Shakespeare Shipwrecked Season 2013

Twelfth Night, The Comedy of Errors, The Tempest

Seen December 30 at Bella Vista Farm, Sydney.

SPORT for Jove’s Damien Ryan was joking when he said after the end of Twelfth Night last night that King Lear would start at midnight. Obviously it was a jest: King Lear wouldn’t fit into the shipwreck theme that shapes Sport for Jove’s 2012/2013 Shakespeare festival. That, and the fact that SFJ had just finished a marathon three-play set, starting at 5pm with The Comedy of Errors (The Tempest sat between the two comedies).

But if SFJ did have a Lear to offer at that time it is highly likely most patrons would have stayed on.  There was, in the balmy night air, a sense of alertness mixed with giddy enjoyment; a feeling of having participated in the plays rather than passively observed them. The informality of the outdoor setting – picnics, glasses of wine – helps, although by far the most important factor is the conviviality of the actors and their easy interaction with the audience. At one moment they’re selling raffle tickets, at the next the play has begun. That you can’t see the joins is one of those little miracles of theatre. The playgoers, who were absolutely rapt throughout, had been taken across the invisible divide.

James Lugton, Bernadette Ryan and Michael Piggott in Twelfth Night directed by Damien Ryan (photo: Takaya Honda)
James Lugton, Bernadette Ryan and Michael Pigott in Twelfth Night (photo: Takaya Honda)

Bringing these three works together gracefully and fruitfully amplifies their common themes of separation, self-discovery and reconciliation: first seen as farce in the early The Comedy of Errors, then in the mature majesty of The Tempest (albeit here in a limp production), and then – most persuasively and movingly – in Ryan’s production of Twelfth Night.

Terry Karabelas directs The Comedy of Errors with boisterous high spirits and plenty of anachronistic gags and it’s all done and dusted in 80 dizzying minutes. The Tempest, directed by Matt Edgerton, suffers from a flatly conceived image of Prospero, played by the multi-tasking Damien Ryan as a bookish, sometimes irritable suburban dad. There is little mystery or complexity in his relationships with Caliban (Yalin Ozucelik) and Ariel (Naomi Livingston) and Lizzie Schebesta’s little-girl Miranda is too pallid and often vocally thin in the open spaces. The funny bits work, though, which is a relief.

With Twelfth Night Ryan confirms his reputation as one of the best interpreters of Shakespeare in the country. It starts with a swimming pool party – inspired design by Anna Gardiner – that morphs into the storm that throws Viola on to a foreign shore, where she will take on the guise of a boy, Caesario, and set in train the funny, painful, revelatory series of deceptions and confusions. In a wonderful cast, Abigail Austin’s Viola/Caesario is lightly done and deeply touching and Michael Pigott gives a delightful, unusually sweet account of Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Mark Lee’s tightly wound Malvolio has many felicitious touches, expertly managed. He’s the kind of fuss-budget civil servant under whose suit you might well find lacy underwear, and yet he is not entirely unsympathetic or risible. If one is going to be picky it would be to suggest that Megan Drury’s Olivia could pull back the spoiled princess act just a notch or two.

The Comedy of Errors and The Tempest are given as a double bill on some dates with Twelfth Night able to be seen on its own on others. Given the joys of Twelfth Night and the disappointments of The Tempest, the triple bill is the way to go (there are two occasions at the upcoming SFJ performances in Leura where this is possible). The night flies by in a magical suspension of time. Only here and now exist.

I was enchanted, too, by the reaction to Twelfth Night of a man in front of me. There were times – many times – when he found the humour thigh-slapping. Not metaphorically; literally. His engagement was total, intense and physical, his hands repeatedly flying up high and then coming down with a mighty thwack on the top of his legs. Brilliant.

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