Travel to Illyria and return same day

21st March 1997 at 00:00
TWELFTH NIGHT Royal National Theatre Education Department tour

Illyria in a dinner hall, this is a new kind of schoolroom Shakespeare. Striving to please more than 100 15-year-old students every day makes the National live up to its name. With workshop director Richard Hahlo the cast have developed a half-day introduction to Twelfth Night which is cunningly structured; even the warm-up activities help introduce the audience conventions for the promenade production to follow.

The National's Education Department describes its aim in this workshop and performance as "bridging the gap between actor and audience". So Orsino is introduced not as Duke but "main man" of Illyria. the story is told with student groups adding tableaux to represent key concepts such as love, order, beauty and chaos as well as giving actions to suit each character.

Some sophisticated points are offered, the way Twelfth Night's characters talk about their loves being compared with the actor's art of communicating. Simpler physicality is used a lot, enjoyable foot stomping developing into the rhythm of iambic pentameters and four line passages being acted with added, sometimes surprising, movements to pick out important words.

A seven-strong company means luxury for workshop purposes; as a cast it requires interesting economies - the Church of Illyria clearly accepted women priests long before the Anglicans. Pruned to l05 minutes, Brigid Larmour's production makes no case for this play of two contrasted main locations.

But there are fine moments. "Take away the fool", with Feste almost carting Olivia off, shows that lady is clearly closer to Feste than Malvolio in spirit, if not in clothing. And her increasingly flamboyant apparel (including a tight low-cut leather number as she smooch-es up to Cesario) echoes this life-loving appetite. So does her delight at the idea of meeting Cesario again, a joy that leads her to embrace Malvolio, no doubt reinforcing the steward's later hopes.

There's some good humour designed to stir interest in the more reluctant youths who, groundlings to a man, respond to the drinking songs, joining in on a rhythmically complex "Hold thy Peace". Later the audience makes for a convenient box hedge as Malvolio reads the fake letter, by which time most are won over.

Tour details: 0171 928 2033

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