The Abbey Theatre’s big, bold pansexual production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a show our national theatre can be proud of, says David Mullane.
Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night to be performed at the close of the Christmas festivities, at the turn of the 17th century. The Abbey’s current production, performed over 400 years later as Dublin warms up into summer, feels as fresh and near and meaningful now as it must have done then.
Director Wayne Jordan has gathered a tremendous team, both on and off-stage (with many making their Abbey debuts), to deliver a generous and truly filling slice of theatre, one which is food for thought to all those partaking in the debate about our national theatre. In the same week when Britain’s National Theatre beamed its stunning production of King Lear (starring our own Stanley Townsend) live into cinemas across the country, it was encouraging to see how well we ourselves can celebrate the great bard’s work on our own national stage.
To begin with, the cast is top-notch: Mark O’Halloran gives it socks, so to speak, as Malvolio; Nick Dunning and Mark Lambert are hilarious as the comedic duo Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek; Barry John O’Connor is reminiscent of Jeff Goldblum in his humourous and expressive portrayal of Orsino; and Ger Kelly, as Feste, steals the show with his physical presence and beautiful singing voice.
Original music by Tom Lane adds much to the play, and moves from haunting folk melodies to pounding percussion movements and even finds time for some Barbershop harmonising of The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’. Equally striking is the set design by Ciaran O’Melia, which features minimal, but memorable pieces like five oversized speakers, a bare wooden stage and a big blue back wall with the question ‘what you will?’ hung across it. The costume design by Emma Fraser is also worth mentioning, with its simple, stylish pieces making subtle hints at period costume yet remaining clean, modern and, for the most part, wearable on the street.
In all aspects, this is a contemporary and fashionable production and will surely speak to an Irish audience in 2014, not least of all with its delightful and fun exploration of the fluidity of sexuality and attraction.
Clocking in at over three hours, Twelfth Night is big, bold and beautiful.
Twelfth Night runs at The Abbey Theatre until May 24, booking here.
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