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Review: TWELFTH NIGHT at Carrick Hill

Shakespeare al fresco

Review: TWELFTH NIGHT at Carrick Hill

Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, Tuesday 4th January 2022.


The relatively new company, Shakespeare South Australia, hangs out its banners with this exuberant and entertaining production of Twelfth Night, one of his endearing and enduring comedies of love, its errors, disguises, and madness. The evening performances had sold out in a flash, so I invoked reviewer's privilege and found myself a seat.

Neatly timed to the feast of the Epiphany and the last of the twelve days of Christmas, Shakespeare South Australia brings the play for the occasion to the gardens of Carrick Hill, South Australia's own pseudo stately home. The play is edited slightly, delivered with panache, and, starting around 6.30 pm, reaches its joyous resolution just as the sunset paints the western skies.

The story is simple. Viola, shipwrecked, dresses as a boy, Cesario, works for and falls in love with Count Orsino. S/he is Orsino's messenger to the Lady Olivia, who falls for Cesario. That emotional tug of war is made more intriguing when Viola's brother, Sebastian, turns up to add confusion and eventual satisfaction. He'll marry Olivia, and Viola can regain her familiar estate and marry Orsino. The course of true love never does run smooth.

The knockabout subplot carries exceptionally well in the open air.

Sir Toby Belch, Olivia's dissolute cousin, is sponging off Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a name suggestive of inherent sickness. Indeed, the idea of the impending plague is resonant in the text, as a threat against true love. In these pandemic days, the audience is even more aware. It's Maria, the maid, who comes up with the plot against the killjoy steward, Malvolio. He's a puritan at heart, a man with illusions of grandeur. His self-love is turned against him with devastating consequences. It's the greatest part in the play and Michael Baldwin in the man for the role.

Feste, the jester, the Lord of Misrule, is Michaela Burger, in the most elaborate costume of silks and brocades, the one nod to the original period. Armed with great timing and a dulcimer, she holds your attention at every appearance. There's always the sense that she's about some devilment. She's credited as musical director and I'd have loved more songs from her, and a mike for the lutenist, James Logan. It's a quiet instrument, intended for playing in chambers, and his deft finger work deserved to be heard past the front row of the seats.

The big gestures work excellently in the gardens, but, importantly, what doesn't go missing is the moment when Orsino and Cesario almost surrender to mutual desire. Blink and it's gone, but if sexual attraction needs one signal moment, it's there as they take the stairs to the terrace of Carrick Hill.

Might I add here, and I will, some years past, the State Theatre Company produced Twelfth Night with a Caribbean theme. Robert Grubb was Orsino and Gillian Jones his Cesario. They are on a swing seat. Cesario is lying looking out and Orsino gently reaches over and slowly undoes one of the boy's shoelaces; a childish gesture, the first step to undressing the object of his love. The audience held their breath.

The casting is first-rate. The co-directors, Britt Plummer and Jess Clough-Macrae, have worked with wit and insight, as well as a fun sense of knockabout joyfulness. Their solution to the challenge of having Andrew Aguecheek and Sebastian played by the same person, and engage in a fight, is hysterically funny, and David Daradan has the athletic skills to carry off some absurdly high capers. With Paul Westbrook as Sir Toby, a much younger take on the character, and Kate Van der Horst's sprightly Maria, the trio, with their theme song, the catch, Hold thy peace, thou knave, are a lively bunch.

Ah, the lovers. Shedrick Yarkpai is a physically imposing Orsino, and with Melanie Munt's affecting Viola they pair excellently well. Alys Daroy, first in sober black as Olivia, and then in passionate red, brings dignity to the role, and then hurls herself on Cesario, who barely escapes virtue intact. The audience loved it.

The bi/pan/omni sexuality of the relationships loses one link when the sailor who is in love with Sebastian is played by a woman, co-director Britt Plummer, but there is more than enough proof that the early 21st Century fascination with gender identity is not only nothing new, but is generally ne'er so well expressed.

On this showing, the company's house style is shaped cleverly to open-air presentation. It's strong on broad comic gestures and clearly projected text. Several smaller, but crucial roles, are absorbed into the one, in this case, the ubiquitous jester, Feste. The audience is engaged with directly, and enlisted to add their voices to the atmospheric sound effects of the opening storm, so successful that a hefty gulley breeze arrived in answer to their summons. It's easy to see how the company will approach the other comedies, and I look forward to The Tempest.

Carrick Hill is a bit of a hike from the road for a non-driver, so I took a cab. As it was, when I arrived, I was greeted by Martin and Miriam, my brother and sister-in-law. They gave me a lift straight home to an appropriate supper of mince pies and red wine. For the sixth, it will be cakes and ale.

For further study, I heartily recommend Leslie Hotson's excellent book, The First Night of Twelfth Night, performed at Whitehall on Twelfth Night 1601 in the presence of Queen Elizabeth and her very special guest, the Duke of Florence, Orsino.



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