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as close to undiluted pleasure as this ambiguous old world allowsNew York Times
Boundaries melt like ice cubes in August in the Chekhov International Theater Festival's blissful production of Twelfth NightThe New York Times
Declan Donnellan's Cheek by Jowl production has a dangerous magic...The Sunday Times
Fifteen years ago, Cheek By Jowl staged an unforgettable all-male As You Like It with the young Adrian Lester as Rosalind and the Forest of Arden evoked by just strips of green silk streaming down into a bare space. Now on tour, the company's boys-only Twelfth Night beautifully echoes that earlier Shakespearean romcom of sexual confusions...The Independent

Produced by Chekhov International Theatre Festival in May 2003

Find out more by visiting the entry for this production in our archive
22 Sep 2014 - 23 Sep 2014

Pskov, Russia


Cast

In order of speaking:

Vladimir VdovichenkovOrsino, Duke of Illyria
Evgeny TsyganovSebastian, brother to Viola
Mikhail ZhigalovAntonio, a sea-captain, friend to Sebastian
Vsevolod BoldinAnother sea-captain, friend to Viola
Sergey MukhinValentine, gentleman
Mikhail DementievCurio attending on the Duke
Alexander FeklistovSir Toby Belch, kinsman to Olivia
Dmitry DyuzhevSir Andrew Aguecheek
Dmitry ShcherbinaMalvolio, steward to Olivia
Igor YasulovichFeste, fool to Olivia
Alexei DadonovOlivia, a rich countess
Andrei KuzitchevViola
Ilia IlinMaria, Olivia's gentlewoman

Creatives
DirectorDeclan Donnellan
DesignerNick Ormerod

2006

Shakespeare in That Universal Language: Theater

Boundaries melt like ice cubes in August in the Chekhov International Theater Festival's blissful production of "Twelfth Night," which runs through Sunday at the Harvey Theater of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Lines traditionally relied upon to separate sexes, scenes, senses and, for that matter, languages dissolve into a mist of theatrical enchantment in this all-male Russian-speaking interpretation of Shakespeare's tale of identities under siege in the land of Illyria.

There may be moments when, like the play's love-bewitched characters, you'll feel like slapping your brow to dislodge the clouds of disorientation crowding your head. While the drag accoutrements are minimal, there are times when you suddenly remember, with a breathless "oh," that the lithe young woman dressed as a boy is first of all, yes, a man.

And how can it be that you find yourself thinking you have rarely heard the sense of Shakespeare rendered with such enlightening exactness and musicality, when the words you're listening to are not remotely like English, Elizabethan or otherwise?

A bit of advice, per Shakespeare: stop trying to analyze, and surrender to the stream of sensations. As one character in the play wisely counsels, "If it be thus to dream, then let me sleep." When your guides are as magically accomplished as Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, the British artists who created Cheek by Jowl and are this show's director and designer, you can truly go with the flow with no fear of drowning.

To many theatergoers the idea of hearing Shakespeare in anything other than its original tongue is akin to watching ballet performed by inanimate statues. The play may be the thing, but in Shakespeare, the words - with all their distinctively English textures and sounds - make the play. Don't they?

The glorious surprise of this "Twelfth Night" - which made its debut in Moscow, has since toured Europe (it was the hot ticket in London when I was there this summer) and moves on from New York for an American tour that includes stops in Arizona, Chicago and California - is in how it finds an alchemical substance in Shakespeare that transcends the verbal. Ben Brantley, New York Times (USA). 9 November 2006
4 stars
Declan Donnellan's Cheek by Jowl production has a dangerous magic. This is an all-male, modern-dress production with Russian actors, with the worst English surtitles ever. So ignore the screens and fix your gaze on the actors, who combine athletic excitement with an almost miraculous sensitivity. The play is about music, love, sexuality and deception. Andrei Kuzitchev, a man, plays Viola, a woman who disguises herself as a man. This is not the same thing as the Elizabethan practice of boy actors: here, you're dealing with the painful-comic ironies of mature sexuality being used as a ploy, both to feed love and to hide it.

For Orsino (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), music is both ironic excitement and an aid to cooling off. Malvolio (Dmitry Shcherbina), a lofty, handsome man, fantasising about Olivia and social advancement, is deceiving himself. The first half is all in black (designer, Nick Ormerod), with Orsino's attendants wearing the high-collared uniforms from the age of Tsar Nicholas II. The set consists of four black linen wall hangings rolling down from above; in the second half, everything is cream and white. This is the kind of sophisticated simplicity that reminds you of Peter Brook's best work: it tells the story and defines the mood... John Peter, The Sunday Times, UK. 4 June 2006
Who needs women anyway?

Fifteen years ago, Cheek By Jowl staged an unforgettable all-male As You Like It with the young Adrian Lester as Rosalind and the Forest of Arden evoked by just strips of green silk streaming down into a bare space. Now on tour, the company's boys-only Twelfth Night beautifully echoes that earlier Shakespearean romcom of sexual confusions, though this time the cast is additionally all- Russian (with English surtitles) - a world-class product of director Declan Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod's years abroad.

At first, when Olivia is still in mourning, black banners hang in a near-empty space. Her home is a dark house where her maid, Maria,whispers anxiously to keep the noise down. In the second half, when new loves supplant grief, everything becomes creamy with hints of a Chekhovian orchard (linen suits, panama hats), albeit Illyria has a dreamy quality of any time (1920s, 1930s, post-Communist) and anywhere you fancy. Donnellan's ensemble make some characters amusingly Russian: a terrific slurring Sir Toby tussling with a bulk-buy of vodka bottles. At the same time, Feste has a very English-going-on-early Hollywood look about him, like an extremely camp Buster Keaton who also sings jazz.

This is a production imbued with charm, a gentle intensity, delightful flurries of farce (including judo) and fresh interpretations. To take a few examples, when Viola (disguised as the manservant Cesario) comes to woo onDuke Orsino's behalf, Olivia and Maria and Feste (all veiled) truly confound this suitor by circling around and actually sharing Olivia's replies: an extraordinary image of multiple identities dancing before your eyes.

Donnellan's interspliced scenes also create a haunting sense of simultaneous lives and paths soon destined to meet. At the close, while light question marks hang over the twins' marriages, new-forged out of previous confusions, there's a wonderfully droll happy ending for the problematically jilted Antonio. He hooks up with Feste on the wedding-party dance floor. Olivia's steward, Malvolio - having fallen in love with far more desperate eagerness than pomposity - is also reintegrated after his humiliations. He is back in his tail coat impeccably serving champagne but then steps forward, right at the end, to snarl, "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you." Donnellan's reshuffling of speeches is cheeky but also sensitive, actually bringing out how the play lives in your mind (where Malvolio does, surely, have the last memorable word).

As for the all-male issue, I've seen actresses bring more subtle complexities to Viola/ Cesario's pained love scenes with Olivia and Orsino. I suspect it might be very different again - though potentially near-taboo? - if the women were played in authentic Elizabethan style by pre-pubescent boys rather than grown men. That said, an intricate weave of gay male desires springs into focus here. Ilia Ilyin's sturdy, sweetly nervous Maria does seem intrinsically female and adorable, and the twins are such look-alikes that you think you're in a hall of mirrors. This should also make a fascinating comparison with Edward Hall's all-male company, Propeller, who will tackle the same play at the Old Vic next year. Kate Bassett, The Independent, UK. 28 May 2006

2004

5 stars
We've come to expect daring from Declan Donnellan and Cheek by Jowl, but flagrant law-breaking is another thing entirely. The first sharp intake of breath, in a night of gasps and little yelps, from the audience at this magical, all-male Russian Twelfth Night, came as Alexei Dadonov's Olivia ? more a lady than any woman could be ? lit up and seemed to extract an almost obscene amount of pleasure from her cigarette. Smoking in a public place is not only frowned upon now in Dublin, it is illegal. Being Russian, and the orphaned sister of a dead brother, is no excuse. But as with so much else in this beautiful production, in which so many of the disregarded delights of this old hammy warhorse are disinterred and shown to be gems, we were being toyed with. The fags were herbal, and, as the little notes in the foyer at the interval revealed, passed Department of Health guidelines.

Darkness and light, the dualities of good and evil, and the possibilities of transvestism are all explored with hummingbird wit and precision by Donnellan, designer Nick Ormerod and their astonishing Russian cast, who first shimmy on stage as one of the most joyful bossa-nova bands you're ever likely to hear.

From the beginning, the scenes that are so often overlooked in the headlong rush to the slapstick of mistaken identity and the yellow socks are the ones that sting. We have domestic violence amid the comic carousing, Sir Toby Belch punching the uncomplaining maid Maria in the gob only to ply her moments later with healing vodka in a scene that no doubt plays out nightly in the Moscow suburbs. Malvolio, even at his most power-hungry, is given a degree of empathy by Dmitry Shcherbina that is almost heartbreaking. It is this very restraint that makes it the funniest of Twelfth Nights. Never have two-and-a-half hours in a theatre seat made for a midget passed so swiftly. Fiachra Gibbons, The Guardian, UK. 6 October 2004