LAST NIGHT'S FIRST NIGHT: Mendes brings the Bard to life; KEVIN O'SULLIVAN on Twelfth Night at the Donmar Warehouse.
Byline: KEVIN O'SULLIVAN
IN Shakespeare's last and most complex comedy Twelfth Night Twelfth Night, Jan. 5, the vigil or eve of Epiphany, so called because it is the 12th night from Christmas, counting Christmas as the first. In England, Twelfth Night has been a great festival marking the end of the Christmas season, and popular masquerading parties , goodness knows, anything goes.
As we join our twin heroes Viola and Sebastian they have been shipwrecked and washed up separately in the weird land of Illyria.
Each distraught siblings believes the other has perished at sea. But it is the disasters ashore that conspire con·spire
v. con·spired, con·spir·ing, con·spires
1. To plan together secretly to commit an illegal or wrongful act or accomplish a legal purpose through illegal action.
2. to run almost every character in this extraordinary play aground a·ground
adv. & adj.
1. Onto or on a shore, reef, or the bottom of a body of water: a ship that ran aground; a ship aground offshore.
In the oddball province where Orsino Duke of Illyria rules, nothing can be taken at face value.
Thus, to make her way in the man's world of her new environment, Viola reinvents herself as Cesario, faithful male servant to the apparently near-sighted Orsino.
Viola presents herself as a eunuch but only she knows that the unkindest cut of all was never necessary.
And so it continues. Farce-like, complicated, clever and utterly engrossing. The Countess Olivia falls hopelessly in love with Cesario after he/she is sent with a message of devotion from the hapless Orsino.
Only when the missing twin Sebastian turns up does Olivia, another character who seems to lack decent powers of observation, get what she thinks she's after.
Meanwhile Olivia's socially ambitious steward Malvolio gets stitched up in spades by a gang of drunks who conspire to puncture his pomposity.
As the boozy ne'er-do-wells Sir Toby Belch belch
To expel stomach gas noisily through the mouth; burp. and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Paul Jesson and David Bradley are simply hilarious. Their exquisite comic performances would prove to any schoolboy that the Bard was a bloody funny playwright.
Film star and actress supreme Emily Watson - of Breaking of the Waves - is excellent as the cross-dressing Viola. But Helen McCrory as Olivia stole the show and garnered a whole load of laughs with her sheer lovestruck stupidity. But it would be pointless to compare notes among a pretty-much faultless fault·less
Being without fault. See Synonyms at perfect.
faultless·ly adv. cast.
This is about as good as Shakespeare can be.
What an exemplary production for Sam Mendes to bid his farewell to the Donmar Warehouse on. He seems to be a film man now. An Oscar winner with a high-profile celebrity romance with Kate Winslet to boot.
But no one who saw his first-class goodbye show last night would want Sam to stay away from the theatre too long.
Twelfth Night is the play that gets the sisterhood going. The drama in which women prove they are every bit the match of men.
The egalitarian saga in which the social scale is challenged as aristocrats fall for servants and sex across the class divide becomes the norm.
All the dizzying action unfolds on a bare stage with merely candles for decoration. Such dramatic complexity is perfectly complimented by the simplicity of the set.
In the end it is not all hearts and flowers. As Sebastian, Olivia, Orsino, Viola, Toby and his woman Maria all get ready to marry, Malvolio, fabulously played by Simon Russell Beale Simon Russell Beale CBE (born January 12, 1961) is an award-winning British actor.
In the Independent on Sunday 2006 Pink List - a list of the most influential gay men and women in the UK - he was placed at number 30, an increase of four places from the year before. , makes his final threat: "I'll be revenged - with the whole pack of you."
It has been more than 400 years since Mr Shakespeare penned this bizarre concoction.
Sam Mendes and his astonishing cast have proved more than anyone could that Twelfth Night will stand the test of time for centuries to come.
LAUGHS: Helen McCrory as Olivia Picture: NIGEL NORRINGTON