The Wellington Opera House last night stamped and clapped its pleasure at the opportunity to see an Old Vic company once again.
The opening performance of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” fully deserved the applause it received. For this bawdy comedy of transvestism–a girl disguised as boy with its entanglements and rathermore difficult disentanglements– which borders on the tedious in lesser hands, rose last night to moments of rich hilarity.
Its more fantastic and hence less acceptable moments that demand too much of the credulity of a modern audience were lost in the general fluidity of Robert Helpman’s taut direction and the fine, polished technique of the east.
Indicative of this, and of the audience acceptance, was the fact that the play needed no more than one interval in its two-hour passage– a lesson for local producers.
If it had a disappointment, perhaps we ourselves are to blame in always expecting greatness from its principal lady, Vivien Leigh.
There can be no question of the magnetism of Miss Leigh’s stage presence, nor of the quality of her experience, and yet last night, in spite of the clearly designed scheme to keep her at the centre, Miss Leigh was merely a bright star among other stars, rather than a brilliant sun.
One felt that Viola was really a younger woman’s part. There was, too, a tendency to monotony of delivery, more perhaps early in the piece.
Miss Leigh shone, but with a diminished brightness.
Not so the principal men. Basil Henson’s Malviolio was comic masterpiece. The audience hung on every gesture, each raised eyebrow, and while they laughed at his misfortunes they still had sympathy for his plight–the soul of wit.
Sir Toby Belch, of course, is a part tailor-made for anyone with a modicum of wit and humour in his veins and Frank Middlemass showed that his veins truly pulsed with the stuff to amuse, while John Merivale’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek was an ideal foppish foil for his wiles.
From these three, with solid aid from Mark Kingston as the clown and Patricia Raine as gentlewoman, came the essence of bubbling cordial.
Sally Home’s Olivia had a gentleness that added to the distillation.
The general competency of the rest, backed by ingenious setting, first-class stage effects and tasteful costume, added up to a performance that theatre lovers should make some effort to see before the season of this particular play ends on Saturday.