Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night

“If music be the food of love play on.” The music of love pervades Owen Horsley’s queer-coded and contemporary take on Twelfth Night. The Regent’s Park Open Air theatre embodies the enchantment of Shakespeare, as the warm London late afternoon melts into dusk. Watching Shakespeare, in London, in summer, with birds cawing, magic is bound to ensue.

Ryan Dawson Laight’s costume design, emulating a John Paul Gaultier runway, and set within Basia Binkowska’s industrial, seaside, jazz bar, engages the gender and sexuality dialogue of today. It incorporates drag through the characters of Toby Belch (Michael Matus) and Andrew Arguecheek (Matthew Spencer). A notable scene when Sir Toby first storms in replete with diamante, tinsel, and all accoutrement, set the tone for the production’s fresh reading of Shakespeares’s willingly queer material. The key relationships of the play, whether between Orsino and Viola/Caesario or Sebastian, Antonio, and Olivia are played true to the source material with this fresh modern lens. These characters are shrouded by four strong ensemble parts who also assist musically, and play both Orsino’s court and Olivia’s chosen family, the divides between these separate roles are blurred.

But it is after the interval as the blue sky darkens and birdsong subsides that the play gathers pace and the loose threads begin to coalesce. The play, which charts the story of mistaken identity and homosocial and sexual love, maintains subplots that at times detract from the creation of frisson in key relationships, but offers comedic relief in its place. The production aptly demonstrates the desire and denial of feelings between Orsino and Caesario, with starry-eyed looks followed by immediate internal anguish. Though, at times we are left to feel if some of this is not fully fleshed out, a thread which can be applied more broadly.

However, it is Richard Cant’s superbly cringe-worthy Malvolio, tricked into wearing what appears to be yellow stockings and matching lederhosen, by a cruelly comedic letter from Toby Belch, Maria (Anita Reynolds), and co which captures the audience. This and a stellar performance from Anna Francolini as Olivia stand out as key differentiators for this production. Shakespeare may be considered far away for some of Gen-Z, but this production reminds us of his timeless wit and the continuity of certain human feelings. Whether it be Sir Toby’s statement that “to go to bed after midnight is to be up early” or Olivia overthinking her words when courting Caesario, it is clear that the pop-phycology of TikTok has not strayed far from 17th century England.

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Production: Not Too Tame and Shakespeare North Playhouse

Director: Owen Horsley
Cast includes: Matthew Spencer, Anna Francolini, Evelyn Miller
Until 20th July 2024
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes with an interval

Photography by Rich Lakos