Review of Twelfth Night at RSC Theatre on the afternoon of Sat 12 May 2012.
The principal theme of Twelfth Night (or What You Will) is one of mistaken identity and I was delighted to attend a first class audio-described performance of this very popular Shakespeare play, performed by the RSC and directed by David Farr on the afternoon of Saturday 12 May. Part of the World Shakespeare Festival, this comedy is part of the trilogy of Shakespeare’s shipwreck plays (which include The Tempest and Comedy of Errors) entitled What Country Friend is This?
On arrival at the RSC Theatre for the 11.15 am touch tour we were met by describers Carolyn Smith and Ellie Packer at the rendezvous point next to the Cloakroom and taken onto the stage. Here we had described to us the sombre set with its muted colours and subdued lighting, which served simultaneously for all the play’s locations in Illyria – particularly a dockyard waterfront and a hotel which had seen better days. Although it was a late 20th Century setting the hotel’s faded splendour reflected a more prosperous past. We were told that everything was muddy and dusty - the evidence of recent earthquake activity, which had caused the plaster to fall from the hotel ceiling and disorganise the furniture, pieces of which stood at bizarre angles. A particularly memorable and I would say ambitious piece of the set was a triangular glass tank of water which formed the front left hand corner of the thrust stage out of which the emerged on separate occasions the shipwrecked twins, Viola and Sebastian. Looming up a little way behind as if moored and glimpsed between the dockside buildings – was the side of a large passenger ship. Even though all of this information was conveyed in the pre-show notes always available in advance either online or, by request, on CD through the post, you simply couldn’t have appreciated the full effect of this imaginative dockside setting without the luxury of being able to explore it through the invaluable touch tour – even to the point of checking the temperature of the water in the tank.
We were then shown the hotel’s reception desk at the back right corner with its wooden pigeon holes and a large 1980’s computer screen on the counter. In front of this lay portable disco equipment – and even a copy of Rod Stewart’s LP of Greatest Hits! A smoky glass revolving door was to the right of the reception area. A Countess, Olivia lived in the hotel and her double bed with its art deco headboard, we were told, was visible halfway up the sloping floor at the back of the stage and to its left – suspended in mid-air – was a claw-footed bath with shower attachment. Nearer the front of the stage we were able to literally get the feel of a tall mast part of which had been stripped away to reveal a light which, we were informed, would blink rhythmically whenever the action moved to the docks. We were also shown a Chesterfield armchair and a large bronze globe as well as – at the back of the stage on the left – a rusty cage lift used for ferrying members of the cast to and from the upper circle which was also used as a brazier for a bonfire during one of the scenes on the docks. A wooden staircase led to the circle next to which was a grand piano.
After exploring the many creative aspects of the set we were taken into the wings to see some of the costumes which generally had a1980’s feel to them. Of notable interest were the very important yellow garters, which were in fact rubber, worn by the Countess’ steward Malvolio, who to the amusement of the audience made his entrance driving a golf buggy.
The next audio-described performance at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre will be Much Ado About Nothing on Saturday 1 September at 1.30 pm