Sir Peter Hall’s 80th birthday present from the National Theatre was the opportunity to direct his Daughter Rebecca in Twelfth Night. It’s a piece Hall has visited four times in his long career but in this production more than ever he focuses on the text over staging.
Staged on an almost bare stage in the Cottesloe, with only an autumnal canopy and miniature houses as backdrop, this is easily a production that could equally work well on radio than on stage. Each line tends to be a master class in Shakespearian delivery, every inflection and nuance carefully considered and delivered.
Rebecca Hall, as separated shipwrecked twin Viola is a delight. In the intimacy of the Cottesloe hers is a highly detailed performance, saying just as much with silence and the slightest movement as she does with her lines.
There are also Shakesperian comedic delivery master classes from Simon Callow as a wonderfully over the top Sir Toby Belch and Charles Edwards as the foppish Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
Simon Paisley Day’s Malvolio is perhaps darker in tone than often played but his fall from grace and torment is powerfully achieved here.
Other characters fair less well. Marton Csoka’s delivery as Orsino seems out of place with the remainder of the production while Amanda Drew’s Olivia seems oddly detached from any sexual tension.
There are moments, especially in the first half, when the focus on text and delivery does slow the pace down painfully, threatening to derail the comedy. There also seems to be a spark of passion missing in this tale of mistaken identity and lust.
Overall it looks and sounds beautiful and the textual focus does allow the beauty of the language to shine through. It may not be the most engaging Twelfth Night ever staged but it does show that Sir Peter Hall is one of our leading experts in understanding the nuances of the Bards text.