This mis-firing performance colours the whole production and is not helped by being paired with the rather odd Orsino of Marton Csokas. Looking not unlike a shaggy Russell Crowe, it was a performance that again consistently hit wrong notes all over the place. Like... was Peter Hall having his afternoon sleep during the rehearsals?
Rebecca Hall's Amateur-Night-In-Dixie turn is illuminated all the more by her scenes with Amanda Drew as Olivia. Where Hall speaks her lines with the studied earnestness of an over-achieving schoolgirl, Drew simply acts. For her the lines are learned and tucked away and she simply plays the role with a bemused air that is a pleasure to watch.One of the reasons I wanted to see the production was that Simon Paisley Day was playing Malvolio. His last two roles in ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE and PRIVATE LIVES have shown him as one of our best high comedy actors but here the life seems drained from him, the comedy gold that Simon Russell Beale and Derek Jacobi have found in Malvolio's pomposity and gulling by his enemies is here fitful and on a very low-light. He is a good enough actor to be able to adapt to Hall's doleful take on TWELFTH NIGHT and he certainly makes you sympathise for Malvolio's longing for revenge at the end of the play - I just felt cheated out of the performance I know he could have excelled in.
Sir Peter doesn't seem interested in the play's lovers. No, for him TWELFTH NIGHT is a serious rumination on death and the autumnal shades of Shakespeare later plays. As early as 1960 when he wrote a long preface to the play that is reprinted in the programme, he identified the central role in the play as Feste, Olivia's rueful clown . Not Viola, not Malvolio, Feste.Now as much as I admire David Ryall who plays the woeful jester, his ponderous delivery and lengthy scenes slowed the night to a crawl. While one can understand Hall's desire to make an elderly character the one we should pay most attention to, it unbalances the play so one sits there enduring the molasses-like atmosphere rather than enjoying a proven enjoyable play. Ryall plays the final scene alone, singing one of his interminable songs. Hall's decision to attempt to do it as an audience sing-a-long was a very wrong call.
As much as I liked Ryall's performance, I could not help thinking what the late John Normington could have done with the role as he was an actor capable of the lightest of touches.Apart from Drew, the best performances come from the devious characters in the Lady Olivia's house. Simon Callow's rambunctious Sir Toby Belch, Finty Williams as a sly Maria and, best of all, Charles Edwards as a delightfully daft Sir Andrew Aguecheek lifted the spirit with their every appearance - but these characters should surely be the mischievous devils who are the icing on the cake - not the ones who you are watching the wings for their next entrance?
I really can't be bothered to write any more about it but I must mention the bizarre design of Anthony Ward - a bare stage with a canopy of autumnal leaves - YEAH WE GET IT - with a tiny row of houses on the left-hand side of a shelf that runs along the back of the stage which doesn't so much suggest perspective so much as the remnants of a seaside gift shop at the end of it's closing down sale. The second-act addition of a large doll's house version of Olivia's mansion suggests a large piece of Capodimonte sitting in a litter tray.