Tuesday 14 March 2017

12th Night by WGT seniors funs up the Bard
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)
Ageless comic Bernard Cuffling plays co-conspirator Sir Andrew Aguecheek bibulously.
Javier Sotres photo
From the footlights :  Many critics and academics have fussed too hard over the centuries to make too much out of Shakespeare's risible Twelfth Night. All Billy Bard was trying to do was give the clever patrons and the cheap-seat rabble at The Globe lots of shenanigans to tittle-&-guffaw at.

12th Night is like a St. Paddy's Day party on speed -- scads of goofy people playing games in outfits-&-frocks sewn not just of thread but silly costumes of thought and deed as well.

Mistaken identities, disguises, gender-swaps, romantic fantasies, cozening capers, songs, drunk scenes, gay sashaying, omg what a swill of good cheer!

Indeed, the servant Fabian captures Shakespeare's intent in the ironic summative observation : "If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction."

Quicky take on BB's plot : Middle-age Duke Orsino of Illyria (Terence Kelly) is lovesick over 20-something Countess Lady Olivia (Annable Kershaw). His footman is actually a woman, Viola (Eileen Barrett) who is masquerading in men's get-up using the alt-name "Cesario". Fake Cesario (i.e. real Viola) is smitten by the Duke's charms. But the Duke orders that s/he plead to Olivia his hots over her. "Cesario" does so so engagingly in drag that Olivia falls utterly arse-over-teakettle in love with "him", forget the pesky annoying Duke.

This initial act of cross-dressing sets in motion all of the play's hijinks. Admits Viola ("Cesario") to herself : "Disguise, I see, thou art a wickedness, Wherein the pregnant enemy does much."

Meanwhile Olivia's calculating steward Malvolio (Steve James) has sweaty-palmed dreams of becoming Olivia's husband and thus instantly nouveau riche. Olivia's waiting woman Maria (Marlee Walchuk), however, despises him. She conspires with Olivia's dipsomaniac uncle Sir Toby Belch (Dave Campbell) and his accomplice Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Bernard Cuffling) to pull off some serious knackery & skullduggery against Malvolio. Along the way mischievously aided-&-abetted by sous-servant Fabian (David C. Jones). And not for a second to discount Olivia's servant / clown / wise fool Feste (Vince Metcalfe) who the entire night threads all the script's silliness together with his giddy mischief.

Malvolio falls for their mad scheme, makes a complete donkey of himself to Olivia who for his antics is promptly sentenced to the dreaded dungeon deep downstairs.

All along thought drowned-at-sea, Viola's twin brother Sebastian (Hrothgar Mathews) magically appears at show's end, so all the swooners wind up bedding their desired mates. Except poor ol' Malvolio : he's sprung from prison with only his wounded pride in-hand.

What the show brings to the stage : Most of us Vancouverites get our power-shots of Shakespeare, obviously, through the perennial wonderment that Vanier Park's Bard on the Beach circus tents produce.

In the diminutive horseshoe or "thrust stage" of the 1,500 square foot PAL black box theatre -- max. seating for 150 souls -- Western Gold Theatre's production of 12th Night takes on whole new dimensions, lit.-&-fig., being transacted so up-close-&-personal, almost in your lap. 

The performance is, technically, a staged reading preceded by only four (4!) days of hands-on rehearsal time for the actors. Except for Countess Olivia's fanciful dress and that of Maria her woman in waiting, costuming is functional / symbolic. The Glenn MacDonald set is spare and suggestive -- conceived and contrived in a day, he told me proudly -- but altogether effective in its simplicity and exploitation by the cast, particularly the garden benches. What of necessity at the end of the day must produce the show's spunk are three qualities primarily : casting choices; blocking; dialogue timing. In four words WGT's accomplishment is nothing shy of Nearly incandescent, breathtaking hilarity ! 

Production values that shine : Full disclosure : WGT's Artistic Director Anna Hagan and I have been theatre friends for more than 40 years going back to White Rock summer repertory in the 70's. So I am never 100% unjaundiced as I gaze upon her work. But on all three counts -- casting choices, blocking & dialogue timing -- as director of this show she has positively outdone any previous work she has produced at PAL.

The eleven cast are too numerous to hi-lite even in a typically long-winded BLR review. But suffice to say what Hagan accomplished most of all, to this eye and ear, was evincing the sheer comic glitter and twinkle that Billy Bard intended. The central, not supporting, roles played by Belch & Aguecheek & Feste & Maria & Fabian brought out a luminosity and lustre and acuteness from this BB script never enjoyed before quite so dramatically, pun intended, by this critic. 

Acting pin-spots : As oft-noted in previous BLR reviews, there's probably not a single line uttered on stage -- ever -- by Bernard Cuffling that I don't simply find myself in stitches over. Twinned with Dave Campbell as Belch and Marlee Walchuk as Maria -- who act as foils for the singularly jocund and witty Vince Metcalfe as Feste -- there is mirth and comic good cheer enough to counter Feste's final show-closing song that is so so so Vancouver : "When that I was and a little tiny boy / With hey, ho, the wind and the rain / A foolish thing was but a toy / For the rain it raineth every day."

Two other particularly notable casting selections and performances by Steve James as Malvolio (from the Latin : "bad noises") and Annabel Kershaw as Countess Olivia. But strong stuff from each and every one on stage this night, no question. An admitted non-Shakespeare aficionado, my buddy Tony allowed as how he was utterly engaged & amused & charmed by WGT's production.

Who gonna like : As noted elsewhere, regular Shakespeare fans of course will find this WGT script-in-hand rendering a hoot. [I remarked to the four women fans front-row stage left that they were almost as much a giggle to watch in their enjoyment and clapping and sing-along with Feste as the show itself...].

Go have fun! at all these antics which are made even more hilarious by the fact that it is septuagenarians who gamely let their acting jones and their theatrical hormones flow freely and emphatically here.  

It bears repeating : breathtaking hilarity that is nearly incandescent !

Particulars : A staged reading in Western Gold Theatre's Studio Series.  At PAL Theatre, 581 Cardero Street.  From March 10-19, 12 shows Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with matinees Thursday, Saturday & Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets via WGT website -or- through the ticket agency on-line Brown Paper Tickets or by phone to box office @ 604.363.5734.

Production team :  Director  Anna Hagan.  Set Designer Glenn MacDonald.  Sound TaV / Chris Allan.  Stage Manager Tanya Mathivanan.  Assistant Stage Manager Samantha Pawliuk.  Photographer Javier Sotres.

Performers :  Eileen Barrett (Viola / Cesario).  Paul Batten (Antonio).  Dave Campbell (Sir Toby Belch).  Bernard Cuffling (Sir Andrew Aguecheek).  Steve James (Malvolio).  David C. Jones (Valentine / Fabian / Captain Officer / Priest). Terence Kelly (Duke Orsino).  Annabel Kershaw (Countess Olivia).  Hrothgar Mathews (Sebastian).  Vince Metcalfe (Feste).  Marlee Walchuk (Maria). 


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