“For women are as roses…”
It is seriously impressive how sparklingly fresh Jonathan Mumby has managed to make Twelfth Night in his production for English Touring Theatre which I caught at Richmond Theatre this week. The familiarity, even overfamiliarity, which many have with Shakespeare’s work means it can often be hard to get too excited about yet another production but Mumby’s work here has all the hallmarks of a successful and subtle reinvigoration.
Colin Richmond’s artfully distressed design and an original suite of songs from Grant Olding locate this version of Illyria in the folky fancies of Brian Protheroe’s Feste, a move which pays dividends in extending its oft-melancholy mood to all and sundry. So Hugh Ross’ Malvolio is more tragi than comic, a deep sadness apparent under the prickly exterior. Milo Twomey’s Aguecheek is a rueful soul indeed and Doña Croll’s Maria has a marvellous pragmatism.
But there’s also lashings of romance, even eroticism, that wind their way around these lost souls. Ross Waiton’s Antonio leaves us in no doubt at all why he wants Michael Benz’s Sebastian to stay a little longer as he plants a passionate kiss on his lips, Rose Reynolds’ naïve Viola is thoroughly overwhelmed by the charm (and quite possibly the abs) of Jake Fairbrother’s Orsino whenever she’s in his presence, and Rebecca Johnson shows us just how ready her Olivia is to drop her mourning dress.
To show these outbursts of feeling, Mumby has his actors spill forth rose petals from bosoms, belts and beyond in a glorious touch which epitomises the whole production – simple but novel ideas executed extremely well. The pace does sag a little later on as the pieces are all lined up for the predictably happy ending but this is another fine co-production from ETT and Sheffield Theatres, who knocked it out of the park with Translations earlier this year and reaffirm those credentials here.