Twelfth Night Sept. 9th, ’11

It’s all about the music. The very complex story of four people in love – and love has so many faces – , the pairs being shuffled and shifted until they find their other halves, it’s still all about music in this interpretation of the fabulous Twelfth Night.And it works – with a rock band on the stage and the incredible versatility of the actors involved it works like a charm, like the magic it’s supposed to be.

The story is most likely very well known: Duke Orsino is in love with Countess Olivia, who mourns her beloved brother and is intent on rejecting his advances. Sir Toby Belch tries to wed her off to his best friend, Sir Aguecheek, while her steward Malvolio pines for her. Meanwhile a shipwreck parts the two siblings Viola and Sebastian; both are saved but both think the other one’s dead. And Viola, in fear for her virtue on strange shores, disguises herself as a man.

In this disguise “Cesario” soon becomes the favorite servant of Orsino – only to fall in love with him. When he is sent to Olivia, she falls in love with “Cesario”. It takes a while until with the help of fate, the magic of the twelfth night of christmas and the not in the least foolish fool everything unravels and Orsino finds to Viola, Sebastian to Olivia.

Des McAnuff directed and made good use of his incredibly versatile cast – the fool for instance is played by Ben Carlson (one of the reasons I keep coming back to this festival) who to my honest surprise not only is playing a mean bass, but also the guitar and a mouth organ. And there we are in the middle of the magic of this particular adaption of Twelfth Night: There is an honest to god rock band on stage, dancing, playing, having the time of their lives obviously. Together with Stephen Ouimette and Brian Dennehy Ben Carlson does a canon on “Hold my piece” that is absolutely brilliant, and their rendition of “if music be the food of love, play on” is just as stunningly perfect.

Effortlessly they change the musical rhythm into something more medieval, only to get back to cheeful and fun as Olivia’s feelings for “Cesario” awaken. It is magic, happening on an almost empty stage (only once propped with a huge bar and a fridge hanging from the ceiling – which only sounds strange, but makes perfect sense in the course of the play). The costumes change from turn of the century to almost modern, to Hippie-seventies and it doesn’t bother you, it only enhances the performance. Not surprisingly the shows are almost sold out and the actors get standing ovations from an enchanted audience that obviously enjoys the early trip to a christmas celebration with  a little twist! Because the Twelfth Night of christmas was the last holiday in Shakespeare’s time, after which not only people had to go back to work again, it was (and still is) epiphany – where three wise men name the new king. Given that England was on the brink of the death of their Queen it also turns the play into a farewell to a long period of safety and unvarying prosper.

And just as Malvolio, bitterly mocked by Belch (and brilliantly played by Tom Rooney) says “I’ll be revenged by the whole pack of you” this is also an ominous foreboding – 40 years later the puritans under Cromwell will overthrow the british monarchy and close the theatres. It is with a little bit of sadness and bitterness the sweet love stories are consumed – and Belch is in more ways than one symbol of a fading order. But a little sadness has always enhanced a sweet story – as is the case with Twelfth Night.

By the way: Most of the music is composed by Des McAnuff, the director of the play. Also: You can buy the CD in the theatre store!

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