Howard Theatre, Downing College - 6th-9th Oct, 7.30pm
Fresh from its summer tour of Japan, this Pembroke Players' production of Twelfth Night is slick, witty, and delightful. The show zips along at a terrific pace without once losing its audience in either the quick-fire dialogue or the intricacies of the plot, while the unfussy staging and naturalistic acting enhance rather than detract from the comedy of the piece.
And the production is genuinely funny. All of the actors display a strong sense of comic timing and effect, and do not hold back from appealing directly to the audience. Danny Rhodes' Malvolio captures all the character's narcissistic self-love, making his public humiliation when tricked into believing himself loved by the sought-after Olivia – and his consequently ludicrous behaviour – all the more superbly comic. There are many quirky humorous touches on offer: the audience choked with appreciative laughter at Sir Toby's apparently unstudied switch from his raucous rendition of ‘It's a long way to Tipperary...' – in line with the 1940s setting of the piece – to ‘It's the wrong day to tickle Mary...', a facetious response to the maid's anger at their late-night unruliness. This is an exuberant and bold production, performed with an infectious enthusiasm.
Yet the more bittersweet notes of the play are also not neglected. Although Twelfth Night is first and foremost a comedy, it is no accident that the play has been described as the gateway to the tragedies. Andrew Brock's Sir Toby combined a certain roguish appeal and aristocratic bluff with hints at an altogether darker and crueller streak, while Joshua Stamp-Simon's awkward eagerness, impossibly gangling limbs and wide-eyed naivety made his Sir Andrew a poignant, as well as ridiculous, figure. The pathos of his potentially haunting line "I was adored once, too" was unfortunately not drawn out, but the overall effect of his performance was moving. And although the audience certainly laughed at the baiting of Malvolio during his invented ‘madness', this was the laughter of discomfort as well as of mirth.
The real stand-out acting came from Deli Segal, however, who transformed the often under-developed part of ladies' maid Maria into one of the pivotal characters of the show. Her Maria was at once mischievous and knowing, charismatic and malicious, and her stage presence was magnetic. She held the key to this production, showing the play to be one of manipulation and subversion as well as purely comic confusion.
Overall, this is an impressive and hugely enjoyable production, showcasing Cambridge student theatre at its best.