Music, food, love: Must be Shakespeare in Central Park

It’s years since I’ve seen a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, one of my favourite of his plays (you’d have to be a right curmudgeon to dislike it). So when a friend offered me a last-minute free ticket courtesy of a colleague who was the fight-scene choreographer, I jumped at the chance. Three days of an enforced “vow of silence” due to severe laryngitis were broken with a huge thermos of tea, some chocolate biscuits, and emergency throat lozenges. I had also brought with me a hat, a camera, a raincoat, all shoved into a large canvas bag.

My friend didn’t tell me it was opening night. There were actors I recognised, actors I didn’t recognise, TV presenters, a lot of women who looked in need of a good feed, and the two of us, underdressed for the occasion and lugging a bag the size of a small child. But it mattered not. Don’t you love iambic pentameter!

I don’t mean to gloat, but this was one of those defining and memorable nights in New York. The weather, for once this month, was dry and clear, with a slight breeze wafting over us with the occasional bird and, on one occasion, an NYPD helicopter. Belvedere Castle was lit like Notre Dame Cathedral and cast its own spell as the backdrop to the fictional troubles of Violet, Orsino, Olivia, Sir Toby, Malviolio et al. The set was a gorgeous expanse of green grass, dotted with trees and rolling hills used to great effect in the staging and blocking of every scene, characters running up and falling down, hiding and revealing themselves. And the cast, a true ensemble, was a delight to watch. My favorites were Hamish Linklater as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and David Pittu as Feste, the witty court jester non pareil. And Anne Hathaway, the ostensible star of the show, did a thoroughly convincing job as Violet/Cesario, standing out naturally among the cast without stealing the limelight.

Also noteworthy was the seemingly effortless use of music throughout the production, with a small group of musicians on and just off stage in almost every scene. With so many musicians among the cast (including Audra McDonald as Olivia) it would have been wasteful not to use them thus. The music itself was full of lovely folk-inflected melodies and simple harmonising, which was totally compelling.

At one point I looked up from the stage to the starry night sky, dazzled by the thought that here were hundreds of people gathered to watch a play written close to 400 years ago, in the most mellifluous language imaginable, which speaks to us from another time and place altogether, in a way that serves only to demonstrate how simple and unchanging human nature is.

If you can possibly get there, it will be worth the wait for tickets. Here’s the glowing New York Times review.

 

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