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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

TWELFTH NIGHT (article first published : 2000-08-24)

A recent decision to go back onto the stage in the Kwasuka Theatre Company’s production of A Man For All Seasons reminded me how close I am to the professional acting fraternity in Durban. Some are still acquaintances, most are chums and a few are close friends. Thus, when reviewing a production, I take it as a mark of a successful interpretation when the people I know well produce characters in performance that suppress their own personalities.

In the Playhouse Company’s production of Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night running in the Drama until September 9, I was transported by Garth Anderson’s morose Robert Morley-like Malvolio, Ben Voss’s nerdy Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Belinda Henwood’s flighty Maria. It was good to see John Whiteley – an old stalwart of the Natal Performing Arts Council and early Playhouse Company days – back in top form as the drunken rogue Sir Toby Belch. Now that he has settled back in KZN, it was also heartening to see Crispin De Nys on the Durban stage again in the dual role of the sea captain and the priest.

A professional magician himself, Aldo Brincat brought a true sense of magic to Feste and proved that he works just as well in an ensemble piece as he does in his one-man shows. I also liked the performances of Leeanda Reddy (Viola) and Jack Devnarain (Orsino), both offering the sense of stillness and inner focus that represents confidence on stage. Tamar Meskin brought a spunky energy and vitality to the Countess Olivia although tended to be shrill at times.

Director Ralph Lawson has created a fun and enjoyable production that stays true to Shakespeare’s text. It always amazes me that the works of a man who wrote words to amuse the common people of his time over 400 years ago should still be open to relevant interpretation in the 21st century. Ralph Lawson’s breezy and pacey Twelfth Night should delight the school audiences for which it is intended. If it doesn’t, it’s their loss.

I think it might be wise for the Playhouse Company to consider using a voice coach for productions such as these for actors who are relatively inexperienced, both in stage work and in the tongue-twisting pathways of Shakespeare’s text. The minor roles were all filled by perfectly capable and talented actors in their own right but they fail to achieve their potential because of their difficulty in getting a firm grip on the Bard’s language.

Peter Cazalet, another well-known name on the Durban scene having designed many plays and ballets in the past, has chosen to give the production a strong colonial 30’s feel. What with pith helmets, plaid suits, old school scarves and cricket jerseys, we could be at a stately home somewhere in Hertfordshire, UK. Instead we are on the coastline of (non-existent, except in Shakespeare’s text) Illyria. The set’s main feature is a massive arched glass doorway and the adjoining walls work as a “backdrop” providing a view of cliffs and the sea, the scene of Olivia and Sebastian’s shipwreck.

As always, Peter Cazalet triumphs in terms of his meticulous attention to detail in his designs for clothes, make-up and hair effect. The overall colour scheme is brown and caramel and Sir Toby Belch’s and Sir Andrew Aguecheek’s costumes are a flamboyant delight while Duke Orsino and his court provide cool elegance in trouser suits and turbans.

Glen Olsen can always be relied upon to produce a sensible and logical lighting plot. Twelfth Night is no exception and I much admired the effect achieved through the tall arched window. Musical direction is by Roland Moses with Bongani Sokhela on double bass and Chris Mashiane on drums The programme is beautifully designed and produced although for some reason the dramatis personae are relegated to an unimpressive 3.5cm strip which is quite difficult to follow.

Twelfth Night will run in the Playhouse Drama until September 9. Performances nightly Tuesday to Saturday at 19h00 with tickets at R35 (Sundays at 18h00 at R30 and an extra matinee performance on Saturdays at 14h00 at R25). Book at TicketWeb outlets or www.ticketweb.co.za or Dial-A-Seat on (031) 369-9444. School bookings (R10pp) contact (031) 369-9444. There is a 15% discount off tickets for shows Tuesday to Thursdays, 30 minutes before curtain-up.




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