After the curtain call on Saturday night, the woman sitting next to me said to her companion, “That was so cool.” She wasn’t the only one to think so as the walking line back to the (mercifully indoor) parking lot was abuzz with audiences raving about the things they loved in the National Arts Centre’s production of Twelfth Night. In comparison to that, anything else I could tell you is far secondary.
It starts, as in The Tempest, with a stormy night at sea. Viola washes up far from home on the shores of Illyria and, presenting herself as a man called Cesario, scores a sweet gig in the court of Duke Orsino. Orsino has convinced himself that he is deeply in love with the perpetually mourning and refusing to take suitors Countess Olivia and he sends Cesario to be his wingman, with an order not to be refused. In quick fashion, Olivia falls in love with Cesario and makes repeat excuses to see him again. Not knowing, of course, that Cesario is really Viola or knowing that Viola herself has fallen in love with Duke Orsino. Remember, Orsino also thinks Viola a man. Everything and everybody gets even more confused when Viola’s presumed drowned (on that same stormy night) fraternal twin brother Sebastian shows up and is constantly mistaken for Cesario.
Twelfth Night likely won’t go down as one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. There’s a lot to set up leading to the pay off coming from the arrival in Illyria of Sebastian and some of the middle sags a bit as a result. That said, this production by the National Arts Centre does a superb job creating great life and fun to present an exceptionally entertaining evening.
Thanks to the direction of Jillian Keiley and the imaginings of The Old Trout Puppet Workshop, this production of Twelfth Night is vivid, vibrant and lively. The sets and infinitely creative ways of combining live actors with puppetry brings an immense amount of visual life to the show and has plenty to keep you interested from curtain to curtain call.
Of the National Arts Centre’s 2015/16 wonderful ensemble (and guest artists), Kayvon Kelly (Feste) stands out as a tremendous fool (and Ottawa has its share of exceptional fools). He has a superb comic timing and some of the best lines in the show including his rant about preferring his enemies to his friends. Janelle Cooper is a perfect Viola, as she throws her hand up in exasperation, deciding to leave time to sort out the mess of a love triangle she’s found herself in, and as she fearfully fights to evade – and eventually being forced to engage in – a duel with the equally inept Sir Andrew (Alex McCooeye). Frequent theatre goers will recognize Paul Rainville (Sir Toby Belch) from various shows at the GCTC and Gladstone, and if you’ve treated yourself with a visit to the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival in recent summers, you’ll be familiar with the work of Quincy Armorer (Duke Orsino).
They say that laughter is the best medicine, and if the (very moderate) cold of January is giving you the blahs, then Twelfth Night is your cure for it. From Feste’s foolish antics and greatly enlarged cod piece to the physical comedy of the tallest man around to the hilariously rendered bath tub scene, Twelfth Night will give you plenty of reasons to chuckle quietly to yourself or laugh heartily out loud with the rest of the audience. All the way to the parking lot (and likely beyond).
Twelfth Night runs at the National Arts Centre now through February 6th. More info: http://nac-cna.ca/en/event/11626
But that’s just my opinion and I would love to know what you think? What moments had you smiling or laughing the most? Were the visual qualities of the show an awesome addition or did they just serve to mask a shallow story? Join the discussion and tell me what you think in the comments below.