Bard on the Beach opens its 24th season under its iconic main stage tent with an enchanting production of Twelfth Night.
While perhaps not quite as ridiculously funny as a stay at Fawlty Towers, director Dennis Garnhum helps ensure everything is suitably amusing by moving the action of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy to the What You Will Hotel and Spa on the Adriatic Sea in 1913.
Overflowing with mistaken identities, cross-dressing, mischief and much love of the unrequited kind, Twelfth Night merrily trips along on its numerous sub-plots to its inevitable conclusion.
Like many of Shakespeare’s plays, a synopsis would take up more space than this review (even by internet standards), but even with its many sub-plots, Garnhum and his actors bring us a surprisingly quick paced three hours including intermission, although the addition of songs that seem to be all the rage in Shakespeare recently does little to move things along.
Leading this uniformly talented cast is a sublime performance from Rachel Cairns as Viola, the shipwrecked heroine who, disguised as a man, becomes the object of another woman’s affections while secretly coveting her master’s heart. Proving that even the smallest of glances and reactions can speak volumes, Cairns’ performance is simply riveting. There was no one more surprised than when her tears were matched by a few of my own at being reunited with her brother.
Allan Zinyk brings a masterful performance as the butt of the biggest joke of the night in the role of Malvolio, conjuring images of the equally bombastic social climber Basil Fawlty. Appearing in the middle of the night in hairnet and “snood”, Zinyk makes the most of this pompous ass.
Along with all the funny-business at the Inn comes a remarkable and unexpected lightness to the production that, despite its lack of pixies, gives it a certain fairytale-like quality. It is at times as if the entire cast is skipping through a forest, rarely mining any of the malevolence. Even as Malvolio gets his payback it is done with such fun and lightheartedness that his final declaration of retribution is never taken seriously.
Jonathan Young is as delightfully wiry as the fool Feste in a performance that will be made even more remarkable when he takes up the reins as Hamlet, the second show in this year’s main stage tent.
Director Garnhum also injects a delicious scoop of homo-eroticism into his vision of life at the hotel that includes a titillating scene inside its spa. While undoubtedly not the first time Shakespeare has been done bare-ass, it is nonetheless another bit of unexpected fun.
Pam Johnson’s set is suitably grand for the high-end spa and it will be interesting to see how it transforms to a Vancouver condo for Hamlet. Sound designer Jeremy Spencer has a bigger job than the incidental and transitional music that have become mainstays of Bard on the Beach offerings, by placing microphones on the actors. No doubt designed to overcome some of the sound problems it experienced last year, it was reported post-show by some seated further back in the house as a little distracting.
An enchanting Twelfth Night, a trip to the Spa may just be what one needs as we wait impatiently for summer to begin on the West Coast.
By William Shakespeare. Directed by Dennis Garnhum. A Bard on the Beach production. On stage at Vanier Park through September 14, 2013. Visit http://bardonthebeach.org for tickets and information.