Review: Twelfth Night, The Faction at New Diorama

“What great ones do, the less will prattle of”

With a burst of enthusiasm and ambition that should inspire anyone who is already struggling to keep their New Year’s resolutions,The Faction Theatre company are launching into 2012 with a three play rep season for the next seven weeks at the New Diorama Theatre. First up is Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a romantic comedy of assumed identities, passionate yearnings and carousing nobles with a hard edge of revenge. The play is well suited for a large ensemble – the 11 actors here will all star in all 3 plays – and in Mark Leipacher’s production, proves a considerable, imaginative success.

The black box of the New Diorama is kept bare and the use of props judiciously low thus focusing the attention on the text, which is extremely well spoken here, and on the physical language employed by the company which creates some moments of striking imagery. The cell within which Malvolio finds himself interned is created from bodies and hands pressed all around him; the tree for the gulling scene made from six actors outstretched and swaying gently in the breeze; the shipwreck is powerfully evoked through movement, and a bedtime scene is extremely wittily and cleverly portrayed. It all makes for a constantly engaging production which, with the great deal of pace, means the attention is rarely allowed to waver.

One can also see the great deal of attention that has gone into the character-work and the relationships between them, in particular with the tricksters. Leonie Hill’s devilishly twinkle-eyed Maria clearly has deep affection for Richard Delaney’s excellent Sir Toby, and as his counterpart Aguecheek, Jonny McPherson makes a rather sweetly tender nice-but-dim man who I was rather taken by. But Gareth Fordred as a powerfully convincing Malvolio who one genuinely feels for, and Lachlan McCall’s Feste, a banjo-wielding melancholy troubadour who provides some gorgeous musical moments, stole the acting honours for me.

So it was touching and it was funny, the only area where I wanted more was in its sexiness. Kate Sawyer’s Viola didn’t quite work for me once transformed into Cesario, not enough of the erotic masculinity that would explain the swift tumbling of both Olivia and Orsino to his/her charms. Derval Mellett’s Olivia is excellent though, especialy once her libido is thoroughly awakened, though Shai Matheson’s Orsino didn’t quite hit the mark, the homoeroticism of the sauna room was a nice touch though. And I failed to see what the opening sequence, atmospheric as it was, meant or contributed to the overall interpretation: looking back it just doesn’t seem to fit, though in the grand scheme of things it is only a small bugbear.

For this is a mostly clear-sighted, imaginative and intelligent reading of the play which bodes extremely well for the season ahead: the energy that Faction has infused into this classic should appeal to both hardened Shakespeare fans and new students of the work alike.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th February in rep

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