Twelfth Night is a raucous and joyous romp that perfectly suits this colourful and recently refurbished outdoor venue. The cast was charming and clearly having a whale of a time and that infectious feeling spread to the audience -especially in the zippier second half.
There were a few technical and sound issues that some more forethought and planning could have helped with. Amplification was probably essential as the quieter players were in danger of being drowned out by a clanking flagpole and the louder ones in danger of overacting in response to battling ambient noise.
Twelfth Night was an interesting choice for this moment in time given that the comedy is largely derived almost entirely from gender swapping. As such it could have either pursued a modern po-faced approach or decided to swerve current controversies entirely. In the end, an extremely happy medium was reached whereby the laughs were played largely as Shakespeare intended but the setting of the 1980s gave the element of the ‘genderbending’ that decade famously enjoyed an innocent and evocative twist that could offend no one and kept us all giggling. It also allowed for some great singalong moments as the cast burst into classic favourites such as Don’t You Want Me Baby and Come On Eileen.
The playing levels of the actors were varied. For me, some relied too heavily on camp – though as I say, that may well have been a reaction to the outdoor conditions. Others though managed to play their melodramatic roles with all the oomph they deserved. I was particularly taken with Ursula Early as Olivia and Philip Honeywell as Malvolio – for me the most complex role in the piece and one he clearly relished.
The first half dragged a little for me, but that is as much about the source material as the production. There is a lot of establishment of plot needed to place us in the action and as such, it can be wearing when you have to both establish who each person is and in many cases also who they are pretending to be. This production was clearly pitched at a family level (and indeed there were many parents and children surrounding me) so the complex plot did need explaining in the almost pantomime way that allowed us all to stay on the same page.
This was, in many ways, Shakespeare as it was probably supposed to be done. Played for laughs and to the cheap seats. It wasn’t a production that is going to change worlds. But it was one that was full of the charm and joie de vivre of the pit.