Twelfth Night

Written on July 30th, 2006

Twelfth Night

By William Shakespeare
Performed by Brian Bedford, Dana Green, Seana McKenna, Diane D’Aquila, Andrew Massingham, Thom Marriott, Don Carrier, SanJay Talwar, Shaun McComb, et al.
Directed by Leon Rubin
Stratford Festival Production
Festival Theatre
July 30 – October 28, 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

What You Will is what you get

Apparently someone in Shakespeare’s time considered Twelfth Night a Christmas show – although there is no obvious reason why. But that’s how the name Twelfth Night came to be. It was traditionally shown on the twelfth day of Christmas, which was a time of festivity. Shakespeare had originally called this play “What You Will” a clever pun on his name, and a more apt title, when you consider that “having your will” with someone had bawdy implications.

The current production of Twelfth Night playing at the Stratford Festival bears no resemblance to Christmas, but it has some surprises that are a delightful gift, and it ends in celebration.

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s later romantic comedies. It is traditional Shakespearean style, much of it written in rhyme. There are frequent soliloquies where the character stands at centre stage and talks directly to the audience, explaining his/her innermost thoughts and feelings.

Like several of Shakespeare’s comedies, the plot centres on a girl dressed as a boy. The confusion we see today on the stage, must have been compounded in Elizabethan times when women weren’t allowed to act, so boys would be playing the female roles. In this case, a young man would be playing a woman, pretending to be a boy.

Viola is shipwrecked and ends up on an exotic island. She assumes her twin brother Sebastian has died at sea. She dresses as a boy so that she will be safe in this strange country, and goes to work as an aid to the Prince. Of course, she falls in love with him, but he doesn’t know she’s a woman. He’s in love with the countess Olivia, and asks Viola to deliver his love to Olivia on his behalf. Olivia falls in love with the young messenger. In a subplot, Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch and his freeloader friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek, along with Olivia’s maid Maria, play a nasty trick on the annoying, self-righteous steward, Malvolio.

The set is the first interesting surprise. The stage is decorated like exotic India, with a golden turret and drapes revealing monkeys and birds in gilded cages. The play is moved from Elizabethan times to India in the 1800’s, under England’s colonial rule. The two worlds contrast effectively – Orsinio is an Indian Prince with servants in turbans and saris, while Olivia is a British countess, with her steward Malvolio in knickers and silk stockings.

The next delight is seeing Tony award winner and Stratford favourite Brian Bedford playing the dour Malvolio. Bedford is hilarious as the nasty steward, who is taken in by a fake love-note, and gets fooled into doing some ridiculous things.

Also delightful is Dana Green as Viola, who in turn pretends to be the young man Cesario. Green, with her hair hidden in a turban and her arms folded across her chest, could actually make you think she was a boy.

Thom Marriott as the drunken Sir Toby Belch and Don Carrier as the not-so-bright Sir Andrew Aguecheek make an excellent comedic team. Sir Andrew is a Scotsman, complete with kilt and plaid boxer shorts that add to the hilarity.

Diane D’Aquila is good as the maidservant Maria. She behaves herself in her mistress’s presence, but shows her naughty side when having fun with Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. D’Aquila’s contagious laughter shows Maria’s jovial, fun-loving character.

Less enchanting is Seana McKenna’s interpretation of Olivia. Her sudden love for Viola/Cesario isn’t believable, and even when Sebastian shows up, there doesn’t seem to be any special chemistry between them. One wonders what would interest a young man in this mature woman.

Shakespeare’s superior ability as a wordsmith is most evident in the character Feste, the fool, played by Andrew Massingham. Puns and double entendres fill his lines, cleverly delivered by Massingham.

The final delight of the evening is the dance, when the three couples ultimately get together. While it starts out as an eastern dance in keeping with the Indian setting, it evolves into other dance moves – very festive and lots of fun.

Twelfth Night continues at the Festival Theatre, Stratford until October 28. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check

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