Chester Chronicle – ‘Masters Are You Mad?’

Masters Are You Mad?
Michael Green

MANY liberties have been taken with the works of William Shakespeare over the centuries but it takes a brave writer indeed to pen a sequel to one of the Bard’s great works.

Yet Glyn Maxwell has reason to be confident after the triumph of his original work for last year’s Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre – Merlin and the Woods of Time.

That was a glorious romp, packed with larger than life characters and some hysterically funny slapstick and incredibly witty lines.

There was every reason to expect his follow-up to Twelfth Night would be in a similar vein – except that Maxwell himself had some very different ideas about how he was going to continue one of Shakespeare’s most popular romantic comedies.

Certainly there is slapstick; witty lines there are a-plenty; and he has again created a couple of marvellous characters.

But this is a dark, reflective odyssey, a stark journey into the human soul, an exploration of guilt, regret and recrimination, not to mention something that questions the very existence of true love.

These are pretty heavy themes for a brand new play that is being performed for picnicking audiences looking for a lightweight night at the open air theatre!

Set some 12 years after the events of Twelfth Night, one of the first things Maxwell does is dismantle all the marriages which dominate the finale of the original work – Sir Toby Belch, Sebastian and Viola never even appear while their other halves (Maria now Lady Mary Belch, Olivia and Orsino) are all going through their own personal traumas.

And Malvolio himself (Matthew Rixon) does not turn up until the second half and is no more than a supporting player – although there is a clue to this in the subtitle of The Search for Malvolio – and when he does appear, he is in a state of sometimes wordless mania.
Just when you are tempted to rechristen the play Maxwell Are You Mad?, you do start to find it begin to work its magic on you in much the same way as the enchanted Songbird (Ellen O’Grady) mesmerises many of the characters.

There are countless amusing jibes at the Bard’s apparent obsession with cross dressing and I loved the early satirical swipes at the notion of quantitative easing which was also a smart nod to the continuing relevance of Shakespearean themes in the 21st century.
Sarah Lambie stole the show for me as Coraline – the Viola equivalent – a girl pretending to be a boy pretending to be a girl (I think!), bringing a lightness of touch to her delivery and expression which relieved some of the surrounding melancholy.

Another new character – Adrian (Haseeb Malik) – was a true original, an assassin also known as The Blind Man who always seemed more likely to do himself harm than anyone else, especially when he ends up taking Orsino (Tom Radford) dressed as Olivia as his hostage!

My main regret was that Maria, (Victoria Gee, wonderful again), who lit up Twelfth Night with her gleeful and exuberant conniving, became a downbeat Lady Belch who was full of bitterness, guilt and resentment over her treatment of Malvolio and her husband Sir Toby’s treatment of her.

But in the end you realise that this was how Malvolio has his revenge on the whole pack of ‘em – pretty much everyone who made his life a misery ended up living a life of regret.

Despite all this introspection and apparent gloominess, rest assured that Maxwell does treat us to a happy ending with new relationships forming that you suspect might have a better chance of surviving than the ones Shakespeare left us with.