Twelfth Night (RSC 2017): Music & Speeches

Image credit: RSC

One of the great things about the RSC is that they regularly release mementos of their productions, by way of both DVD and CD. I was glad to see that their recent Twelfth Night (starring Adrian Edmondson and Kara Tointon) became part of this collection, saving several musical performances and songs for eternity. Set around the end of the 19th century, Nigel Hess’ score combines music hall with Indian influences – bringing the visual world of Illyria together with the shipwrecked twins, Viola and Sebastian.

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s more musical plays, and so this was embraced for this particular production; as well as the songs explicitly written in the text (such as O Mistress Mine and The Wind and the Rain), Hess and his team dug out the words to two songs which are alluded to but not actually included in the original play. This gives Malvolio his own musical moment in Please One and So Please All, entertainingly performed by Edmondson as his character decides to embrace the suggestions from the anonymous letter he finds in the garden. Songs are a good outlet for characters’ emotions – almost where they’re lost for words and the best way they can express themselves is by singing – and this especially gives a good peek at the sombre steward. The music team also found the words to Hey Robin, Jolly Robin, which is sung by Feste (Beruce Khan) as he taunts Malvolio in his darkened prison cell.

Esh Alladi and Dinita Gohil in Twelfth Night 
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

Viola/Cesario and Curio (Dinita Gohil and Luke Latchman) also perform an aptly haunting version of Come Away, Death; the subcontinental influence really kicks in here, as it uses the idea of an Indian raga to give it an ethereal air. Its sadness reflects the pain of Viola’s unrequited love for Orsino, as he continues to pursue Olivia.

It’s wonderful that a few of the key speeches are interspersed between the songs – again, it acts as a lovely reminder of the show, but also could potentially be used as a teaching aid (for a teacher in class or for your own education). Unsurprisingly, the two that capture the imagination the most are “If music be the food of love, play on” from Orsino (Nicholas Bishop) and “Some are born great…” from Malvolio; the lyrical quality of the former means the speech and music melt into one another seamlessly to create something quite beautiful, whereas the latter is simply good fun and conjures up some entertaining images.

As a little bonus, there are three tracks from the 2005 RSC production – this time featuring Forbes Masson as Feste. John Woolf’s score was a more jazz-infused affair, so it’s a little different to the more recent version, but it just proves how versatile these plays can be.

On the whole, this CD would serve well as a souvenir to everyone who got to see the production, but also has the potential to act as a bit of an introduction to the play for those who didn’t. Who could resist this charming score? “Give me excess of it”, and all that…

Twelfth Night (music & speeches) was released on 9 November 2017. It is available to purchase online or in-store – alternatively, you can download it via iTunes.

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