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Title: Theatre Review

by ciara from Wales | in writing, non-fiction, reviews

Twelfth Night Theatre Review

Our drama class saw the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Shakespeare’s, Twelfth Night on the 09/11/09. Twelfth Night was performed in the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon, on a three quarter stage. This style of stage was effective, as the audience were mostly surrounding the actors, however it was clear for all to see. The close proximities between the actors and the audience made us feel more involved in the play, it was as if we had entered another place or country. Twelfth Night is set in Illyria, the director, Gregory Doran interpreted this as a modern day Albania. Accordingly, the RSC decided to give the play an Eastern theme. As we entered the theatre, there was a poignant aroma of incense, which was a pleasant and unusual idea. One does not expect to encounter scents as well as visual aids at the theatre, it certainly gave an alluring sense to the opening scene. In addition, there were musicians playing Eastern style instruments as the play commenced. This allowed the audience to fully absorb the atmosphere, which had been created.

Two central characters in Twelfth Night include Olivia, a countess played by Alexandra Gilbreath, and Feste, her fool, played by Miltos Yerolemou. Gilbreath’s interpretation of the role of Olivia was consistent and conventional. However, it appeared that her voice was not soft and feminine enough to convey the traditional character that one would imagine when reading the text. Gilbreath’s voice was of rather a deep pitch, it was husky and often projected too loud to portray a tense, emotional mood. This was the case in the scene where she first meets Viola, as Cesario. It was unclear to the audience that Olivia was beginning to have feelings for Viola in their exchange. This may be as she had the tendency to throw away lines, whilst trying to speak naturally in blank verse, which meant that there was not enough time to illustrate the emotional intensity in the scene. There was little sensitivity when interacting with Viola. Though, Gilbreath did effectively bring physicality to the role, for example when speaking the lines: ‘If by chance, you come to me again…’ Gilbreath seemed more energetic, dynamic and eager to grow closer to Viola. She certainly had a strong stage presence. In Olivia’s monologue, it appeared that Gilbreath over dramatised, in almost a pantomime style. Gilbreath used clichéd gestures, such as tapping her hand over her heart, to imply her love for Viola. Nevertheless, Olivia’s high status was nearly always evident. Gilbreath would walk about the stage slowly, with her head held high, standing tall. Initially, the mourning Olivia was portrayed effectively, Gilbreath held back, behaving like an introvert, with her head bowed, dressed all in black. Although, it was not long before her, perhaps inappropriately loud voice, and melodramatic actions contradicted this. Gilbreath played a radical interpretation of Olivia, which the audience may have found unusual against the text. The audience were perhaps not so sympathetic to Olivia during her time of mourning, and realisation of Viola being a woman – to which she reacted with wide eyes and sharp head and arm movements to convey blatant shock. However, Gilbreath did successfully hold the audience’s attention, due to her harsh, husky voice and elaborate movements and gestures. Her interpretation of Olivia was different from the usual subdued, rather melancholic interpretation.

The character of Feste was able to add an exciting, humourous value to the play. Yerolemou’s speaking voice was animated and lively, he had rather a low pitch, though it was well projected and was able to brighten the colouring of his words. His voice effectively conveyed the character of Feste. Yerolemou’s style of acting was consistent and suited the comedic aspect of the production, which this production of Twelfth Night was emphasised on. Doran evidently conveys this point: ‘I do feel that, in a way, the comedy will shine out brighter because of the melancholic element…’ This would perhaps serve as an explanation as to why the humourous style in the play was at times dominating, whereas it could be seen to lose depth and emotion and lacked the darkness intended by Shakespeare in some cases. The interpretation of Feste was not that of a typical narrator style of character, who was uninvolved in the affairs of other characters. Contrastingly, Yerolemou interacted with the other characters, sometimes by placing his hand on their shoulder, or standing nearby and speaking to them directly, as a friend would do. It could be interpreted that it would have been more effective for the actor playing Feste to adopt a Brechtian style, in that he would stay somewhat detached from the rest of the cast, and sometimes speak to the audience, observing the scene around him and commenting on it. Act two, scene three was performed extremely effectively. The knights, along with Feste, ran about the stage bearing pots and pans, in a well-choreographed scene of hustle and bustle. They created a racket, and Yerolemou took part in the childish, drunken movements, falling about and singing merrily. Unfortunately, Yerolemou’s singing voice was not ‘mellifluous… sweet, and contagious’ as intended by Shakespeare in the text, but rather a fairly loud, gruff tone was adopted. Feste was dressed in a long, colourful cloak, which Yerolemou was able to grip onto and spin around, letting it fly, he could stand out, as the fool. The lighter aspect of Feste’s character was clearly developed, at the expense of the darker side, which could have been explored further in the role. However, Feste was able to bring in the joyful, fun characteristics that the clown should posses. This could be observed from his voice, laughter and dramatic movements. Yerolemou performed excellently in Feste’s closing song. His voice appeared to be more suited to this song, and he dominated the whole stage. The audience could often be heard laughing at Yerolemou, especially in act two, scene three. There was a positive reaction towards this character. He was played closer to the role that one may imagine when reading Twelfth Night, than Olivia. Yerolemou was engaging and dynamic, and had a strong connection with the audience. He was very physical and moved all over the stage, running around, waving his cloak. His acting style was appropriate in the production, bright, humourous and full of energy.

On the 11/11/09, I saw another play, Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello. This was on a proscenium arch stage in the New Theatre, Cardiff.

Some of the characters were unnamed, which perhaps suggests a lack of individuality, or that they played generic, fictional roles. The characters’ names were mostly attached to their family, i.e. Stepdaughter, or their occupation, Producer. Gina Bramhill played the Stepdaughter, and Catherine McCormach played the role of the Producer, also known as Jane. Bramhill used a high pitched, shrill voice, like that of a young girl. It is clear that she has experienced a difficult past, shown in her immaturity of character, though contrastingly, an evident lack of innocence. Bramhill is overly flirtatious with the Actor in the office, she places her leg around him and displays her sexual nature, by touching her arms on his chest and embracing him, in addition, with the father, she crawls up to him in a childlike way, and sings. Bramhill often places her hands on her hips, displaying confidence and femininity. She makes clear, effective gestures, such as playing with her hair, pointing her finger and kneeling down. Bramhill speaks loudly, as though she was spoilt, or in distress. Laughter is also embraced in this role, similarly to Feste. In some ways, the Stepdaughter could be seen as a parallel role to Feste, due to her providing some narration for the story. She often directly addresses the audience and explains what will happen in the play, before it does so. This could prevent the audience from becoming too involved, similar to Brechtian techniques, where the fourth wall would be broken, and the naturalistic ‘slice of life’ style of acting would no longer be in place. This contemporary method is in contrast to the RSC acting, which has a distinct stylistic, consistent approach to performance. The Stepdaughter uses her costume to convey character, like Olivia, she is dressed all in black. Her hat and blazer are removed to display a more feminine black dress, which emphasises her beauty and flirtatious nature. In Twelfth Night, Olivia removes her veil to prove her well-crafted face to Viola. Jane, the Producer, speaks quickly, similarly to Olivia, and rushes about. She also touches her hair, points using a pencil, shrugs and nervously moves away from the family. Her low, quiet voice, along with these restless movements and gestures, evidently convey her nervous character, when trying something new. Viola in Twelfth Night, may share these movements when she goes though the change of playing a woman to a man. She may be very nervous about how genuine her performance is, like those of the actors in Six Characters in Search of an Author who attempt to perform the roles of the family. This role reversal is another technique adopted by Brecht. In reaction to pressure from her father, the Stepdaughter reels, cowers and scrunches up her face, covering it in her hands and clenching her fists. These gestures are very effective in conveying her distress. She is more physical in her actions than the reserved Olivia. This can be seen when she wears a roller skate and glides about the stage, similar to Feste’s behaviour with his cloak.
Whereas everything is resolved at the ending of Twelfth Night, the final scene of Six Characters in Search of an Author displays distress and can be seen as tense and unsettling. Use of high-tech screens was effective in showing close ups of the characters, as if it were a film. As this technique was not investigated in Twelfth Night, the actors had to be exaggerated in their gestures and movements to display their mood. Both performances were thoroughly enjoyed by the audiences. Although in the Courtyard Theatre nearly every seat was filled, and there was a much smaller audience in the New Theatre, the reactions of the audience watching Six Characters in Search of an Author made up for the fact that it was apparently a less popular play. Both plays were captivating and held the audience’s attention, due to dramatic tension. I found the production of Twelfth Night engaging and effective. The acting was of a high standard all round, and the characters where conventionally conveyed on the whole. The interaction between the actors was well portrayed, and the closeness of the relationships was clear to see. This was especially true in the cases of Olivia and Cesario, then Sebastian who ended the play joyfully embracing each other.

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