Saturday, February 28, 2009

Episode 159: Don John & Twelfth Night

With Don John, Kneehigh Theatre offers up a riotous visual spectacle, billed by artistic director, Emma Rice, as a female reclaiming of Mozart's Don Giovanni's. The production delivered on the former promise, with plenty of balloons, bangs and confetti to accent the cast's physically robust performance. The set was also elaborately constructed, allowing for a dynamic use of space, especially by Cscape's dancers. Set changes were incorporated into the performance, creating seamless transitions that helped to keep the story moving as it switched between its three main threads. However, the production didn't quite achieve the latter aim. Amy Marston's Elvira, Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir's Anna, and Patrycja Kujawska's Zerlina weren't fully fleshed out as women, although the latter two were more believably sympathetic as an alcoholic vicar's wife and a foreign cleaner respectively. Within the narrative of the production, the women weren't exactly empowered, except for one scene in which Mike Shepherd's Nobby was tied up by all the female members of the cast.

Of the male characters, Craig Johnson's Derek deserved particular mention as the comic reverend who preaches to an empty church, rails against God, and is ultimately incapable of action. The titular character of Don John was played by Tristan Sturrock, replacing Gísli Örn Gardarsson, touring overseas with another production for a short period. While Sturrock turns in a solid performance as Don John, this is an instance, I think, where what the actor looks like is absolutely crucial. Whereas Gardarsson is conventionally athletically handsome, which would make for a more convincingly seductive rake, Sturrock's demeanour is more suggestive of the conman's oily smile. It is, to some extent as I see it, a question of emphasising one aspect of the character's personality over another, so it would be churlish to criticise really. I guess I just find Sturrock's Don John not terrible attractive and unlikely to inspire the sort of wanton lust that he is supposed to in the story. Casting kind of matters in this case, that's what I think, so a more conventionally good-looking guy would have helped.

I must say I really liked the live musical accompaniment though, and how it blended together with the pre-recorded soundtrack. I thought Dom Lawton's voice was easy on the ear, and how the rest of the cast joined in here and there to layer harmonies, that was cool. His paperboy character also helped to frame the narrative by insinuating himself as part of the audience, peering in on the goings-on in this town. At the very end, the cast came down into the audience to get people to dance with them onstage during the epilogue. Was sitting along the aisle, so I got pulled up obviously. It wasn't so bad. Danced with Cscape's Emily Dobson, made some small talk and it was over in a couple of seconds. I can't do dancing that involves actual coordinated footwork, however vague. It makes me feel clumsy. Overall, I would say that for Don John, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so if you haven't seen it, it's actually too late to catch it at the Warwick Arts Centre, but the production's still touring, so go here to see if it's coming to a place near you.

Went back to my room for an hour, before heading out again to catch a bus to All Saints Church in Leamington Spa for the Shakespeare Society's performance of Twelfth Night. Managed to grab a bite at Vialli's! The church's architecture is very beautiful, although at times it turned into a bit of a distraction from the actual play, particularly since it was initially hard to see and hear the actors. Things got better after the interval though, so at least I didn't leave feeling like I'd wasted my £5. Never actually read Twelfth Night before though, but now that I've seen it performed, I find the central premise of the plot a bit hard to swallow. The whole mistaken identity thing? Don't buy it. It's just a bit too implausible. I suppose though, the whole point of theatre is that the audience engages in what Coleridge calls a 'willing suspension of disbelief', and it's churlish to complain about what is otherwise a perfectly fine play. I think Feste is my favourite character in the whole play. I just don't really find any of them particular sympathetic, which is a bit strange for a Shakespearean play.

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