Twelfth Night at the Macbeths
Director: Christopher Weare
Cast: Graduating Students of the UCT Drama Department
Venue: Arena Theatre, Hiddingh Campus, Orange Street
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Fourteen committed young thespians generate 80 minutes of pure entertainment in this earthy Shakespearean collage as Hamlet meets Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream drifts into Twelfth Night. Holding it more or less together is none other than Malvolio, whose oft-repeated “What the Puck?...”echoes the confusion of the audience.
Even for the Shakespeare-literate, the show is disconcerting – but in a delightful way. A mop-headed, chain-smoking Feste (cross-dressed) provides a lively prelude with the occasional bray of Beatles lyrics from headphones to underscore the narrated action.
At this stage we are in Twelfth Night, and everything is reassuringly predictable until Malvolio goes to the wrong address on an errand for his mistress Olivia. The action switches to the ruder climate of Scotland and love-intrigues make way for plotted regicide.
Just as we’ve adapted to this new scenario, lo and behold! Ophelia wanders into the action in a state of bewilderment matching that of the audience, and the last straw is when the quartet of lovers from A Midsummer Night’s Dream invade the stage with raging hormones and furious energy, their antics interrupted by sporadic returns to Hamlet and Macbeth. No wonder Malvolio retires side-stage and pops pills to calm his nerves.
In the end, we return definitively to Twelfth Night to re-establish some structure, and the ill-used Malvolio has his revenge on everyone in Shakespearean fashion.
Weare’s staging is a masterpiece of simplicity: spotlights focus attention on actors in monologue or in intimate exchanges, and costumes are in 50 shades of black. The naked stage suits the Protean nature of the production, in which one character (like the complex and multi-faceted Lady Macbeth) is played by three people, and most of the performers take on at least two roles, like Nathan Lynn who portrays Demetrius, Orsino, and Polonius.
Among the stellar cast, whose collective versatility is impressive, two stand out: David Viviers gives an excellent account of the pivotal Malvolio, pompous and mincing yet quaintly vulnerable, and Maggie Gericke as the boyish Viola musters the requisite clarity of diction to do the Bard’s script justice.
In a work like this, which is akin to farce, timing is of the essence, and the actors prove obedient to tight direction from the veteran Weare, whose swan-song at the UCT Drama Department is marked by this production. Happily, he is ending his distinguished career there with a bang rather than a whimper.