Sport for Jove. York Theatre, Seymour Centre, Sydney. Director Damien Ryan. 9 April 2014.
Reviewed by Penny Gay
Sport for Jove is a repertory company, devoted mainly to energetic and innovative Shakespeare productions, founded in 2009 by actors Damien Ryan and Terry Karabelas. The company have had great success from the get-go, generally playing in neglected out-of-Sydney areas, including outdoor summer seasons in the Blue Mountains and the Hills district. Fortunately for inner-city enthusiasts of their work, they now have a relationship with the Seymour Centre, a fine three-theatre building belonging to the University of Sydney. Its major theatre, the York, has amphitheatre seating around a semi-circular thrust stage – a dynamic space with excellent audience intimacy.
Twelfth Night was a remount, with some re-casting, of Sport for Jove’s well-regarded summer 2012-13 production. Set in the 1960s, it assumed Orsino’s and Olivia’s mansions were beach-houses across a bay, which required some amusing miming of boat-travel as well as the routine change of ‘door’ or ‘gate’ to ‘dock’, as in ‘There’s one at the [gate] dock’. An imaginative design by Anna Gardiner utilising the York Theatre’s thrust stage offered a pavilion at its centre, a hanamichi path off through the audience to the ‘dock’, and various small temporary structures that mimicked the casual spaces of the beach. A particularly brilliant touch was the use of a blue cloth, manipulated by half a dozen cast members, to represent the sea, both in its ship-wrecking violence and as an element for the young to disport themselves in.
The atmosphere at Orsino’s was one long beach party (with pop music, the ‘food of love’, played on a portable record-player), while Olivia’s household was at first, as expected, much more decorous. Infected by the madness of love, however, at the play’s climax in the gulling of Malvolio, an old-fashioned ice-cream cart appeared, skilfully managed by a girl on roller skates (Teresa Jakovich as ‘Fabienne’). Any distinction between Olivia’s and Orsino’s households at this point disappeared – which seemed an accurate enough reflection of the hedonistic culture of the sixties.
As is often the case, the relationship between Viola and Sebastian, the role of Sir Toby and the ‘idle fellows’, and the gulling of Malvolio were more engaging than the love story between Viola and Orsino (Abigail Austin and Anthony Gooley). This was partly a matter of casting – both looked too mature for the giddiness of love – but it was arguable that the director’s interest lay elsewhere, and that very little respect needed to be accorded to the middle-aged playboy Orsino and his hangers-on. Megan Drury’s Olivia made up somewhat for this lack in the high comedy of her self-indulgence (always in the most elegant of fashionable haute couture), and Robin Goldsworthy’s Malvolio was a joy at his every appearance, demonstrating an extraordinarily precise and detailed inhabitation of the character and his tics: none of the clichés of this famous role were employed.
Lightly touched on was a theme relevant to Australian audiences, that the wrecked ship might conceivably have contained asylum-seekers, fleeing the injustice, intolerance, and war of their homeland: ‘Illyria’, writes Damien Ryan, ‘sounds and feels like Elysium … a place where refugees can find their families again’, but on the other hand, ‘holidays that last too long tend to turn nasty and we never entirely escape our demons and envies when we leave home’.
The play’s music was newly set by Christopher Harley; there was more than the usual allowance, including a full-cast chorus of ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’ to open the show. Feste was played by the cabaret singer and musical star Tyran Parke, who sang exquisitely, but was also a dab hand with a wry or cynical line. In a programme note Harley writes that he sees Feste as ‘a jaded, washed-up singer-songwriter in the sixties’, and there was something of this ennui about the other not-so-young revellers, Sir Toby (James Lugton) and Maria (Bernadette Ryan) particularly. Their sense of remorse at a joke gone too far in the ‘dark house’ scene (Malvolio was locked in the ice-cream cart, a very uncomfortable fit, one imagined) was finely noted simply in their physical placement and stance on the stage. They clearly didn’t want to be there.
On the whole, however, this was a deliberately holiday-mood version of the play, which left the audience delightedly bouncing giant beach-balls around the auditorium in the long musical finale, celebrating Australia’s glorious festive climate. I will be interested to see what Sport for Jove makes of the play when they eventually return to it in a new production.