The Reviews Hub **** – ‘Masters Are You Mad?’

Masters Are You Mad?
Brian Gorman

**** 1/2

Following last week’s visit to a fabulous production of Twelfth Night, I was very intrigued to see this specially penned sequel by Glyn Maxwell. Some of the cast reprised their roles from the Shakespeare play while other actors, previously resigned to brave attempts at breathing life into relatively minor characters, were given a real chance to show what they can do with meatier parts. The conclusion of Twelfth Night saw curmudgeonly manservant Malvolio (a splendid Matthew Rixon) swearing revenge on the perpetrators of his ignominious fall from grace at the palace of the Lady Olivia (a regal Lorna Beckett ). The story is picked up twelve years later, and nobody has seen or heard from the man. Could he be the mysterious figure who rules the legendary land of Moai? Duke Orsino certainly thinks so, and sends a rag-tag band of clowns and assassins to ‘terminate’ him.

In one of the worst British summers on record it was, unfortunately, inevitable that the heavens would open up at some point during the evening, and so they did. The rattling of a heavy shower on the overhead canopy protecting our seats managed to drown out precious minutes of dialogue at one point, and it is to the actors’ credit that they soldiered on regardless as many of the audience began chattering and loudly opening their umbrellas. But the inclement weather could not dampen our spirits as director Robin Norton-Hale gave us a sparkling evening of wit, song, and rib-tickling tomfoolery. Haseeb Malik had previously been seen as Twelfth Night’s Sebastian, and excelled here as bumbling, sharp-suited killer-for-hire Adrian.

Tom Radford reprising Orsino also seemed to relish a more expanded role, particularly in scenes where he has a whale of a time disguised as a woman. Sarah Lambie is cute as a button whilst scampering about as Coraline, an ‘actress’ who is also Orsino’s ‘boy’ (it’s complicated, so don’t ask!). There is a lot of running around in this production with several characters dashing in and out of the playing area, mingling with the audience and strumming ukeles and mandolins at the drop of a hat.

The character of Malvolio is talked about a great deal, but doesn’t really have a lot to do this time around. He is rather like Marlon Brando’s crazed Colonel Kurtz in ‘Apocalypse Now’, in that his presence dominates the proceedings, and the rather long wait to see the man heightens audience anticipation. When we do meet him, he’s a mumbling, shuffling shadow of his former self, and has fallen so far that he now commands our full sympathy.

Matthew Rixon is a fine actor, and skilfully plays Malvolio as a broken doll of a man before seemingly recovering his wits late on. A special mention also for Ellen O’Grady who plays the small role of Fabian in Twelfth Night, and here is rather splendid as the enigmatic ‘Songbird’; dressed in a long shimmering silver dress complete with Cleo Laine hairstyle, and charming the birds from the Grosvenor Park trees. Chris Vincent also shines as the comic harbourmaster, a right Northern jobsworth.

Masters Are You Mad? is another triumph for Chester Performs in this their third summer season in Grosvenor Park, and is an exciting, imaginative, beautifully staged, and worthy successor to the bard’s original.