‘Twelfth Night’ production splendid choice for outdoor venue’s return
FORTUNE smiled broadly on the Port Elizabeth theatre community when the revamped Mannville OpenAir Theatre was reopened with a gala premiere of Twelfth Night on Tuesday night.
The production was brilliant, the balmy night was windless and even the mozzies kept their distance.
After four years of being stymied by crime and vandalism, the Shakespearean Festival could return home with the help of the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality’s parks department, which was honoured for its stirling work in rendering the venue renewed and secure.
Director Lesley Barnard and her cast delivered a product which honoured the tradition of “Stratford-on-Baakens”, the title once bestowed on Port Elizabeth by South African theatre veteran Andre Huguenet.
Barnard and her co-conspirators smoothly hijack Shakespeare’s little bit of Mills and Boon into island-style eighties, beguiling the audience with strains of Magnum and The Love Boat. It works like a charm, the players clearly at ease as they move to well-rehearsed but unobtrusive directorial instruction.
Shakespeare’s romantic tale stands against a background of bawdy fun.
Twins Viola and Sebastian are shipwrecked. Unbeknown to one another (each thinks the other drowned) they happen on the court of Count Orsino of Ilyria.
Which brings us to the Mills and Boon: Orsino (Neville Staples) is madly in love with neighbouring lady Olivia (Emily Bradley). Shipwrecked Viola (Kelly Mucka) disguises herself as a young man and becomes Orsino’s right hand page and emissary to his beloved. Naturally Olivia falls in love with Viola in her guise as page, while Viola falls in love with Orsino.
But fear not, for there is a twin brother (James Smith) who soon comes into the mix and allows the love quadrangle to be sorted.
Smith and Staples carry off their somewhat limited roles with aplomb but Shakespeare gives the two leading ladies the better opportunities.
Bradley veers charmingly and convincingly between regal and kittenish. Mucka makes the most of the best role in the comedy as she skittishly negotiates the pitfalls of her deception.
Her pretend fight scenes are quite hilarious. Those flowery island costumes are genius because of the superb way in which Barnard uses them to characterise and ridicule.
Sir Andrew Aguechec’s ultimate flowery shorts and singlet put a crowning glory on David Emery’s fine rendition of the bumbling knight come acourting. The ample body of Sir Toby Belch (fulsomely played by John Keevy) also makes excellent use of the flowing fashion.
And then there is uptight Malvolio in pukka sahib khaki (yip, think Higgins, if you are old enough to remember). The opening night audience left little doubt of who their favourite character was. Bennie Gerber’s portrayal of the hapless steward would get an Oscar in Hollywood.
The Bard’s customary Elizabethan comic crew were completed by Tim Collier as Feste the Fool and the lusty Maria, originator of much mischief, played with relish by Helen Flax.
All the players in this production are good. Diction is virtually perfect and the Shakespearean lines are spoken with a clarity and understanding I have seldom come across. It was truly wonderful to sit in Mannville and hear every word, surely also thanks to the new sound system and good work by the sound operators.
The programme also lists the backstage crew, who are to be roundly congratulated. If this be the food of theatre, may there be much more on the Mannville menu.
The following readers each won a double ticket to see Twelfth Night in the park tonight:
Cassandra Wiggill, Janine Muspratt-Williams, Vaghmaria Surendra, Willi Petersen, Win Heckroodt, Megan Rudlin, Jacques Millard, Cecilia Chetty, Morgan Griffith, Emily Minne, Tamarin Ellis, Oscar Van Rooyen, Angela Brown, Brenton Human, Derrick Bushby, Marilyn Clarke, Lyn Fox, Amina Benjamin, Chenee Ludwick and Adrienne Barrett.