A warm and sensual night

12th September 2003 at 01:00
Timothy Ramsden unravels the love-knots of a Twelfth Night set in South America

TWELFTH NIGHT. Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre. Tel: 0161 833 9833.

Having done a very English production years ago in America, Lucy Bailey sets her new Manchester Twelfth Night in a South American hotel, during one long night's partying.

Dark and the indoors keep the heat down, but it's still a warm climate where absence of buttoned-up coats and scarves gives youthful sensuality full swing. With a rock 'n' roll band in the foyer there's plenty of chance to move about. But the production is about people who are stuck, marooned, apart from locals Maria (Ellen Thomas) and Feste (Anthony Barclay), a survivor, says Bailey, used to life in ditches and on the streets, for whom wherever he is, is home, a survivor rather than a melancholic.

The play is about loneliness and abandonment, a state in which people become obsessive. Within the faded hotel there is a lack of responsibility.

Malvolio (John Ramm) has become too powerful while Olivia (Madeleine Worrall), who should be running her household, stays in her bedroom. Orsino (Mark Bonnar) should be running the state, but can only organise love-messages to Olivia.

All are deluded. Sir Andrew, an innocent lost boy and gentle soul, thinks he can win the woman he hardly meets, while Malvolio believes he can become Olivia's husband. "Illyria" is all about falling in love and its delirium.

Bailey has no time for Malvolio. If his punishment by Sir Toby and friends goes too far, that's what happens with games. And he deserves it, he's the nasty prefect who demands lights out, everyone in bed by 6pm or he'll tell the headmaster. He learns nothing, still wanting revenge as he leaves.

Sir Toby (Richard O' Callaghan), though, is in no way evil (Bailey compares him to Falstaff whom she considers a favourite of Shakespeare's). He knows his niece Olivia is safe from Sir Andrew (Jonathan Bond), he has zest and heart and we forgive him much for his tenderness towards Maria.

But all these people need self-realisation. Only Viola (Emma Cunniffe) is aware she's in a dilemma she cannot resolve. Elizabethan women commonly disguised themselves as men, a protection against rape, but it's landed her with seeming to jilt Olivia the woman who loves her and lying to the man she loves, Orsino.

Yet, says Bailey, she's the "strongest person in the play". Her quality of mind is reflected in her "jumps, her thought, wit". Her cleverness shows in "her speed of mind and humanity. She's versatile and always responds, for example, the way she deals with Olivia. She has the finest sensibility in the play and is wonderfully perceptive".

Malvolio may seem to talk to the audience when he finds the faked love-letter, but he's really self-absorbed. It's Viola whose comments gain our sympathy and take us on a journey with her. Sebastian's arrival unties the love-knots, letting the shipwrecked travellers leave their static situation. Like the Elizabethans, at the conclusion of twelfth night's long revels, they move on - to work and new lives.

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