TWELFTH NIGHT. Directed by Geoffrey Hyland with Awethu Hleli, Siya Sikawuti, David Johnson, Nicholas Pauling, Bianca Mannie, Roberto Kyle, Wessel Pretorius, Elizabeth Akudugu, Mark Elderkin,  Adolph de Beer, Lamla Ntsaluba, Oarabile Ditsele, Nicola Moerman, Damon Munn, Mariana Kirstein, Matthew Stuurman, Jesse Frankson, Mandla Mpanjukelwa and Molatelo Maffa. Costume design by Leigh Bishop. Set design by Nicolas Mayer. Lighting Design by Luke Ellenbogen with musical composition by Neo Muyanga.

Tracey Saunders

Directing the annual Shakespeare production at Maynardville is somewhat of a poisoned chalice. The opportunity to create an outdoor performance of a classic work is an exciting challenge but meeting the varied expectations of the audience is nigh impossible. Hyland’s Twelfth Night may not thrill the hearts of Shakespearian purists but it will delight young audiences and those with an appreciation of the wide appeal that the Bard’s words still hold when given a modern treatment. He has not strayed from the original story but there are additional elements, topical references and a few sultry compositions which give this eclectic rendition of What you Will? an exhilarating and fresh appeal.

Camping it up in ‘Twelfth Night’

Opening a day after Trump’s inauguration the words of Dutch sociologist Anton C. Zijderveld caution us about rulers, “The more dictatorial they are, the more they need fools and folly.” Fools and folly abound in this colourful and crazy tale and as Viola observes one has to be “wise enough to play the fool; and to do that well craves a kind of wit.” It is the wit of this particular cast that breathes new life in to this well known script of trickery and misplaced identity shenanigans.

Onstage chemistry and sparkle

While the text may be centuries old there is a sparkle to the on-stage chemistry that is fresh and invigorating. Hyland has cast a number of graduates who have performed alongside each other in previous productions including Titus Andronicus and Our Country is Good and the easy rapport between them intensifies the energy on stage.

Akudugu is the sorrowful Olivia, grieving her brother’s death, pursued by Orsino (David Johnson) and yet besotted by Viola disguised as Cesario. Already showing immense promise in her student productions, she blossoms in her professional début and wears her regal air with ease. The clumsy attempts at wooing her by proxy by Viola are performed with a delicate balance of reluctance and rigour by Hleli. When her clueless brother becomes the object of affection, Ntsaluba succumbs with bewilderment but without resistance.

Roberto Kyle is perfectly cast as the terribly camp and oh-so-debonair Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Dressed in varying shades of pink during the evening, including a pink floral ensemble that drew many a gasp of delight, he is a picture of frivolity and dizziness. The epitome of the nouveau riche, he would not be out of place in some of the trendier establishments in Cape Town frequented by minor royals and hopeful celebrities. His antics are hilarious and alongside Fabian, played with a flippancy by Ditsele, he partakes in a plot to undo Malvolio.

Peak enjoyment with Malvolio

It is here where the show reaches peak enjoyment as the melancholic Malvolio, performed to perfection by Mark Elderkin, admonishes the miscreants for “gabbling like tinkers” and considers them “no better than the fools’ zanies”. He is pitch perfect and is without a doubt the highlight of the show. With a John Cleese sense of lunacy he pontificates and berates the drunken babble while they plot his downfall. Maria suggests that “if you desire spleen and will laugh yourself into stitches” you should observe him and it’s a suggestion well worth heeding.

Colourful designs make ‘Twelfth Night’

He is led a merry dance orchestrated by the aptly named Sir Tony Belch (Nicholas Pauling) and the selection of vignettes which place him and Pauling alongside each other are theatre gold. The pairs’ on stage history allows for a familiarity that breeds a perfect sense of comic timing. Pauling is a natural as the Lord of Misrule, and his exceptional Shakespearian talents and experience are evident. The spark to the duo’s chemistry is further lit by Wessel Pretorius and his cabaret style interludes as Feste are worth the ticket price alone. He continues to cement his place as one of the most exciting actors on local stages and this role is no exception. He dazzles and delights as he struts around jauntily in his ten inch leather boots with a sensual nonchalance that is riveting.

Rainbow of colourful lushness

Leigh Bishop’s costumes are a sumptuous and intense rainbow of colourful lushness that match the on-stage debauchery perfectly. Decidedly camp, they may inspire kleptomaniac tendencies. Many an audience member was overheard coveting an item worn on the stage.

Neo Muyanga’s musical composition adds the final touch and the entire stage is bathed in Ellenbogen’s striking lighting design. There really are few events which compare with a summer evening picnic alongside the lake followed by an interlude of “merry madness” concocted by “gecks and gulls.”Don’t wait until the last night to make Twelfth Night an entertaining night out.

 Where and when: Maynardville Open Air Theatre – 21 January to 25 February 2017