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Anne Hathaway was inevitable casting for Viola in this Public Theater version of Twelfth Night, and not just because she bears the name of Shakespeare's wife.

Daniel Sullivan's production has a Regency look and feel, and Hathaway has shown that she is at home in the period: she played Miss Austen in Becoming Jane.

The evening also requires a Viola who can sing, which Hathaway did not only with Hugh Jackman at this year's Oscars but also in a fondly remembered New York production of the musical Carnival.

Her trilling fits in especially well here, because the Public's Central Park stage, the Delacorte, is as awash in music as it has been in rain during New York's soggy June.If it was wise of Sullivan, a canny old hand known more for contemporary drama than for Shakespeare, to cast Hathaway, it was even wiser to surround her with veterans.

Her verse-speaking is quite undistinguished, and the pendulum of her emotions swings through a fairly small arc, requiring others to manage the broader rhythms.They do.

In the hands of David Pittu (Feste), Jay O Sanders (Sir Toby Belch) and especially Hamish Linklater (Andrew Aguecheek), the comedy is so vivid that it threatens to topple the scenes of ardent wooing.

This alcohol-pickled trio sloshes and slides over the hills and dales of John Lee Beatty's baize-green set like kids cavorting at a water park.

The emphasis (sometimes, over-emphasis) on the Bard's bawdry elicits steady laughter.

The phallic jokes, in particular, have a topical ring, as almost every Manhattan bus at the moment is trumpeting a new television series, Hung, about a well-endowed high-school teacher.As for the play's romance of mistaken identity and its mystery of Viola's lost twin, Sebastian, they have been more deftly interpreted elsewhere.

As Olivia, Audra McDonald, always a compelling stage presence, made me believe her ardour for Viola only fitfully, and, as Orsino, the equally gifted Raúl Esparza seemed a bit distracted, at least at my performance.With so much musical firepower among this cast, director Sullivan was right to keep a band of musicians stage-left through part of the evening, and to allow the actors to sing frequently.

Viola, Feste and Orsino harmonising on "Come away, come away, death" was haunting, almost as dark and indelible as Michael Cumpsty's eloquent, wit-flecked reading of Malvolio's recitation during the forged-letter scene.

★★★★☆

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/6e7fa132-64c7-11de-a13f-00144feabdc0.html
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