The problem with Twelfth Night is that Malvolio never quite lives up to his name. With all his priggish narcissism he is never quite genuinely mean enough to give his humiliation true comic value. When he chides the midnight revelers to keep quiet and cease their drunken brawling he does have a point, after all. And I always have the unsettling feeling when I see or read the play that Shakespeare is writing for an aristocratic audience that will find upstart-baiting and puritan-bashing rich sport. “He’s not one of us” is the unspoken message. Indeed, the part of the Marlowe Society recording I find most memorable is his confrontation with Sir Toby who, beautifully played by Patrick Wymark, explodes in fury “art any more than a STEWARD?!”
It’s up to the actor playing Malvolio to build up enough enmity from the audience early on to make his fall seem just. But that extra layer of interpretation is exactly the sort of thing director Rylands refuses to provide. Actor Tony Church is strictly by the book and, as usual, his precise playing of the role allows the play to speak its truth. If you don’t think the play is funny, the actors are not going to make it so.
Overall, the cast has more professional actors than usual, in some cases recreating roles they have performed onstage (Dorothy Tutin as Viola, Wymark as Toby Belch and Robert Eddison as Andrew Aguecheek). All are in fine form, especially Tutin, whose Viola is particularly moving. Jill Balcon and Derek Godfrey are beautifully besotted with melancholy as Olivia and Orsino and Prunella Scales delivers an oddly engaging Betty Rubble giggle as Maria (predating her celebrated Sybil Fawlty guffaw by a good dozen years). The one awkward bit of casting is Peter Pears as Feste. Wonderful singer though he was, he was no Shakespearean clown and his speaking voice is almost identical to Eddison’s, so that his characterization virtually disappears when the two actors are in the same scene.
Twelfth Night with Dorothy Tutin, Tony Church, Patrick Wymark, Robert Eddison, Peter Pears, Derek Godfrey, Jill Balcon and Prunella Scales.