Men only night moves

Twelfth Night

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

*****

AS A latecomer to Propeller's all-male Shakespeare I'm now the staunchest of converts. The efficiency with which the cast tell a complex story; clever cutting of well-known texts that could whiff of sacrilege, and this, one of his best-loved plays, was literally smoke and mirrors.

On the set, constructed of incredibly versatile walk-through wardrobes, every flat surface gleamed with reflections that threw you off balance and hid the truth. ‘Disguise' and mistaken identity rule the plot.

Most of the cast inhabited the space throughout the play, peeping through and round the set. We, the watchers, were watched in our turn.

Twins Sebastian (Dan Wheeler) and Viola (Joseph Chance) each presume the other dead in a shipwreck off Illyria. But both find their way to the court of desperately lovesick and desperately untidy Duke Orsino (Christopher Heyward). Viola arrives first and, disguised as a boy, Cesario become Orsino's ambassador in love to Olivia (Ben Allen) eschewing male company while mourning for her father and brother.

Viola makes a very pretty boy and Olivia duly falls for him. The mischief-makers of Feste the jester (Liam O'Brien), Olivia's uncle Sir Toby Belch (Vince Leigh), her maid Maria (Gary Shelford) and unappealing suitor Sir Andrew Aguecheek (John Dougall) hatch a vengeful plot to persuade Olivia that pompous steward Malvolio (Chris Myles) is mad.

Their torture of poor Malvolio casts a shadow over a mostly merry play.

Inevitably twin Sebastian arrives in town and is mistaken for Cesario in his fight with Andrew Aguecheek and, potentially more disastrously, by Olivia who marries him!

Propeller chooses its casts to include wonderful on-stage music – playing and singing – a wine glass added a whole layer of eerie music to the scenes of mistaken identity.

The mischief scenes with Sir Toby and Maria were wonderful and fresh – quite an achievement when they are so well known and taken out of context so often .

Particularly enjoyable was the drunken revelry that included an enthusiastic if none-too-accurate version of Twelve Days of Christmas and some mooning. My particular award would go to Gary Shelford as Maria, he created a character that was recognisable, constantly alert, and very elegant. Propeller lives up to expectation, sky high and, so far as I'm concerned, in the artistic jet stream. Find it and go. More please. To 10-11-12

Jane Howard 

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