‘Twelfth Night’ hell-bent on laughs

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“SOME are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them,” actor Jerry Hearn was intoning on stage at Theatre 3 today, as he prepared for his role as the wronged Malvolio in Canberra REP’s coming production of Shakespeare’s most seasoned comedy, “Twelfth Night”.

'Sir Topas' torments the imprisoned Malvolio
‘Sir Topas’ torments the imprisoned Malvolio
Small matter that some critics have suggested that this play teeters on the brink of tragedy. Ed Wightman, in his fourth directorial role with REP, seems hell-bent upon comedy, if the horseplay and giggles emanating from the stage at rehearsal today were any indication.

Eleanor Garran too, in the celebrated cross-dressing role of Viola/Cesario, was also playing it for laughs as she contemplated the dangers of having the lovely lady Olivia fall in love with her, and the greater danger of having to fight a duel.

Actor Tim Sekuless joined the general merriment as both Feste the clown and Sir Topas the pretend priest.

Wightman, who got his start as an actor in Canberra, went on to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and returned to a professional career in Australia, is not normally associated with Shakespeare, but he tells “CityNews” he’s had plenty of experience acting in the Bard’s plays, having been dropped in the deep end once on a Bell Shakespeare Company tour. In his view, too few companies other than Bell’s are staging Shakespeare’s works.

Initially, he said, he preferred “As You like It” and “Much Ado about Nothing” (particularly Kenneth Branagh’s version) to “Twelfth Night”, but that during rehearsals the play had grown on him and he particularly liked its unique ending, where the clown is left alone on stage.

Feste the clown tells 'Cesario' (Viola) what he thinks of him/her
Feste the clown tells ‘Cesario’ (Viola) what he thinks of him/her
As for the theory that the last act of a comedy is the first act of a tragedy, Wightman agrees that in this play, the happy ending has a possible sting in its tail.

As well, the scenes he’s chosen to highlight for media in the rehearsal show the arrogant Malvolio being brought low as the falsely imprisoned victim of a practical joke, and the clown turn into the tormentor.

But when I suggest that the scenes on show indicate a rip-roaring, laugh-a-minute show to come, Wightman warns me against pre-judging in time-honoured theatrical fashion: “You’ll just have to be there on Friday to see.”

“Twelfth Night”, or “What You Will”, Canberra Repertory at Theatre 3, 3 Repertory Lane, March 27 (preview) to April 12, bookings to canberrarep.org.au or 6257 1950.

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Helen Musa
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