Twelfth Night, or What You Will is one of Shakespeare’s finest plays, mixing comedic mistaken identities and absurdist behaviour. It centres on twins Viola and Sebastian, who are separated by a shipwreck, causing each to think the other dead. Viola disguises herself as a young man and finds employment with the Duke Orsino, acting as his wingman in the wooing of the beautiful Countess Olivia. Meanwhile, Olivia’s uncle, Lord Toby, decides to take Malvolio, her puritanical steward, down a peg or two.
The play begins with the shipwreck – the ship in this case a VW Camper van, which is pushed into place behind the main performance area. The van is then used throughout as both set and backstage area for the quick costume changes required by the small cast. Four of the five actors – the exception being the actor playing Viola – play multiple roles throughout, and all members help provide music and singing in between scenes.
Although there is a main stage area, the cast use the full potential of the garden to bring the play to life. Cast members hide in the audience and, at one point; one of the actors stands on an electric box outside the venue and shouts over the hedge, both startling and amusing the audience. However, the venue, St Peter’s in Newington, is quite close to a main road and the performers occasionally had to compete with noisy traffic.
The whole cast deliver their performances with an easy style, managing to not fall into the Victorian trap of orating their lines. The relaxed performance, combined with the hippy(ish) clothes and camper van brings a friendly, inclusive feel to the whole production.
The laughs come thick and fast in this well-produced show, as poor Viola tries to disentangle herself from a knotty situation of her own devising. Shakespeare’s often catty language is fully served by the excellent cast, so pick a sunny day and laugh yourself silly.