Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Other People’s Children - Niki Landau, Elisa Moolecherry and Gray Powell
Photography by Nir Bareket.
Reviewed by James Karas

The Tarragon Theatre is running a mini-festival of the plays of Hannah Moscovitch, its playwright-in-residence, and it has staged two new one-act plays by her. They are Little One and Other People’s Children in a Double Bill.

Little One has two characters, Aaron (Joe Cobden) and Claire (Michelle Monteith), who happen to be two adopted siblings. We are told that Claire is a monster and we quickly realize that she is a full-blown psychopath and perhaps worse, whatever that may be. She unzips a neighbour’s fly, flushes a goldfish down the drain, stabs her brother, stabs herself, kills his cat and so on to incest.

Her brother is the victim of most of this psychotic behavior and he has to put up with his parents’ attempts to justify or minimize the hideousness of his sister’s acts.

We are told a parallel story about a neighbour who has imported a pretty girl from Viet Nam and they appear to be perfectly in love. You know there will be a twist to that tale.

The set is a simple couch and most of the play is done in the dark with a spotlight or a flashlight for illumination. Much of the plot is narrated as opposed to being acted out. Little One struck me as a marvelous short story struggling to become a play and not being entirely successful.

Cobden is an excellent story-teller. His hesitations, vocal intonations and body language stand him well both when acting or simply telling the story. Monteith gets to speak many lines while shining a flashlight in her face. She is an understated psychopath who apologizes for her misbehavior and she does hide a secret wound that may provide an explanation for whatever she is doing.

Natasha Mytnowych directs this journey into darkness.

Other People’s Children is a better structured play that does not rely on narrative for its story. Ilana (NIki Landau) is a sharp-nosed, aggressive and successful lawyer who wants to excel at everything. Her husband Ben (Gray Powell) is a successful businessman (we are not sure what he does) who travels a lot and makes important deals. This powerhouse couple has a daughter and they hire Sati, a nanny to look after her.

Sati (Elisa Moolecherry) is a Tamil engineer with three children. She has left them in Sri Lanka while her husband has gone to Japan under suspicious circumstances. Sati is attractive, intelligent, loving and deferential with some mystery and a few question marks attached to her name.

Moscovitch develops quite a marvelous play around the emotional and sexual warfare among the three characters. The child becomes very attached to her nanny sparking jealousy in Ilana. Ben and Sati become attracted to each other while there is sexual tension between him and his wife. The whole thing comes to a dramatic climax when it is discovered that the baby is sucking Sati’s nipple. This is a startling combination of the sexual and the ultimately maternal instinct.

The play is too short to develop the characters completely and there are some loose ends at the end but it is a fascinating work nonetheless.

Moolecherry is wonderful as Sati. She combines modesty and manipulation perfectly. Landau is all ambition, jealousy and sex while Ben is trying to negotiate the dangerous waters between an overambitious lawyer, his mother (not seen in the play) and the attractive and very interesting nanny.

Paul Lampert directs the play at a very brisk pace with its numerous costume changes

A very interesting and stimulating evening at the theatre.

Little One and Other People’s Children by Hannah Moscovitch opened on February 21, and will run until March 24, 2013 at the Tarragon Theatre’s Extra Space, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.  www.tarragontheatre.com

Monday, February 25, 2013


Ted Dykstra & Jordan Pettle
Reviewed by James Karas

Soulpepper starts off its offerings for 2013 with Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. One cannot argue about the choice but unfortunately the production never manages to take flight despite some fine performances. I am not sure why but my anticipation for a scintillating production was left only partially fulfilled.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, first produced in 1967, is a clever, often witty and fascinating play that tells the story of the two minor characters in Hamlet. The Prince of Denmark, the Players and some of the other characters from Shakespeare’s play appear and there are more than passing allusions to Becket’s Waiting for Godot. There is enough meat there to fascinate and entertain but except for the occasional rise the production cannot be rated much above satisfactory.

We meet Rosencrantz (Ted Dykstra) and Guildenstern (Jordan Pettle) on the road, tossing a coin which always lands “head.” They vaguely recall being summoned to the Danish court but they seem to exist almost entirely in the present. Rosencrantz seems a bit brighter but the coin toss also may indicate that they are not even two sides of the same coin but one side only of the coin. Pettle and Dykstra gave us the philosophical, silly, clever and Godotesque nature of their characters quite well.

The title characters dominate the play and in fact are on stage almost throughout the evening. The other important character is Kenneth Walsh as the Player together with his “tragedians,” a troupe of underemployed actors. Walsh is flamboyant, cunning and very much a showman as the Player. His followers are not given much scope to display their wares, so to speak, but we do get the mythical picture of poor, travelling players.

Gregory Prest as Hamlet, Nancy Palk as Gertrude and Diego Matamoros as King Claudius are given a relatively small number of lines directly from Shakespeare’s play. William Webster makes a garrulous Polonius  whereas Leah Doz as Ophelia barely registers.

Director Joseph Ziegler seems unable to fuse all these parts into a well-oiled and working whole theatrical performance. Many of the good lines and the amusing or interesting situations as we watch Hamlet from the wings simply do not generate a sufficient level of amusement or entertainment.

Ziegler has chosen to stage the play in a theatre-in-the-round. The stage is placed in the middle with seats on all four sides of the theatre. Members of the audience inevitably end up with actors’ backs to them. Ziegler puts the actors diagonally to the stage so that we can see their sides when possible rather than their backs. Theatre-in-the-round may have advantages but it also has its drawbacks. In a small theatre, is it really necessary to adopt this type of staging?

Whatever the reasons, the spark that makes a performance into extraordinary theatre was mostly missing in this production.   

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead  by Tom Stoppard opened on February 13 and will continue until March 2, 2013 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario, M5A 3C4. www.soulpepper.ca  416 866-8666.


Thursday, February 21, 2013


Reviewed by James Karas

The Canadian Opera Company has not touched Tristan und Isolde for a quarter of a century but it has more than made up for lost time with its current production. Directed by Peter Sellars and with Bill Viola’s visual design, it is a masterly production that will set a high standard for opera in Toronto.

Tristan und Isolde takes five hours to perform albeit with a couple of intermissions for the audience to catch its breath. Its musical and vocal grandeur and difficulties are legendary but its length and lack of overt action are equally well known. It is a static opera with enormous mythical complexities but all of them are internal. Not much happens on stage.

Sellars and Viola refuse to accept any suggestion that this is a static opera and they have come up with a brilliant idea: produce a complex video to be used as a backdrop to the entire opera.

The video and still pictures are no mere decoration like showing billowing waves or storms at sea on a screen. The video is seen throughout the performance and it gives a large number of scenes that illustrate (that is such a weak word) the psychological and emotional  aspects of the characters and the situations.

There are videos and still pictures of the sea, waterfalls, the sun, the moon, paths in the forest, candles and many more. We see the young Tristan and Isolde and they undress in front of us until they are completely nude. We see them underwater and floating in the air. We are provided with a visual experience of the past as we witness the present. It is extraordinary.  

All of these images appear while the singers are performing the opera. What we hear from the singers and see on the screen are clearly related but it would take a hefty tome to relate all the images to the music and singing. Some of the images such as those of fire indicating passion and death, the sun, the moon and the like are fairly obvious. Scenes of drowning and others are subject to many interpretations.

On an otherwise unadorned stage, we have the opera performed by the singers in almost recital fashion. I saw the production on February 8, 2013, with the alternate cast. Tristan was sung by tenor Michael Baba (rather than Ben Heppner) and Isolde was sung by Margaret Jane Wray instead of Melanie Diener.

Tristan und Isolde has vocal demands that would tax the stamina of most singers. It is the operatic equivalent of a Marathon or perhaps two Marathon runs and few can survive with any ease. Baba and Wray did superb work most of the time but there were occasions when they flagged in volume if nothing else. Most of the time they could be heard clearly but on occasion they came close to being overwhelmed by the orchestra. 

Daveda Karanas as Brangäna was steady and very good but she ran into the same problem.

Bass-baritone Alan Held had no such issues as Kurwenal and gave a commanding performance. Bass Franz-Josef Selig gave perhaps the best vocal showing of the evening as King Marke. He has a big voice and was an outstanding presence in the relatively minor role.

Johannes Debus conducted the COC Orchestra in a marvelous performance.

The production was originally staged by the Opéra national de Paris in 2005 and it stands General Director Alexander Neef in good stead for bringing such an extraordinary production to Toronto.

Aside from Viola’s extraordinary artistic work, the rest of the production is mostly in static black and white. One of the small issues for me was that I was so engrossed in the video that I forgot to watch the singers on occasion. Perhaps that is the intention and they are allowed the luxury of singing in almost concert style while the video takes care of the audience’s eyes if not ears.

Even with some complaints about the singing, this is a production of the first order.


Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner opened on January 29 and will run in repertory until February 23, 2013 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts  145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671. www.coc.ca


Monday, February 18, 2013


Elizabeth and Francesco in Heart Strings 

Reviewed by James Karas

Heart Strings, the Musical, opens with a soprano singing “Nessun Dorma” from Turnandot and the first act finishes with the explosion of a couple of sticks of dynamite in the drawing room. In the second act, the butler shoots the master of the house from point blank range. Despite all that, we still get a happy ending.

Heart Strings is a small musical by Reynold Nathaniel with music by Chantelle Pike and Hannah Dean. It takes place in the house of Sir William Cosgrove, a wealthy entrepreneur, in Ireland about a hundred years ago. He has a nice wife named Victoria, a very pretty and talented daughter named Elizabeth and a maid and a butler. The maid seems fine but Conrad the butler is a dark, vengeful, angry character who is up to no good!

Sir William’s “friend” Douglas is a smart lawyer who has gone over to Satan’s side and has in fact recruited Conrad to do harm to the Cosgrove family.

Sir William is buying his wife a Phono-Liszt Violina, a machine that plays 3 violins and a piano. Francesco, a handsome Italian delivers the machine and falls in love with Elizabeth. No sooner has the perfect gift for the wife and a lover for the daughter arrived, than there is a serious explosion in Sir William’s home. Serious injuries and fatalities result.

Pike and Deane provide musical numbers and a dance routine. Their songs are a mixture of the  tunefully romantic for Elizabeth and Francesco, the budding lovers, to angry for the vengeful butler and some simple ballads for the other characters.

David Russell Elliot as Sir William appeared nervous and kept shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He is supposed to be a tough business executive who may have done some unscrupulous things in his life. We are not shown any of that. All we see is Sir William the decent wimp. A glimpse at his gruff side would be helpful.  

Nicole Marie McCafferty is pretty and fetching as Elizabeth. She is given the task of singing a tough tenor aria that frightens many tenors. She does a much better job than we have the right to expect but why is she given that aria as her opening number?

Evan Boutsov as Francesco looked young and eager but his vocal chords may be best used in speech rather than song.

Lars Classington plays the plotting lawyer Douglas. He tries consistently to maintain an Irish accent and is perhaps the most successful at it. The rest of the actors are less persistent.

The musical has its generous share of miscues, many of them easily correctible. The cast mispronounce words like Leipzig, grazie and Deutschland.

There is some recorded music but much of the singing is done a cappella. There is no set at all except for several chairs. In other words, the show cannot boast even a shoestring budget. Like most amateur theatre, it is flies on a hope and a dream.

The plot has a beginning, a middle and an end with a nice twist thrown in the middle to keep the right tone for a musical. 

The Annex Theatre is small and intimate and you can sit at a table and have a coffee or a drink. The actors mix with the audience and the playwright is there to greet everyone. This is amateur theatre and the word has many meanings some of them condescending. I prefer the original meaning of amateur which means doing something you love because you love it and not for  money. For Nathaniel and the cast and crew Heart Strings is just that – a work of love.
Heart Strings, The Musical, by Reynold Nathaniel played from February 12 to 16, 2013 at The Annex Live, 296 Brunswick Ave. Toronto, Ont.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Ravi Jain and Adam Paolozza
Reviewed by James Karas

Spent is a two-person comedy that promises a lot but delivers very little. It is supposed to be a satire about the 2008 financial crisis and it roams the world for humour and commentary but evokes little more than sheer boredom.

The play was created by Dean Gilmour, Michele Smith, Ravi Jain and Adam Paolozza and was originally produced by Theatre Smith-Gilmour, TheatreRUN and Why Not Theatre. For a two-person show with not sets, that seems like a lot of creators and producers. Gilmour and Smith direct and Jain and Paolozza are the two performers.

Jain and Paolozza are chameleon actors who can move around the stage with amazing agility, change accents, speak quickly, dance and role on the floor. All of that talent should produce laughter, excitement, amazement – theatrical entertainment, if you will. It does nothing of the sort.

The script, if you can call it that, has long stretches of non-verbal comedy. The two actors seem to be having too much fun, however, to pay attention to the audience. They simply over-do it. The problem starts in the opening scene. Two men in suits carry signs asking for work. One of them is an MBA the other is a Harvard graduate. They try to get the attention of passers-by and they keep doing it long after they cease being amusing. The directors and the actors should have a better sense of that.

They do a dance routine of sorts to “Imagine All the People” and we have to hear the whole song. By the end, we are bored and have no idea why they are doing it. The text, what little there is of it, has no wit, not even a decent joke, and it is simply overshadowed by self-indulgent over-acting.

The 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers was a long time ago and the creators offer nothing new or particularly interesting about it. In the central skit, the two men are shown on a ledge of an office tower on Bay Street. They jump/fall off the wall and miraculously survive. They go on at some length about that miracle but again fail to amuse or entertain. Some of the other skits became repetitive and simply boring. What a waste of talent.

In fairness, I should mention that Spent won a Dora Award and was apparently a hit at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Spent by Dean Gilmour, Michele Smith, Ravi Jain and Adam Paolozza opened on February 12 and will continue until February 22, 2013 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, Distillery Historic District, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca  416 866-8666.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Tito and Publio. Photo: Michael Cooper

Reviewed by James Karas

What the hell is going on?

This was the question that started whirling around my mind shortly after the stage lights went on for the Canadian Opera Company’s production of La Celemenza di Tito.

The set consists of a grey wall, a couple of concrete benches and a trashcan. The libretto is ostensibly about the Roman Emperor Titus (79-81 A.D.) but an opera composed in 1791 can be set anywhere.

We are in Vitellia’s apartment. She is the daughter of a deposed emperor and is joined by Sesto, a Roma patrician. He is wearing a short skirt and looks a bit ridiculous but there is worse to come. The lights come from the left and we have difficulty seeing their faces. They hug the wall, move around incongruously and give us no clue as to where we are. She wants Sesto to send Emperor Tito to Hades.

A bit later, Annio, another patrician, follows his shadow onto the scene. He is a diminutive geek with glasses and too much energy. He asks Sesto for his sister Servilia’s hand in marriage. Instead of saying I would not give you my pet monkey you little creep, Sesto says it’s a great idea.

We then meet Publio, the captain of the Guard, in full Roma legionnaire regalia (red-plumed helmet, short skirt – right out of a bad Hollywood movie) and we guess we are in Ancient Rome. The chorus joins us in the meantime and they are wearing white kerchiefs, masks and clothes that look as if they were pilfered from a Goodwill box.

Did I mention the Emperor rushing on stage in his purple pajamas and a large blanket that he has difficulty handling?

What the hell is going on?

This Clemenza is a production of Chicago Opera Theater. The opera has not been performed by the COC since 1990 and all one can say is that it was high time. It is directed by Christopher Alden with Set Designs by Andrew Cavanaugh Holland and Costumes by Terese Wadden.

Synopsis: Vitellia is bitchy and bossy; Annio is a diminutive geek on drugs who is in need of valium. He does his stretching exercises as if he is in the gym. Sesto looks like a goof and Publio is a clown who sweeps the floor with the plumes on his helmet. Tito is not much better.

Eureka!  This is the Peanuts version of La Clemenza di Tito.

Yes, Charlie Brown and the gang met in a schoolyard, found the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Chorus conducted by David Cohen and decided to put on an opera seria by Mozart. They can engage in all kinds of tomfoolery on stage. They can react anyway they like to each other. They all can do whatever they feel like and there is no rational action and reaction. If Tito and Sesto feel like lying under the blanket, so be it.

Want more? When Sesto is condemned to death by the senate and the Emperor is asked to sign the execution warrant, he is given a red phone to call it in. The phone has a cord – we have not advanced to cordless yet.

And oh yes this is still an opera and there is singing. La Clemenza has some beautiful arias and duets and the silliness on stage need not detract from it. Think again. Alden and Cohen have chosen a choppy type of delivery that is less than congenial to the ear much of the time. True, the singing does break through but not all the time.

The night I saw the opera (February 7, 2013), soprano Isabel Leonard was indisposed and the role of Sesto was sung by mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta. She was scheduled to sing Annio but was replaced in that role by Sasha Djihanian. Keri Alkema had a cold but still sang the role of Vitellia.  

The singers are rarely allowed to linger on any notes, satisfactory vibrato is rarely achieved and what comes out may be recognizable Mozart but I felt like cringing far too often. The singing was probably better than it sounded but I would have preferred the opposite. 

Mireille Asselin as Servilia is the least affected singer and character in the production and she sings beautifully. But hers is a relatively minor role. Publio is played for comedy but fails to produce much laughter. He is a stentorian dummy who can sing better than he was allowed to do. As the Captain of the Guard, he may explain why the Roman Empire fell.

Michael Schade is a first-rate tenor but the foolish acting that he had to perform and the choppy style of singing left him limited scope. Still he managed some pleasing sounds despite what he had to do.

The same can be said of Vitellia, Sesto and especially Annio who had much more difficulty coming through the horseplay.

La Clemenza was Mozart’s last or almost last opera composed near the end of his life when he was ill and broke. It has its shortcomings but it can still provide an enjoyable night at the opera. I am not sure what Alden was triying to achieve, but what i got was confusion, consternation and  … what the hell went on?

La Clemenza di Tito by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart opened on February 3 and will be performed eight times until February 22, 2013 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671. www.coc.ca


Wednesday, February 6, 2013


 Reviewed by James Karas

A Knight for Vassoula is a perfect fit for the Greek Community of Toronto’s Nefeli Theatre and its audience. It is a light comedy by Kostas Pretenderis and Assimakis Gialamas that has hilarious plot complications and a happy ending.

Director and Choreographer Nancy Athan-Mylonas has made some necessary adaptations to make the play comprehensible to members of the audience whose knowledge of Greek is still under construction, added half a dozen dance routines and provided a highly entertaining evening at the Hamaskayin Theatre in the Armenian Youth Centre, Toronto.

Madame Clio (Maria Hadzis) is old, rich and enamoured of tales of knights and chivalry. She has hired the pretty, young Vassoula (Stella Mastrogiannakou) as her companion and reader of romantic tales. Clio’s butler Aristidis (Dimitri Manikas) is an irreverent servant while lawyer Theodore (Fotios Papadopoulos) is a bit of a fool and a snob who speaks in high-toned katharevousa.

The plot goes into high gear when Vassoula’s friend Pinelope (Varvara Papadopoulos) arrives at Clio’s house with her boyfriend Mitso (Vasilis Manikas). Discovered by Clio, the friends pretend that Mitso is in fact Vassoula’s husband who works on a ship owned by Clio. No sooner is that lie served than Captain Diamantis (Demetre Anastasiou) of the ship where Mitso is supposedly working, arrives. Luckily, the astute and humane Captain plays along with the ruse and the plot continues.

Clio dies leaving a fortune to Vassoula in her “married name:” Pinelope and Mitso marry; they need to get divorced so that Vassoula can marry Mitso for a day so she can get her hands on the inheritance; the lawyer is after Vassoula and the audience is laughing its head off at the complications.

Lissome Stella Mastrogiannakou waves her hands, throws her head back and gives an energetic performance as Vassoula. Hadjis is the kindly Clio who does not want strangers invading her house in her absence, especially a man like Mitso. She is a stimulus for the comedy.

Mop-haired Mitso is somewhat naïve, a bit eccentric, maybe dense but very funny. His first wife Pinelope is his opposite. Sharp-nosed, greedy and selfish she provides the hurdles that must be jumped before true love will triumph in the end.

The pompous lawyer throws in some hurdles of his own and Papadopoulos manages both the tough high-fallutin’ lines and comedy inherent in the character. The humane Captain is the opposite of the lawyer and Anastasiou gets all the laughs due to the character.

Vassoula’s mother drops in near the end and once again, I must pay tribute to the comic talent of Irene Bitha-Georgalidis. She almost steals the show and gets some of the biggest laughs. She is relatively restrained in her performance. There was room to give her a rural accent and more pronounced movements and gestures. The director keeps her in check (quite properly) but Bitha-Georgalidis can turn almost any line into a comic gem with a simple vocal intonation, a gesture or a look and she does all of those things.

The play is a perfect vehicle for an eager amateur group. Athan-Mylonas adds a number of “narrators” who explain the plot in English. Lydia Soldevila-Tombros is credited with the English excerpts.

Nefeli has a large dance group and Athan-Mylonas wants to showcase them. She does so be inserting about half a dozen dance sequences during the performance of the play. There is little in the plot of A Knight to justify the interruptions in the plot flow. The show stopped and the dancers came on stage in a number of different costumes, performed their routine, moved off and the play continued except for the fact that there are dancers and they must be used. (In fairness, I should mention that the 1968 movie based on the play does have a couple of dance routines).

This is a classic “Nancy Approach” but in a smoothly flowing plot, the dance routines run the risk of becoming an interruption. People who do not know Athan-Mylonas’s style, may have been scratching their heads at the inserts. Is it not possible to put on a dance and music showcase at the beginning or perhaps the middle of the play?

In the end, the energy of the performers, the enthusiasm of the audience and the sense of community of all involved, provided for a highly entertaining night at the theatre.

A Knight for Vassoula by Kostas Pretenderis and Assimakis Gialamas opened on February 1 and will play on February 2, 3 and 10, 2013 at the Hamaskayin Theatre, Armenian Youth Centre, 50 Hallcrwon Place, Toronto. Ontario. www.theatre-nefeli.com or www.greekcommunity.org  Telephone (416) 425-2485


Sunday, February 3, 2013


Mark Rylance as Olivia and Stephen Fry as Malvolio in Twelfth Night. Photo: Simon Annand

Reviewed by James Karas

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre strives for authenticity in its productions and has established a style of presenting works that has given audiences some riotous performances of the bard’s plays. It is an open-roof theatre and it operates only during the summer but its productions are played in other theatres as well.

The summer productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III have been transferred to the Apollo Theatre in London and are playing to sold-out houses.

Doing Shakespeare with an all-male cast is not unheard of especially since in his time there were no women actors. The small surprise is that men can take on all the roles today and barely raise a critical eyebrow or make much difference. A woman playing Olivia would be prettier than Mark Rylance and Johnny Flynn as Viola/Cesario may not be what we are used to but the quality of the acting is what makes the production a success and not the sex of the actors.

The success of Twelfth Night is based on the over-all conception of an exuberant comedy done on a practically bare stage and on the detailed direction by Tim Carroll of the hugely talented cast.

The star of both productions is Mark Rylance as Olivia in one and as Richard III in the other. I saw the plays back to back and it can best be described as a wonderful day with Mark Rylance. He is a hugely talented actor who can handle Shakespearean roles as Hamlet, Olivia, Richard III and others.

In her first scene in Twelfth Night, Olivia is reserved to the point of being stuffy and stilted. It doesn’t look like we are going to get many laughs out of him/her. Then she meets Cesario, Viola disguised as a man delivering the Duke’s message of love, and asks him about his parentage. When Cesario leaves she recalls her inappropriate question with a shock of recognition. She is falling for him and instead of repeating the question in a reverie she says “Oh, my God” sotto voce, shocked at her forwardness, and we laugh knowing exactly where she is headed. This is the type of detailed attention that Carroll pays to every line and Rylance delivers superbly.

Rylance opens up Olivia’s character slowly until she throws caution to the wind and goes after Cesario/Sebastion. A marvelous and memorable performance.

Rylance is equally effective as the very different and murderous Richard III. His Richard is a comic genius who enjoys his own humour. The light touch of his humour contrasts with the innate evil of the man who will stop at nothing in order to gain power.

The production brims with details that are unexpected, funny and brilliant.

Johnny Flynn and Samuel Barnett are the twins Viola and Sebastian and it must be easier to make two men appear identical than a man and a woman. Both do well in the roles.

Stephen Fry brings a marvelous voice and splendid portrayal of Malvolio. Carroll treats this problematic character fairly soberly. He is not made into a fool until the play calls for it and I found it quite an outstanding job by Fry.

It is hard to go wrong with the eternally drunk Sir Toby and the very foolish Sir Andrew and Colin Hurley and Roger Lloyd Pack bring in all the laughs. Pack plays the Duke of Buckingham in Richard III and he struck me as rather bland. The Duke should be far more forceful and conniving.

Orsino, the love-sick Duke, is played as a more of a he-man than a simpering lover by the Scottish-accented Liam Brennan. He drops the accent as Clarence and the Lord Mayor in Richard III.

Shakespeare’s Globe has a large, thrust stage with a large number of spectators, the groundlings, standing in the yard and around the stage. This encourages interaction between actor and audience with frequently hilarious  results. Such interaction is not limited to comedies. In a production of Hamlet when  a clean-shaven Rylance as the Prince of Denmark complained about having his beard plucked, a groundling reminded him that he did not have one. The actor looked at him and added “I know.”

What works at Shakespeare’s Globe does not work as well at the smaller Apollo Theatre. Fry and Rylance try to engage the audience but their success is limited. This audience was not prepared to become part of the action the way that the groundlings do on the South Bank.

Carroll to his credit does not rush through the dialogue. He is highly respectful of the text and the actors speak clearly and  deliberately. Twelfth Night is one of the best comedies ever written: Richard III is not one of Shakespeare’s best plays. The number of ways that they can be  produced is almost endless. Tim Carroll gives fresh readings of both and thanks to Mark Rylance a great day at the theatre.

Twelfth Night and Richard III by William Shakespeare opened on November 17, 2012 and continue in repertory until February 9 and 10, 2013 respectively at the Apollo Theatre, 29 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, England.