The fall of Malvolio is one of Shakespeare’s more memorable, and more questionable, moments of comedy. As a pompous character is brought low, his humiliation brings the laughs, but also poses the difficult question: how low is too low? In Fluellen’s inventive new take on the Shakespearean classic, this question is front and centre as Malvolio (Andrew Lennon), reimagined as a Welsh puritan, exits the stage with a lingering sense that maybe the joke has gone a little too far this time.
Nevertheless, Twelfth Night is still very much a comedy, with the humour emerging from mistaken identities, love triangles, and some slapstick along the way.
Shipwrecked Viola (Simone Somers-Yeates) disguises herself as a man named Cesario and falls in love with Duke Orsino (Brendan Purcell), who is in love with Olivia (Danika Swinton). Olivia, in turn, falls for Viola/Cesario, leading to much chaos and confusion.
Directed by Peter Richards, this narrative, rife with the potential to become convoluted and muddled, is delivered with precision and clarity. Guiding the audience through this tangle of plot lines is Feste the jester (Derek Palmer), the perfect foil to Lennon’s Malvolio, and any mix-ups that do arise from what is, albeit unknowingly, same-sex attraction, are handled in a manner that would have been unthinkable in times gone by.
With minimalist staging that cleverly utilises lighting to convey shifts in time and space, the atmosphere is aided by live music and original compositions by Delyth Jenkins on the harp. Fluellen’s highly enjoyable Twelfth Night breathes new life into a well-worn tale, skilfully balancing its comedic charm with a nuanced exploration of its themes.