Michael Grandage’s production of Shakespeare’s gender-bending comedy is pleasantly free of imposed concepts or interpretations, allowing the play’s own natural charm to shine through. The few idiosyncratic touches - a dancing class in Orsino’s all-male household, a few scenes set at the beach - add or detract little, and most of the characterisations seem designed to stay out of the play’s way rather than to gild the lily.
It may be the contrast to Mark Bonnar’s greying Orsino that helps underline the attractively girlish, out-of-her-depth quality in Victoria Hamilton’s Viola, just as Bonnar’s playing the Duke absolutely straight helps highlight the comedy around him. It is frequently Olivia who must play straight man and feed to the others, but Indira Varma finds her startled and flustered by her sudden amorousness, to high comic effect.
Derek Jacobi may prove a small disappointment to those who measure their Malvolios by how over-the-top they go, since Jacobi and director Grandage have chosen to find only the laughs that are inevitable in the text without inventing more, though this underplaying also allows Malvolio an unusually dignified exit. Ron Cook’s Sir Toby and Guy Henry’s Aguecheek are also underplayed, though their difference in height is a recurring sight gag in itself, while Zubin Varla’s Feste registers more with his music than his wordplay. In all, this production is an object lesson in resisting temptation and simply trusting the play.