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Riverside Players - Twelfth Night

19th to 23rd August 2003.

From Newbury Theatre.

As the audience arrive, we see the cast languidly playing croquet and sipping cocktails, setting the scene for us in the 1920s. I'm never quite sure about out-of-period Shakespeare, but in this production it works extremely well, with the women's androgynous fashion of the era fitting the cross-dressing Viola. And it has to be said that the gamine Heather Saunders, as Viola / Cesario, looks stunning as a woman and, in blazer and slacks, as a man.

Riverside Players do a remarkable job every year of putting together the production at Pangbourne College in two weeks, with members coming from all over the country. This was the first of their productions I've seen, and it was a cracker. I would even say that it's the best theatrical production I've seen this year, thanks to a very strong cast and tight, intelligent directing.

On the opening night it got off to a slightly shaky start with some stumbling over words, but soon got into its stride with Paul Stevenson as a smooth, authoritative Orsino and an excellent performance from Heather Saunders. The other side of the set is the house of Olivia (Hana Askew), with Claire Taeger as Maria, a tough bruiser who you wouldn't want to mess with, Colin Burnie, as a sniffy Malvolio, David Driscoll as Sir Toby Belch, Matthew Warden as Sir Andrew and Andrew Whiffin as Feste. This group provides the comedy, and very funny it is too. The two knights complement each other well, with Toby a rotund buffoon (but strangely leaning backwards all the time, as if to offset the weight of his paunch) and Andrew pleasantly dim and lisping (was it only me that cracked up on his call for "Now, a thong"?). Shakespeare has Maria as tiny, but what do you do if your actress doesn't fit that mould? In a neat twist, Claire Taeger pats her insulted tummy when Cesario says "some mollification for your giant". Andrew Whiffin was a dapper, likeable Feste, singing with feeling, if not much volume.

Colin Burnie was brilliant as Malvolio. It's a lovely part to play, as the actor has to go through a wide range of emotions, making us first despise him, then laugh at him and finally feel sorry for him. Burnie's delight and excitement at finding Maria's forged letter was a delight for us too, as were his capering around the stage, and his smiling; oh dear, his smiling.

This was a great production from director Jacky Davis; a very good pace and some nice touches, such as Malvolio appearing in hairnet and moustache net when woken by the noisy knights, and Orsino and Cesario playing chess during Feste's Come Away Death. The art-deco set, complete with revolve, looked very good. Keep your diary clear for next year's production.


From the Newbury Weekly News.

Twelfth Night takes off to the Twenties

The Riverside Players: Twelfth Night or What You Will, in the open air theatre at Pangbourne College, from Tuesday, August 19 to Saturday, August 23

Shakespeare's comedy about the mad fools unrequited love makes of rational humans is given a fresh twist with a 1920s setting in this production, directed by Jacky Davis.

Malvolio and Duke Orsino both love Olivia, but alas, Olivia falls in love with Orsino's messenger, Viola, disguised as Cesario, who in turn spurns Olivia.

The 1920s' art deco style set, complete with period costumes and bang hairstyles, did not seem at odds with Shakespeare's poetry. The line delivery was good and could be heard at the back of the audience. However, for me, the first half lacked energy.

Physically, the acting was short on animation and heavily reliant on dialogue, which created a distance with the audience.

The second half saw some increase in energy levels, with highlights including a particularly good soliloquy by Colin Burnie as Malvolio, epitomising the vain puffery of his character. This excellent scene was rewarded by a spontaneous round of applause.

His contributions continued with the best laugh of the night when he appeared in canary-yellow tights with cross garters, yellow satin Tam O'Shanter (with black pompoms) and cute yellow leather sporran (with three tassels), lampooning his character's vanity with great success.

It was a great individual performance, marred only by a couple of prompts.

Matthew Warden also gave a comic performance as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, fighting Cesario in an eyes-shut, scaredy-cat sword fight.

Good performances also from Heather Saunders in a demanding male/female role as Viola/Cesario and also Claire Taeger as Olivia's maid, Maria, the catalyst to much of the plotting in the play and plainly in character in the role.

Thankfully it didn't rain on this overall creditable two-and-a-half-hour performance.