The Triumvirate of Comedy
Twelfth Night, which opens Stratford Festival’s 2017 season, is a delight. It’s one of Shakespeare’s popular comedies, and this production has mined that humour using three of Stratford’s funniest.
The sub-plot overtakes the main plot when the hilarious triumvirate of Tom Roony as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Geraint Wyn Davies as Sir Toby Belch, and Lucy Peacock as Maria start plotting and cavorting together. Not only do they draw on every bit of Shakespeare’s sense of humour, but it also appears that the three actors are having a lot of fun. The audience has the thrill of watching three of Stratford’s seasoned actors just having a good time!
Add to this trio the brilliant Brent Carver as Feste, the fool, and the entertaining Rod Beattie as grumpy Malvolio, and you have a very witty five-some. Director Martha Henry has provided a star-studded cast guaranteed to keep the audience in stitches.
The main plot revolves around the shipwrecked Viola, who 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 the 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 sub-plot thrives and keeps the audience enthralled.
Roony’s Sir Andrew is awkward and unable to get the attention of Olivia, whom he loves from afar. He is also the sidekick to the drunken Sir Toby. Picture Garth, the awkward sidekick in Wayne’s World, and you have Roony’s interpretation of Sir Andrew, right down to flicking his long blond hair. Roony has the knack of making the audience forget he is speaking Elizabethan English and delivers the lines as if they were written yesterday.
With Davies, we know that Sir Toby is drunk, but we can see that he is trying so hard not to appear drunk. Davies and Peacock have a delightful chemistry, as she feigns annoyance with his nonsense. Peacock generates energy as her character, Maria, manipulates the action.
Carver brings the fool’s wit to the forefront with his well-paced delivery. As a bonus, he sings beautifully throughout the show. Beattie’s Malvolio is appropriately sour, then silly, as he becomes the butt of a prank. One can hear a bit of the familiar Wingfield character for which Beatty is best known. The Wingfield-like drawn out words work well for the wretched Malvolia.
Sarah Afful’s Viola-slash-Cesario is charming, as she handles the woman pretending to be a boy role. Michael Blake as her twin brother Sebastian is similarly delightful. Their reactions as they are reunited are convincing. Shannon Taylor gives us a traditional Olivia, sprinkled with laughs as her infatuation with Cesario grows. Taylor offers the best faint ever seen on stage. E.B. Smith as Orsino is not convincing in his love for either Olivia or Viola. When the two are finally paired at the end of the play, there is an unfortunate lack of chemistry or joy.
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, considering this was a wilful group of people. Strong casting makes this Twelfth Night a hit!
Twelfth Night continues in repertoire until October 21st at the Festival Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca
Photo: Left: Tom Rooney as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Right: Geraint Wyn Davies as Sir Toby Belch and Lucy Peacock as Maria. Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Twelfth Night – 2017
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Martha Henry
Performed by Geraint Wyn Davies, Lucy Peacock, Tom Roony, Brent Carver, Rod Beattie, Shannon Taylor, Sarah Afful, Michael Blake, E. B. Smith, et al
Stratford Festival Theatre
May 29 to October 21, 2017
Reviewed by Mary Alderson