BOTANIC GARDENS, GLASGOW
Review by Mark Brown
The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death is, obviously, a notable year for Bard in the Botanics, Scotland’s annual festival of the works of the man of Stratford. The 2016 programme includes stagings of Coriolanus, Macbeth and, somewhat contrarily (given the anniversary) Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus.
The programme opens with an ambitious production of Shakespeare’s famous comedy Twelfth Night. The drama is a tale of gender switching, mistaken identity and, more interestingly, tomfoolery turned to injustice.
Performed on the open air stage in Glasgow’s splendid botanic gardens, director Jennifer Dick’s offering is set in the Swinging Sixties. The piece makes more than a nod towards the metrosexuality of the decade of free love and flower power, as it redoubles Shakespeare’s playing with gender.
Viola, the shipwrecked aristocrat who disguises herself as a man, is played by a man. Meanwhile, the countess Olivia, Orsino (Duke of Illyria), Feste (the jester) and Sebastian (Viola’s twin brother) are all played by actors of the opposite sex.
The results are bold, colourful and often very funny. Not least in the hands of the talented Robert Elkin (Viola) and Ryan Ferrie (Olivia), both of whom achieve a near-perfect balance between comic absurdity and dramatic gravitas.
Such balance is required across the piece, and, for the most part, Dick’s generally young cast deliver with gusto. The hilarious conspiracy (by the Falstaffian knight Sir Toby Belch and his chums) against the countess’s pompous steward Malvolio descends into a bleak miscarriage of justice.
The light and shade of this are given superb expression by Kirk Bage’s tremendously unruly Sir Toby and young Adam Donaldson’s grey-suited Malvolio, who is rendered brilliantly dislikeable and sympathetic by turns. Stephanie McGregor is also excellent as a very 20th-century Feste.
Although these component parts fit together nicely, Dick’s staging still contrives to disappoint at times. The director draws heavily upon the play’s references to the pleasures of music, giving her production a substantial, mainly Sixties soundtrack that includes the likes of The Zombies, The Beatles and Lulu.
The problem is, these regular musical interludes are comprised of actors miming to recordings of the songs. Very occasionally there is humour or pathos in this, but, more often, it leads to pointless, cringe-inducing set pieces that break the show’s all-important sense of momentum.
Until July 9. For further information, visit: bardinthebotanics.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on June 27, 2016
© Mark Brown