Young Vic, London ★★★✩✩
IT MAY be short, but the show that heralds the arrival of Kwame Kwei-Armah, the Young Vic’s new artistic director, is a great, generous-spirited gesture of inclusive theatre.
It has a 21st century backdrop, a community chorus of 30 and an appealing musical score. It’s also very funny — which has been achieved by elevating Malvolio, the pompous butler who, as the love-triangle plot develops, ends up as one of the most ridiculous and ridiculed figures ever created for the stage.
ln Kwei-Armah and co-director Oskar Eustis’s modern production the hilarious Gerard Carey morphs from a snooty suited manservant who yearns for status and lives to put others down, into a Lycra-clad buffoon.
The setting is Notting Hill just before Carnival, and Rupert Young’s lovelorn Orsino has a touch of Hugh Grant as he woos Natalie Drew’s deeply uninterested Olivia who lives in the town house over the road on which all the action is set.
Instead of drinking sack, spliffs are inhaled and Shakespeare’s daft, gender-blurring plot is driven at breakneck speed by Shaina Taub’s melodically pretty and lyrically witty score.
Melissa Allan’s fool Feste and Gabrielle Brooks’s Viola have the best songs and voices. The one gripe relates to one of the show’s strengths — Carey’s Malvolio. His comeuppance should be so cruel as to induce shame in all those who have enjoyed his humiliation — including us.
But here it’s just an excuse for another musical Malvolio moment, denying this feelgood show emotional heft.