RSC shipwreck trilogy set for success

By IH 24/04 Updated: 27/04 12:38

Buy photos » Twelfth Night - Jonathan Slinger (Malvolio). (s)

THE WORLD Shakespeare Festival continues with three RSC productions under the banner What Country Friends is This?

The trilogy of shipwreck plays - The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night and The Tempest – led by RSC Associate Director David Farr, sees the ensemble company explore migration, exile, and the discovery of brave new worlds.

All three cross-cast productions will share the same creative team and play in repertoire in the RST.

The Comedy of Errors plays until May 14 and July 16 to October 6, Twelfth Night, until May 15, and July 12 to October 6, and The Tempest until May 19, and July 13 to October 7.

THIS trilogy amply demonstrates the advantages of an ensemble cast, and also a designer with vision.

Jon Bausor, who grew up near Stratford and found inspiration while a choirboy in the ceremonial flags hanging in Warwick's St Mary's Church, provides an inspired set for the three plays, tweaked for each.

The rotting boarded stage immediately conjures up the image of a wrecked ship, but for each production also becomes something different - a breached security wall in The Comedy Of Errors, an ageing port boardwalk in The Tempest; and dilapidated colonial hotel floor in Twelfth Night.

Likewise a beam across the roof of the stage becomes a port crane in Comedy; crumbling cornicing in Twelfth Night; and collapsed ship's communications mast in Tempest.

And the possibilities offered by the new-look RST are further highlighted with an actual pool of water, representing the sea, in one corner of stage for Comedy of Errors, into which heads are dunked, and Twelfth Night, from which emerge Viola and Sebastian, and into which tumbles Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

Of the productions themselves, Comedy of Errors and Tempest are top draw, and while Twelfth Night is enjoyable enough, it never fully engages.

Amir Nizar Zuabi's Comedy is a riotous affair. Ephesus becomes a police state, but this is no Orwellian vision. The scene is quickly set and then it fun and farce all the way in the shortest of all the Bard's works, weighing in at just two hours interval included. There are stand-out performances from the two Dromios from Felix Hayes (Ephesus) and Bruce Mackinnon (Syracuse). Heads are thrust into fishtanks and giant Virgin Mary's fly across the stage. It may have been penned 400 years ago, but most modern TV sitcoms can't hold a candle to this energetic and exuberant production.

Sadly Twelfth Night fails to hit the high watermark. Jonathan Slinger's Malvolio is the saving grace. Slinger proved his comic credentials with his leek-totting Fluellen in Henry V as part of the Histories, and here in his cross-gartered yellow stockings he revels, even if he does expose rather more in the buttock department than some probably wished to see. His stuffy clerk, looking uncannily like Mark Williams' Fast Show character Ken, of Suits You Sir fame, makes the journey from lovestruck buffoon to broken man, leaving with a real sense he truly will be revenged.

Sadly Nicholas Day's Toby Belch and Mackinnon's Andrew Aguecheek fail to spark, and Kevin McMonagle's Feste, while fine in musical mode, is otherwise somewhat off-song. On the plus side Kirsty Bushell's Olivia and the object of her affection, Emily Taaffe's Viola in her male disguise , do connect well.

Overall, Farr's production never gains any real momentum, unlike his magical Tempest.

Slinger again captivates as Prospero, from deep felt love for daughter Miranda (Taaffe) to deep loathing of Caliban (Amer Hlehel), delivering his great closing speech of renunciation to a riveted audience, all the more impressive for the number of teenagers in attendance.

He is ably supported throughout by a mirror image Ariel played by Sandy Grierson, and there are some wonderful comic capers supplied drunken clowns Stephano (Mackinnon) and Trinculo (Hayes).

Set-wise a perspex box cleverly serves many purposes, from Prospero's Cell to ailing ship, and there is pure theatre magic in Ariel's appearance from above as a Harpie, and the Masque scene with Iris (Amie Burns Walker), Ceres (Sarah Belcher) and Juno (Cecilia Noble) who all appear with their own shadow puppet masters.

A magical Tempest this is indeed.

For tickets and further details visit www.worldshakespearefestival.org.uk or call the box office on 0844 800 1110.

Buy photos» The Comedy of Errors - Kirsty Bushell (Adriana) and Bruce Mackinnon (Dromio of Syracuse). (s)

Buy photos» The Tempest - Amer Hlehel (Caliban). (s)

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