Shooting Stars Theatre
I wonder what the Shakespeare’s Globe board would think of this open-air production at a house built in 1582 for the Lord Mayor of London (and recently restored). It’s not as outrageously different as Emma Rice’s version but it’s a long way from a “traditional” Elizabethan staging.
It is in modern dress with Feste as a DJ and loud pop music to launch it and Will’s well-loved play bounces on to the lawn at Lauderdale House with real energy, an enjoyable entertainment that gains something extra from being in this location on a pleasant evening.
It’s a story of separated twins who get mistaken for each other. It smiles sardonically at fancied romantic love in a triangle of a Lord courting a Lady, while she falls for the young male messenger he sends to her (who’s actually a girl in boy’s togs), while she has her eye on her master. It punctures pompously inflated self-love, ridicules a fortune-hunting suitor and spares a thought for unrequited gay love.
There are cuts to fit a reduced cast and loss of some jokes beyond a modern audience and compromises too; there is talk of swords when there are none and characters listening on earphones in scenes that really should be a disco party but it flows so naturally and at such a pace that you’d have to be very familiar with the play to notice.
The broader comedy is in the hands of Michael Totton as Lady Olivia’s heavy-drinking uncle Toby Belch and James Henri-Thomas as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, the doltish sidekick he sponges off. They are rarely without a can in hand.
Roisin Keogh is full of spirit as Maria, Olivia’s maid who has a soft spot for Sir Toby and sets a plot to make a fool of Joe Sargent’s priggish Malvolio, steward to Olivia’s household. Ordered (by his mistress, he thinks) to don cross-gartering and yellow stocking, you may wonder how they do it modern dress but director Helen Crosse has a trick up her sleeve to take it hilariously even further!
Lacking his courtiers, Christopher Bonwell’s Orsino gets less chance to play the lovelorn romantic nor is Remy Moynes’s Olivia the dour woman in mourning for her dead brother and father. That may be her image beyond her gates but at home she’s positively lively and obviously glad to have Feste her part-time fool back.
That’s Graham Dron, moving between both households and something of a lynchpin in this production. Sadly, most of his songs are gone, including the final number, but it is a strong performance. So to is that of David MacDonald, making seaman Antonio a real presence in this love chain, doting on near drowned Sebastian twin brother to Viola. It is around her the story centres and Libbi Fox is delightful, especially when trying to be physically mannish to counter the piping voice with which Shakespeare describes her.
Things go at a cracking pace, this cast don’t wallow in the verse but they don’t wreck it either. You have pay attention but it’s straightforward storytelling if you don’t let your picnic distract you. Watch out for Sir Toby who might steal a snifter. Someone will find they are suddenly a performer but it will be painless.
Shakespeare ties up the ends and this production leaves them happy. Malvolio storms off without been given much consideration, no one questions whether Sebastian will be happy married to a woman he only just met or Viola with a man who’s affection was for her in male form. This Feste isn’t so very sardonic.
This is summer Shakespeare: you go home happy—but I do miss that last song!
No performances on 12, 14-15 or 19 August.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton