The tea lawn at Lauderdale House provided the ideal setting for Shakespeare’s country-house comedy of mistaken identities and romantic intrigues. The re-developed 16th Century building is now run as a community hub, providing a wide range of classes, events and exhibitions to the denizens of North London. The building and its grounds are well worth a visit, play or not.
I’ve followed the general consensus in describing Twelfth Night above as a comedy, though I find it a very problematic one.
Shakespeare’s favourite comedy mechanisms are all there: the identical twins who have become separated by a shipwreck, echoing Comedy of Errors; the girl dressed as a boy who attracts all kinds unwanted attention, in the style of As You Like It; the foul-mouthed and dirty-minded drunkards Andrew Aguecheek and Toby Belch channelling the spirit of Falstaff.
And it is, indeed, a funny play as Shooting Stars Theatre Co. demonstrated with brio and verve. The youthful cast of 10 kept the play moving at a quick pace, and mingled freely with the crowd, to the general delight of the even younger audience. The actors more than broke the fourth wall as they stole snacks from the picnics on the lawn and cajoled one of the dads into officiating a wedding.
Although one older spectator on our row was clearly less than impressed, to put it very mildly, when Belch accidentally spilled half a bottle of bubbly over her. And the use of pop music between and during some scenes didn’t really work through under-powered amps in an open-air setting.
James Henri-Thomas and Michael Totton were great value as the two lecherous Lords, alongside Joe Sargent as Malvolio, playing him to type as the prideful peacock whose feathers are plucked.
However, this is where I start to disagree with Twelfth Night’s straightforward categorisation as a comedy.
Aguecheek and Belch are upper-class bullies. What irks them most about Malvolio isn’t his Puritan priggishness or pomposity. It’s his belief that he and his mistress could be in love; a transgression of hierarchy that terrifies and angers them. See their response to Malvolio’s observation that there is “example” or precedence of the Lady of Strachy marrying her yeoman of the wardrobe: “Fie on him, Jezebel!”
As a result of the cruel trick they engineer with Maria, and at the end of this so-called romantic comedy, Malvolio ends up a broken man: socially humiliated; psychologically shattered; romantically denied; and presumably unable to return to his job after being gulled into making a yellow cross-gartered fool of himself. It is hard to see one of the lowest-status characters belittled in this way while (most of) the high class and high-status characters waltz off into the sunset.
I’ve seen several versions of Twelfth Night, including a production with Derek Jacobi, one of the actors I most admire, as Malvolio. I’d really like to see one that problematised the Malvolio sub-plot.
This evening, however, was a joy, made even better by my companion’s delicious picnic. Thank you Lauderdale House, thank you Shooting Stars and thank you Tina!
24 down – 77 to go.