Twelfth Night or What You Will

William Shakespeare
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

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Viola (Evelyn Miller) and Orsino (Raphael Bushay) Credit: Richard Lakos
Malvolio (Richard Cant) with cast Credit: Richard Lakos
Toby Belch (Michael Matus) Credit: Richard Lakos
Julie Legrand as Feste Credit: Richard Lakos
Cast members Harry Waller, Jon Trenchard, Sally Cheng and Katherine Toy Credit: Richard Lakos

There’s music and romance down at Olivia’s café on the seafront in Twelfth Night directed by Owen Horsley. It’s where the woman Viola disguised as Cesario is sent by Orsino (Raphael Bushay) to deliver his love messages.

Anna Francolini as a deliberately exaggerated Olivia is grieving her dead brother and arrives to the stage covered in a huge black mourning dress and a hat which trails a long veil across the warm blue floor. She carries the urn of his ashes and sings “Fear no more the heat o' the sun” from the play Cymbeline.

Her song is accompanied by musicians in sailor costumes occupying a slightly raised platform towards the back of one side of the stage. Six wooden tables with chairs occupy the central space.

The show is interspersed with nine songs whose style sometimes remind you of other musicals.

Olivia is not the only one to surprise us with her costume. Michael Matus as the drag queen Toby Belch seems to wear a different costume every time he appears, and on one occasion is even joined by Andrew Aguecheek (Matthew Spencer) wearing a dress. But then they are members of what the director calls “a queer chosen family”.

The production is faithful to the text but explores ambiguities in the characters' behaviour. There is a scene in which Orsino becomes awkwardly conscious that he is attracted to and almost kissing Viola, whom he thinks is a man.

Her brother Sebastian (Andro Cowperthwaite), who looks a lot like Viola, is clearly in a romantic relationship with Antonio (Nicholas Karami), and even implies a very different future for himself beyond a marriage to Olivia.

The costumes and romance quickly grab our attention. However, consistently good performances keep us watching, with Evelyn Miller as a confident strong Viola and Richard Cant with impressive comic timing giving us a Malvolio who is both sympathetic and amusing.

Although this gently unconventional three-hour production is a bit longer than the usual Twelfth Night, it is well worth seeing.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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