Shakespeare’s ode to love right on song

12 January 2023

A risky strategy may or may not pay off, but a dash of ABBA, some lusty vocals and a strong cast keep the joy afloat in Fremantle Theatre Company’s production of Twelfth Night, writes Jan Hallam.

Twelfth Night, Fremantle Theatre Company
Saw Avenue Amphitheatre, Kings Park, 11 January, 2023

As so often happens in Shakespeare’s comedies, the subjects of ridicule and the butt of everyone’s mirth become the viewer’s private shame.

Of course, the fall comes from a lofty height. These characters are invariably arrogant, self-aggrandising, petty and spiteful and ripe for a comeuppance. In a panto, the audience would be up booing, catcalling and generally feeling pretty good that the bully in the schoolyard had lost the day.

So, the final humiliation of Malvolio, the strutting popinjay of a steward in Twelfth Night (in the Fremantle Theatre Company production regendered Malvolia) should be a triumph and yet…

Renato Fabretti’s direction of Caitlin Beresford-Ord’s wonderful Malvolia, sees, in the dying minutes of the play, the downcast and cast out former faithful but flawed servant somewhat defiantly quitting the stage and the employ of Countess Olivia, bringing a complete and awkward hush over the cast and the audience in her wake.

A scene from Twelfth Night: write a description for screen reader
Caitlin Beresford Ord as Malvolia and Ebony McGuire as Feste as a fresh gender-flip of these classic roles in ‘Twelfth Night’. Photo: R. Fabretti

There is no question that it’s a powerful and effective dramatic moment. Whether the remaining cast can regain the joyful gaiety of the multiple happy endings to leave the audience laughing as they go, is less certain – and while that may be the point, it’s a risky dramaturgical strategy.

The jury is out on its success.

Malvolia has haunted the hours since viewing, which necessarily requires revision of the architect of her fall – the maidservant Maria (Tegan Mulvany) and her sidekicks, Sir Toby (Patrick Whitelaw) and Sir Andrew (Jackson Rutherford), not to mention the official “fool”, Feste (Ebony McGuire).

Mulvany’s Maria really dislikes Malvolia and she’s bad-assed enough to wreak a cyclone-force vengeance without a backwards glance.

While she constructs the web that entraps Malvolia into believing that Olivia is in love with her, the knighted buffoons fool around enough to prove their impotence not just in the scheme but in life generally.

However, their energy was essential to keep the joy afloat, while these machinations were playing out.

McGuire’s Feste emerges as the play’s righteous conscience. Though at times it does spill into self-righteousness it only takes a pretty song from the talented performer to dissolve the dissonant moment.

So, why do these dark themes overwhelm what is essentially a play about the who, how and what of love, with, of course, a shipwreck thrown in for good measure?

There is the tangled love triangle of remote Olivia (Asha Cornelia Cluer), lovelorn Orsino (Giuseppe D’Allura) and disguised erstwhile shipwrecked Viola (Holly Easterbrook) now Cesario, pulling off very successfully a eunuch servant to the count.

Easterbrook was masterly as the go-between, only to be horrified at being the growing object of Olivia’s affection, while Cluer was sublime moving from austere rebuffer of love to a giggly, gushing girly kind of creature.

When the triangle gains the addition of Viola’s twin brother Sebastien (Grady Swithenbank), believed drowned but miraculously rescued by yet another lovelorn soul, Antonio, the Shakespeare cosmos is in alignment.

To add some spice, there is Maria and Toby’s more venereal attraction, leaving a lonely night with the cats for Sir Andrew, Malvolia and Antonio.

The winners take it all.

Which comes to a real winner – music. As Orsino’s opening lines opine – it’s the food of love and the production uses it to great effect, yes, including a few well-positioned ABBA tunes.

With professional singers on the boards – Swithenbank is part of The Ten Tenors and a musical theatre performer, and McGuire and Easterbrook are both beautiful singers – songs keep coming and, in some of the flatter moments, helped the production to lift off.

However, a request from the floor – belt it out over the trees and make the surrounding suburbs wish they were here.

Shakespeare in the Park is a gem to be treasured – long may it be so.

Pictured top: Patrick Whitelaw as Sir Toby Belch and Jackson Rutherford as Andrew Aguecheek, returning for a second season of Shakespeare with Fremantle Theatre Company. Photo: R. Fabretti

Update! Twelfth Night is heading to Joondalup Festival 11-12 March 2023.

Twelfth Night continues at Saw Avenue Amphitheatre until 21 January 2023.

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Author —
Jan Hallam

Jan Hallam has been watching theatre for a living for the past 30 years. Working for both The West Australian and The Sunday Times, she has been lucky to have experienced just how diverse and talented the Perth arts scene is. When she’s not sitting in the dark, she’s staring at the light of a computer screen as editor and journalist. She’s the queen of the sandpit castle.

Past Articles

  • Timely reminder of the power of satire

    The WAAPA third year acting students’ sparkling revival of Moliere’s classic Tartuffe speaks to the kind of cynicism so prevalent in our halls of power today, writes Jan Hallam.

  • Dreamland casts a new spell

    The return of Shakespeare to Kings Park offers a chance to be swept up in a vortex of comic bliss, writes Jan Hallam

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