Meet the new Ev, same as the old Ev – but on hyperdrive. The theatre’s first production is at once a technical showcase of what the girl can do and a huge welcoming hug all in one.
They said that Twelfth Night was chosen with a view that audiences will be taking in much more than just a play as they experience the place for the first time, and that if anyone was robust enough to handle the distraction of the awe-inspiring new building it would be ol’ Will; at the same time it provides a natural bookend to the old theatre’s closing show, David Morrissey’s Macbeth (the now Walking Dead star was in the audience this time, incidentally).
As if to test out the capabilities of the venue’s plush new seating, this production weighed in at what would have previously been a bum-numbing three and a quarter hours – but as we have learned over the years with artistic director Gemma Bodinetz at the helm, the Everyman and Playhouse can be trusted to make lengthy running times time fly.
The play began depicting Viola and (Jodie McNee) and Feste the fool (Paul Duckworth) washed up from a shipwreck in spectacular fashion; this was swiftly followed up with a beautifully impressive scene change that left the audience enchanted from the off. A tale of mistaken identity and general mischief, some big and loveable performances proved endearing, and perhaps even unforgettable.
As Viola, who fears her twin Sebastian (Luke Jerdy, both pictured) drowned in the same disaster, McKnee sweetly shone as a real talent to watch. From then on disguised as a man – to the extent she is taken for her brother as the tale unfolds – her wide-eyed confusion at the action around her provided an anchor for the audience making a journey through an increasingly mindboggling world.
From there, it was impossible to pick a favourite from the rag-tag gang of trouble-making lunatics that provided a parallel part of the action. Along with a scenery-chewing turn from the irrepressible Duckworth (the fool played as a bitchy Liverpool queen, glittery eye shadow and all), Matthew Kelly’s Sir Toby Belch (surely taking ‘aristocratic rogue’ fashion tips from the Marquis of Bath), perennial panto star Adam Keast as Sir Andrew and an on-form Pauline Daniels as housemaid Maria, their appearances brought an ever-increasing sense of joy and mirth.
It’s a shame their charming tomfoolery was to such cruel ends, as their treatment of pompous Malvolio (Everyman alumni Nicolas Woodeson) was harsh – his torment, and eyes brimming with humiliated tears in the final act was a streak of darkness almost too sad to bear in such an uplifting comedy. Natalie Dew, as girlish Olivia, mistakenly in love with Viola believing her to be a man, took a potentially two-dimensional role and brought more big laughs. The cast was completed by Alan Stocks. Neil Caple, Adam Levy, Robin Morrissey and David Rubin.
As previously mentioned, this production had to show what the new facilities can do, and on this score of course the Everyman impressed. Laura Hopkins’s design was clean and beautiful, on a bigger scale than might be expected, but no flashy distraction. Scene changes were a delight of stagecraft, and the new stage felt spacious and tailor made for actors to explore. Paul Keogan’s lighting design was, as ever, superb, a highlight being Viola’s sung soliloquy, beautifully positioned in the spotlight.
Peter Coyte’s songs – music be the food of love, and all that – added a further dimension to a show that was already a feast for the senses. It’s easy to believe the Everyman simply could not have created a better opening show. Even with the long running time and Shakespearean prose for audiences to tackle, Twelfth Night was completely pitch perfect – an accessible, funny, anarchic joy that writ large the theatre’s future intent. Is feel-good Shakespeare a thing? If not, Bodinetz and her remarkable cast and crew may just have invented it.
Twelfth Night is on until April 5.