I have now seen all the plays in Shakespeare’s “Shipwreck Trilogy” at the Royal Shakespeare Company season at the Roundhouse and there is no question that the productions of “Twelfth Night” and “The Comedy of Errors” are brilliant (I was less enamoured by “The Tempest” but then the play is by no means one of my favourites anyway).
Illyria has become in this version of “Twelfth Night” a rather sleazy Latin American state (with copious total immersions taking place – avoid the first two rows in the left-hand front of the stage if you don’t want to get wet), while Ephesus – the setting for “The Comedy” – is a proto-fascist state, taking a robust line with illegal immigrants and featuring incidental water-boarding and ECT use. Normally such devices would be a distraction from the plays but in these productions the action seems to fit perfectly into the settings contrived for them.
There are some superb individual performances: notably Jonathan Slinger’s Malvolio (his buttocks provoking waves of hysteria amongst the youthful audience in the cross-gartering scene on the day I saw it), Kirsty Bushell’s Olivia in “Twelfth Night” and Adriana in “The Comedy”, Emily Taafe’s Viola (possibly the best rendering of the part I have ever seen) and Nicholas Day’s Sir Toby. The twin Dromios (Felix Hayes and Bruce Mackinnon – who also carries off a suitably inept Sir Andrew Aguecheek) ensure that the farcical set-pieces in “The Comedy” are genuinely hilarious. There are strong supporting performances from Cecilia Noble (as Maria in “Twelfth Night” and a formidable Emilia) and from Kevin McMonagle (as Feste and a terrifying merchant in “The Comedy”).
The tragedy is that none of the performances I saw was sold out and there were plenty of empty seats: the good news therefore is that you still have a few more days to catch the season before it ends.