An Inpsired Bard Feels Full of Life in the Fifties
Although this is a play about love, in Shakespeare's hands it becomes a metaphor for theatre and by implication a commentary on the ways of the world.
Like so may of his plays, it is about the nature of acting and pretence and about how characters, ideas and dramatic moments are created.
Theatrical genius Michael Hurst has set the play in the 1950s in an expat community somewhere in the Pacific. This has allowed him to have most of the scenes in beach bar complete with baby grand and a pianist plus one of the great inventions of New Zealand contemporary theatre, Oliver Driver.
Driver plays the role of the fool Feste, which has been expanded so that he becomes the master of ceremonies, a commentator and entertainer linking the various threads of the play together.
In his role of fool and philosopher, he is one of the audience as well as a central character in the play. His additional asides to the audience remind us that this is a fabrication made up of words, actors and other devices.
His other role as entertainer was a crowd pleaser. He sang the Shakespearean songs as a cabaret crooner, probably the equivalent of the way they were sung 400 years ago.
Much of the play's appeal is in the delicious word play, which can often be lost if actors merely gabble the words. The cast in this production revel in their ability to express the subtleties of the language with precise acting, timing and expression.
As Viola/Cesario, Taidi Wright gave an inspired performance. In her boyish role she is still obviously a woman, which highlights the notions of disguise and deception.
There are a few 1950s connections in the play. Jennifer Ward Lealand is stunning as the Grace Kelly lookalike Olivia and Jacque Drew plays Maria with more than a hint of Nellie Forbush from South Pacific.
Paul Barrett is instantly unlikable as the priggish Malvolio. The vaudeville routines of Sir Toby Belch (George Henare) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Peter McCauley) are perfectly timed and clever, the comedy never descending into buffoonery.
This production gives life and energy to Shakespeare, revealing the wit, intelligence and humanity of the playwright.