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Mr Monkey sees Twelfth Night at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Venue : Royal Exchange Theatre
Start date: 13th April 2017
End date : 20th May 2017
Visit date : 20th April 2017
Faith Omole as Viola (Royal Exchange Production photo by Jonathon Keenan)
Viola (Faith Omole) deciding to disguise herself as a young man. (Royal Exchange Production photo by Jonathon Keenan)
Mina Anwar as Maria (Royal Exchange Production photo by Jonathon Keenan)
Maria (Mina Anwar), nonplussed by the behaviour of Toby Belch. (Royal Exchange Production photo by Jonathon Keenan)
Mr Monkey looking at the poster for Twelfth Night
Mr Monkey looking at the poster for Twelfth Night
Kate Kennedy as Olivia (Royal Exchange Production photo by Jonathon Keenan)
Olivia (Kate Kennedy) before she falls in love. (Royal Exchange Production photo by Jonathon Keenan)

Mr Monkey caught a bus into Manchester, then scampered along to the Royal Exchange Theatre for the press night of Twelfth Night.

William Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night around 1601 or 1602 as an entertainment for the end of the Christmas season. As such it's a comedy in which many of the normal rules of society are turned upside down, as traditional Christmas celebrations involved the election of a Lord of Misrule whose job was to overturn convention (but not do any permanent damage).

A ship is wrecked on the coast of Illyria. A young woman, Viola, is saved, but her twin brother is not. She, quite sensibly, decides to disguise herself as a man, call herself Cesario, and get a job working for Orsino, the Lord of Illyria. Cesario's main job turns out to be visiting Olivia to tell her the Orsino loves her, despite Olivia having repeatedly said that she was going to mourn her recently desceased father and brother for seven years.

Sadly for Orsino, Olivia falls in love with Cesario; at the same time Viola falls for Orsino, but can't admit it without admitting that she's a woman. This rather awkward love triangle is resolved when it turns out that Viola's brother Sebastian didn't actually drown. Luckily neither Orsino or Olivia seem to particularly mind who they marry, so there's a happy end. In a secondary plot, Olivia's maid Maria, her fool Feste, and two down at heel roisterers Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, annoyed that Olivia's steward Malvolio takes his job too seriously, take an elaborate revenge on him by persuading him that Olivia loves him.

The stage is empty, a plain of azure, except for a small pile of sand in the centre. This is redeployed later, most notably to form a path through Olivia's garden. A number of large and slightly wonky pieces of furniture start around the outside of the stage, being moved on stage as needed. A strange collection of wooden beams hangs from the roof of the theatre pod, and is quite dramatic when it is used later in the play.

There is music throughout - there are a lot of musical interludes in the play - played by Kate Young (fiddle) and Joseph Gravil (guitar) supported by Jill Myers and Tarek Merchant who also play minor roles in the drama. The music is varied, ranging from almost dirge-like to joyous dance music, and Mr Monkey enjoyed the Scottish fiddle music (which he was sure had hints of Scandianvia in it) most of all.

Mr Monkey was impressed by the exuberance of this production. Every potential innudendo is played for all it's worth, and it's very funny. This makes the rather grim scenes where Feste is wittily trying to get the unjustly imprisoned Malvolio to admit to being mad, all the more darker.

Faith Omole is perfect as Viola, especially when she's pretending to be Cesario; she's outwardly confident, but very conscious of the potentially dangerous game she's playing.

Kate Kennedy is great as Olivia, starting out hostile to everyone but quickly becoming comedically infatuated with Cesario. Mr Monkey was impressed that anyone could get a round of applause simply for saying "wonderful!" (it was just after she'd seen Cesario and Sebastian together).

Kate O'Donnell's Feste is marvellously cynical, and also sings excellently.

Mina Anwar is an excellent compressed ball of energy as Maria, sweeping Aguecheek - played as a distressed Rick Wakeman by Harry Attwell - and Simon Armstrong's Belch along with her broom. Maria was probably Mr Monkey's favourite character.

Mr Monkey really enjoyed this production of Twelfth Night and recommends it to anyone who wants a very amusing Shakesperean night out.

Twelfth Night runs until 20th May 2107.

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