A founder member of the Propeller all-male Shakespeare collective, Tony Bell as Feste shows us how crucial his part is to any successful staging of Twelfth Night. This tall slightly melancholy actor uses his superb musical, vocal and comedic talents to link us with the dreamlike, sexually ambiguous events of the play, and not least of his contributions is an entr’acte violin busking session in the foyer.
Edward Hall’s production takes a leaf out of the Glasgow Citz book with butch transvestism complete with full make-up and gowns for Dugald Bruce-Lockhart as Olivia and Chris Myles as her housekeeper Maria - neither a wig nor hint of campery in sight, but hugely entertaining performances that may not match the Bard’s intentions but offer unexpected insights in the playing.
The opening scenes first reveal Jack Tarlton from under a furniture drape as a lovelorn but uncharismatic Orsino, then in the downstage gloom of an unhappy Illyria landing is Tam Williams’ apologetic Viola, later a grey-suited Cesario who tends to sideline the action rather than getting involved.
There were moments in a busy but monochrome first half, all black, grey and silver, when I wished someone would tell the supporting cast, notably Jason Baughan’s Belch: don’t just do something - stand there!
Luckily, after the interval everything slots into place with some rich ensemble moments hugely aided by designer Michael Pavelka’s versatile ‘magic wardrobe’ setting, taking off dramatically with Joe Flynn (a young actor to watch) as Sebastian and Alasdair Craig as the nautical Antonio.
According to Bell the company ‘can change things on the hoof’, and one thing I would love to see is Flynn swapping his ‘twin’ role with Williams, which could hugely benefit both actors.