REVIEW: Adrian Edmondson lights up the RSC's Twelfth Night

Adrian Edmondson as Malvolio with Michael Cochrane, Sarah Twomey and John Hodgkinson as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Fabia and Sir Toby Belch. Picture: Manuel Harlan
Adrian Edmondson as Malvolio with Michael Cochrane, Sarah Twomey and John Hodgkinson as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Fabia and Sir Toby Belch. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Peter Ormerod reviews Twelfth Night, presented by the RSC at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

It’s funny enough, it’s moving enough, it’s entertaining enough, it’s festive enough. Yet the feeling remains that this Twelfth Night, directed by Christopher Luscombe, could be so much better if only it dared to be.

Adrian Edmondson as Malvolio. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Adrian Edmondson as Malvolio. Picture: Manuel Harlan

It’s set in a sepia-and-verdigris-tinged 1890s, that being a decade of great social change, and it looks glorious: rich, brassy, smoky, just the respectable side of decadent. But the production seems at times hidebound by the setting. It’s sometimes too tasteful and restrained for its own good, taking a while to warm up, the audience’s half-hearted clapping along with the closing song evidence of a performance that never quite caught fire. At other times, it’s surprising clumsy, the songs lacking the delicateness of the surroundings.

There are also occasional missteps: Orsino here is entirely unprepossessing, his seemingly explicit bisexuality sapping some of the power from his scenes with the cross-dressed Viola, while Kara Tointon’s Olivia could do with loosening up a little and Beruce Khan’s Feste is just too normal. The themes of colonialism and exoticism are also sadly underexplored

But Dinita Gohil’s Viola is charming, and Adrian Edmondson finds a fine balance between the malevolent, the crotchety and the tragic in his Malvolio. It is the range, control and sheer comic clout of his performance that pulls the rest through, and I have no doubt the show will improve given a little time to breathe.

* Twelfth Night runs until February 24. Call 01789 403493 to book. The play will be broadcast live from Stratford on Wednesday February 14. To find your nearest screening, visit www.rsc.org.uk/twelfth-night/in-cinemas

Kara Tointon as Olivia. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Kara Tointon as Olivia. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Beruce Khan as Feste. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Beruce Khan as Feste. Picture: Manuel Harlan