Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

From left: Tom Rooney as Malvolio, Cara Ricketts as Maria, Brian Dennehy as Sir Toby Belch and Juan Chioran as Fabian in "Twelfth Night."

Stratford Shakespeare Festival /

2.5 out of 4 stars

Des McAnuff is a paradoxical director. In his hit production of Jesus Christ Superstar, he has managed to carve out strong character arcs in a rock opera that often comes across as a string of songs.

In his music-filled Twelfth Night that opened over the weekend, however, McAnuff has transformed a coherent play into a series of scenes that each seem to exist in their own separate universe.

His production is discombobulated by design and many of the individual moments are truly delightful - there's no doubting his knack for crowd-pleasing comedy - but in terms of storytelling it is perhaps McAnuff's least satisfying stab at Shakespeare since his return to Stratford.

Story continues below advertisement

As with The Tempest, the last Shakespeare McAnuff essayed here, the plot of Twelfth Night begins with a shipwreck and a family separated. Twins Viola (Suzy Jane Hunt) and Sebastian (Trent Pardy) wash up on different shores of Illyria, lost in a land where the upper class are all lovelorn in one way or another.

Duke Orsino (Mike Shara) has taken up pining after countess Olivia (Sara Topham) as a full-time job, while she has been too busy mourning her deceased brother to pay any heed.

Disguised as a boy named Cesario for the usual shaky Shakespearean reasons, Viola gets a gig acting as Orsino's messenger with Olivia while secretly swooning for him. Naturally, Olivia ends up going gaga for the go-between instead.

"If music be the food of love," Duke Orsino begins the comedy famously, "play on." McAnuff takes this line and runs with it, saturating the show with a score he has co-composed with Michael Roth, some of it new, some of it reworked from their 1990 production at the La Jolla Playhouse.

Ben Carlson once again gets to show off his bass-playing skills in between his sardonic line-readings as clown Feste, here a melancholy bandleader who frequently breaks into songs in the style of the Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen or the Police that are tuneful but often stop the production dead.

These popular acts and more are conjured up by the costumes. Orsino's court appears to have marched out of the album cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, while Viola and Sebastian have a long-lost triplet in Annie Lennox.

Debra Hanson's design doesn't stick just to a rock'n'roll for inspiration, however. Olivia switches era from scene to scene, dressed in a Victorian bustle for one, then like a silent film star in the next.

Story continues below advertisement

Olivia's roguish uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Brian Dennehy) and his drunken coterie dress for the country club, his credit-giving and credulous friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek (the always delightful Stephen Ouimette) making a memorable arrival in a golf cart with a pair of pints. From the links, the setting shifts to a number of sports scene from a batting cage to a tennis court.

If creating clear narrative throughlines were McAnuff's strong suit, this postmodern jumble might not be a problem. But, here, too often it distracts or confuses from the movement of the plot.

Far and away, this Twelfth Night's best scene takes place on a rare bare stage when Tom Rooney's officious, Secret Service-styled Malvolio stumbles upon a letter Sir Toby and company have forged from Olivia professing her secret love for her steward.

As Rooney's Malvolio gradually riddles out its meaning, his increasing giddiness is communicated with crystal clarity. He's a self-regarding sucker definitely deserving a comeuppance, but also a lonely heart deeply craving love. Here are five exhilarating minutes of discovery, hilarious, poignant and downright priceless.

In Malvolio's later scenes, however, McAnuff's gimmickry can be smothering as when the steward approaches Olivia not just in yellow, cross-garter stockings, but dressed in Elizabethan garb with a ruffled collar that makes him look like a novelty bath plug. In the context of the hodgepodge production this doesn't resonate.

The show also has a serious stumbling block in an unexciting Viola played by Suzy Jane Hunt, who was brought up to Stratford to act as a stand-by after Andrea Runge injured her back. (The plan is to insert Runge into the production as the summer progresses.) My impulse is to be generous to an understudy, but, as the main character, Hunt's lack of chemistry with Orsino and flat delivery of the text makes the central plotline sputter.

Story continues below advertisement

Despite having a much smaller part, Trent Pardy makes more hay out of Sebastian's journey and his strong bond of friendship with his sea captain Antonio, well-played by Michael Blake.

Their sense of comradeship is missing from the sillier scenes with Dennehy's abrasive Belch and Ouimette's squeamish Aguecheek, who bears all of his cheeks in the now customary steam room scene. (McAnuff steamed up his actors in As You Like It and Caesar and Cleopatra.) Ultimately, it's only Sebastian and Malvolio whose voyages are emotionally involving. McAnuff plays on and on, as per Orsino's instructions, but the mishmash of music doesn't feed the love this time.

Indeed, his overstuffed and overlong production unfortunately brings to mind Orsino's follow-up line: "Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die."

Twelfth Night continues in Stratford, Ont., through Oct. 28.

Twelfth Night

  • Written by William Shakespeare
  • Directed by Des McAnuff
  • Starring Suzy Jane Hunt, Brian Dennehy, Tom Rooney
  • At the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ont.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies