The second of Michael Grandage’s Donmar
in the West End productions is not as eye-opening as its predecessor Ivanov
, more a superior example of
a production doing what it says on the tin.
The major selling point is Derek Jacobi as the self-regarding steward
Malvolio. The character’s usual frostiness is largely absent here; when
Jacobi’s Malvolio inveighs against “the lighter people” at Olivia’s
court, he shows outright spite. With his grey crew-cut, close-cropped
beard and the mandatory poker-backed rectitude, Jacobi resembles a
semi-retired Prussian colonel with just the tiniest amount of camp.
During the central comic scene, on reading the forged love letter which
exhorts him to smile, his tics and spasms as he tries to remember how
to do so are the facial equivalent of a particularly virulent stammer
from his 1970s TV portrayal of the Roman emperor Claudius.
The twins Sebastian and Viola (in her male disguise) buck the general
mid-20th-century costuming by dressing like fin-de-siècle
military students. Victoria Hamilton is as open and expressive as ever
in the role of Viola, hampered scarcely at all by a wig that looks more
like a perm than the thatch sported by Alex Waldmann as Sebastian. When
the penny drops that Olivia (Indira Varma) has fallen in love with
“Cesario”, Hamilton turns towards us and blinks wonderfully in
bemusement like a button-eyed 1930s cartoon character. The comic roles
are all strongly played: Samantha Spiro as Maria orchestrates matters,
the compact Ron Cook shows that Sir Toby Belch does not need to be
rotund and rollicking, and Guy Henry as Andrew Aguecheek gets laughs in
the letter scene by uttering lines without
popping up out of hiding.
The only palpably unorthodox note is the portrayal of the fool Feste
almost as a kind of griot
playing guitar and even a djembe
drum. Zubin Varla has the musical skills to handle the several songs in
the play, although elsewhere there is rather too much of Julian
Philips’ incidental score. Christopher Oram’s backdrop of louvered
doors opens at the interval, converting the enclosed aristocratic
courts to a sunny beach, and Neil Austin lights much of the romantic
confusion of Act Four like a Jack Vettriano painting. The novelties are
all comparatively minor, but sometimes a solid and unrevelatory reading
is just fine to be going on with.
Written for the Financial