This summer, I could not help myself when I saw the playbill for the Stratford Festival. One of the best if not the best Shakespeare festivals in North America, Stratford always puts together a winning lining up. This year we have managed no less than four productions. We started the summer with Guys and Dolls. Then it was HMS Pinafore, followed by The School for Scandal and we have come to Twelfth Night this past weekend. We enjoy live theatre very much and I am pleased to say my 16-year old son continues to be a fan. He and I stole away for an evening performance and it did not disappoint. As I continue to grow DownshfitngPRO, I want to encourage the voice of others. I want to keeps expanding its points of view of how we see the world and this review of Twelfth Night was written by my 16-year old son. Last fall he read Shakespeare in his English class and I thought it would be a great opportunity for him to see the play performed live (instead of a movie adaptation). We discussed the plot and characters that he had studied and then we saw the play. I’m delighted that he loved the show. Without further ado, here is Hayden’s review.
Synopsis and Plot Summary
William Shakespeare’s What You Will, better known as Twelfth Night, is a comedy written circa 1601-1602 that tells the story of a woman marooned on an island kingdom working under the guise of a eunuch for the local Duke. This year’s Stratford Festival features a production of Twelfth Night, being one of three Shakespeare productions this year besides Romeo & Juliet and Timon of Athens. The key reason I went to go see it was because I read Twelfth Night in English class during 10th grade (along with watching two movie adaptations in the same class) and therefore would understand what was going on. Shakespeare plays aren’t too easy to follow. Speaking of which, I ought to provide my own synopsis so you know what you’re getting yourself into. So, anyways, the story starts with Viola, a survivor of a shipwreck that leaves her stranded on the island kingdom of Illyria. (Which may or may not be a real place in the Balkans? I never really figured that one out.) Anyhow, Viola supposedly lost her twin (this is important) brother Sebastian in the shipwreck, and has no money. In order to get by, she disguises herself as a man, in order to be hired by Duke Orsino. Orsino hires Viola, who is now going by the name Cesario, to carry his words of affection to Countess Olivia, a noblewoman Orsino has his sights on. Unfortunately, Olivia is currently mourning the loss of her brother, and is in no mood for swooning. However, when she meets Cesario, she is smitten; Cesario realizes this, and acts aloof, because she has in turn fallen for Orsino, unbeknownst to the duke. In other words, a literal love triangle.
About half the jokes come from this: Cesario framing her affections for Orsino as love advice, Orsino’s professions of love through Cesario failing to woo Olivia, and Olivia trying to get Cesario to keep coming back so she can see “him” more. Of course, no play is complete without a supporting cast, and thus the subplot comes into play. About a fifth into the play, the audience is introduced to Sir Toby Belch, drunkard and uncle to Olivia; Sir Andrew Aguecheek, friend of Toby and pursuer of Olivia’s love; Maria, Olivia’s maid; Feste, her fool (the entertainer sort: kind of like a bard); and Malvolio, Olivia’s prideful steward. After Malvolio interrupts a midnight party between the knights, Maria and Feste, they hatch a plot to get revenge; they will embarrass him by making him act and dress foolishly in front of his mistress. Because Maria can mimic Olivia’s handwriting to a tee, and because Malvolio is a gullible oaf, the partygoers, along with Fabian, who’s just there I guess, trick Malvolio into doing some dreadfully heinous stuff. Long story short, Malvolio looks like a jerk, and the denial of his deception has him pinned as a lunatic, which gets him jailed. In the meantime, Sebastian, (Viola’s twin) along with Antonio, another sailor whose life he saved, is scouring Illyria for a place to stay. Now, Antonio has some enemies in Orsino’s court, (Something about being a deserter or a traitor? It’s never made clear.) So he has to lay low in order not to be imprisoned. Therefore, he lends his purse to Sebastian, who opts to walk the streets, as the day is still light. Meanwhile, Sir Andrew has become aware of the fact that Cesario is stealing the show, and is getting salty about it. So, while Malvolio is out of the picture, he and Sir Toby arrange a duel with Cesario. Toby, however, is not above playing his friend, and fixes the duel. Because of Toby, Cesario and Sir Andrew are both terrified of each other, and can hardly fight. However, Antonio arrives on scene and, believing Cesario to be Sebastian (I told you to remember that: because they’re twins, Cesario and Sebastian look nigh-identical!) takes a stand to defend “Sebastian”, causing Sir Toby to join the melee. The resulting commotion attracts the attention of the authorities, who then apprehend Antonio. Antonio, defeated, asks Cesario for his purse back, Cesario is baffled, as she does not recognize him, and merely pays him half her coffer. Antonio feels betrayed: After all he’s done for “Sebastian” he not only denies the return of his loan, he acts like they’ve never met! The officers take Antonio away, leaving a shell-shocked Cesario; if that man claimed she was Sebastian, does that mean that Sebastian is alive?
The rest of the play ties up most of the plot threads; Malvolio is defeated and depressed, locked up in a dungeon. Feste, under the guise of Sir Topaz the priest, taunts him further at the request of Sir Toby, but then returns to acting as himself to provides Malvolio with the pen, paper and light he may use to prove his innocence. Sir Andrew encounters Sebastian, and believing him to be Cesario, engages in combat. Olivia, who is at this point completely infatuated by Cesario, halts the brawl, and then professes her love to a confused yet thoroughly interested Sebastian, who promptly accepts her offer of marriage. Everything hits a boiling point when Orsino, Olivia, Antonio, and both twins are all on scene at once, and everyone realizes what’s been going on. Oh, and Olivia discovers the truth behind Malvolio’s “madness”, thanks to a haphazard confession by Fabian. To go any further would be to spoil the ending, so I’ll leave it at that.
The performance itself was spectacular. The cast of characters work off each other wonderfully, with the synergy between Sir Toby and Sir Andrew being a definite highlight. I also like the rather playful, yet, cynical Feste, played by Brent Carver, who really sells his role as a witty fool. Other roles of note are the grandiose and dramatic Orsino, haughty yet vain Malvolio, and a stern and conniving Maria. It’s worth noting, too, that Sir Toby’s role would’ve been played by Geraint Wyn Davies, who notably played the role of Sir Peter in The School for Scandal, another play we saw, but he wasn’t available and therefore had his role filled in by Emilio Vieira, so, if you go see Twelfth Night, you may have a drastically different Sir Toby than what we got.
The stage was quite nice, as well, providing the backdrop of Orsino’s court, Olivia’s manor, the surrounding orchards, and even Malvolio’s gloomy cell. Also, the scenery was notably altered between Acts 1 and 2, with the more autumn-like décor in Act 2 standing out from Act 1’s leafy flowers. Not sure what purpose this serves, as there isn’t any sort of cross-seasonal time skip, and there aren’t any new locales in Act 2 besides the cell, in which case the new look becomes obsolete, but that doesn’t matter much. As a final point, do note this production is long, and perhaps a bit slower than the standard play, but I assure you the comedy makes up for it in spades. Some brief tunes courtesy of Feste also help liven up the scene. In conclusion, the Stratford Festival’s production of Twelfth Night is an honest to goodness wonder that’ll make you laugh with its silly, ironic comedy.
Story by William Shakespeare
Directed by Martha Henry
May 13 – October 21
Opens May 29
Approximate running time:
2 hrs. 40 min, including intermission
Hayden Ibbott is a passionate gamer, Internet explorer, pun expert and pseudo-blogger. He periodically provides his perspective to be published by DownshiftingPRO. All opinions are his own. You can read more of his (mostly gaming-related) posts below: