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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the National (Cottesloe)


  Charles Edwards, David Ryall and Simon Callow/ Ph: Nobby Clark

Sir Peter Hall is the man who introduced Beckett’s Godot to the English stage, founded the Royal Shakespeare Company and then ran the National Theatre, taking over from Sir Laurence Olivier and overseeing the venue’s move from the Old Vic to its current concrete, cubist, construction on the Thames. 
To celebrate his 80th birthday, Hall returns to the National to direct Shakespeare’s comedy for the fourth time. And if this illustrious theatrical career were not reason enough to look forward to this production, then the casting of his daughter and rising film star Rebecca should do the trick – not to mention Simon Callow as the drunken Sir Toby Belch. But enough with the good news already. 
Although the hallmarks of a Hall production – most of which are these days cherry-picked from the classical canon – are the virtues of clarity and simplicity, few have recently given reason to expect the unexpected. Here, too, Hall sticks with tradition. The dress is Elizabethan, and Antony Ward’s design sets much of the action beneath a huge, sand-colored awning under which Martin Csokas’ Orsino lounges, and which descends to become the beach upon which the other Hall’s glistening Viola is washed up after a storm. 
Yet the sense that the evening rests happily in the director’s safe pair of hands begins to erode with doubts about some odd casting decisions. The oddest by far is Australian actor Coskas, whose languid Orsino reveals an underpowered lust, and not much else. This raises a difficult question. Exactly what quality did the director see in this actor that he hoped would work well with his daughter? Hall’s daughter may well be asking the same question. Orsino is the man understandably in love with Amanda Drew’s intelligent Olivia, but what Viola – now disguised as the male Cesario – is meant to fall in love with is hard to fathom. For there appears to be nothing to fall for in this middle-aged, moping lion. So Hall (the actor) has little choice but to inject what looks like irony into her declarations of love for Orsino, which, though they are spoken with the gorgeous clarity of a bell, are impossible to interpret. 
Elsewhere the always-dependable Simon Paisley Day – so fine as the stiff upper-lipped Englishman rejected by Kim Catrral’s Amanda in last year’s Private Lives – finds little inspiration as Malvolio. His punishment – here, blindfolded and trussed up like a chicken while suspended in a giant birdcage – is the cruelest for Malvolio I have seen. But the transformation from funereal Steward to the grimacing yellow-stockinged buffoon who is fooled into thinking that he has won his mistress’s heart, is far less rewarding than the lead-up promises. 
The opposite, however, is true of David Ryall’s superb Feste. This fool is aging, world-weary and fears that he is one bad joke away from losing his living. Ryall’s is the best Feste I have seen. There is characteristically extravagant work, too, from Callow’s blustering Belch, a perfect foil to Charles Edwards' nice-but-stupid fop, Aguecheek. But these fleeting pleasures merely provide relief to a misfiring production, rather than characterize it. 

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