Residence One Garden, Royal William Yard, Plymouth
Plymouth Barbican Theatre’s annual Bard In The Yard third offering is a fun 1920s-set Twelfth Night in which slapstick and confusion prevail.
With the 18 performances due to be held in the secret garden at Residence One, several have been rained out and have washed up in the Factory Cooperage—look for signage on arrival if damp or downright wet—an atmospheric industrial space complete with seagull calls and rooftop pattering of webbed feet slightly hindering the delivery.
Committed to using local talent, the Barbican Theatre has recruited a host of rising stars from The Actors Hub, a touring training theatre company based in Plymouth’s University of St Mark & St John, alongside professionals Zoe Bloss, Ivanhoe Norona, Jim Crago and Lucy Theobald whose recent works include South West productions.
On Hannah McArthur’s simple rough boards stepped stage with few props, eight players people the plot with most doubling up working well save for a little confusion over Orsino/Malvolio brought about purely by Crago’s distinctive bushy beard.
East 15 Acting School alumnus Crago is beautifully louche and lovelorn as the Duke, not quite offensive enough as the peevish steward but wonderfully amusing strutting his stuff in yellow garters while newly qualified Robyn Tennant, as love interest Olivia, believably transforms from aloof Lady in mourning to madly in lust giggling girl desperate to drag her cross-dressing beau to the altar.
Bloss (KUDS, National Youth Theatre of Great Britain 2009 – 2016) returns as an initially bemused Viola but brings a quiet, sweet dimension as feelings for her/his master burgeon and bewilderment ensues as events lurch out of hand with gauntlets thrown down, punches swung and claims of matrimony. Owen Lewis (a belligerent Tybalt and Paris in last year’s Romeo and Juliet) is her twin: blokey Sebastian who grabs the offer of conjugal rights without second thought and fights his way out of difficulty.
Cygnet Theatre-trained Theobald, fresh from DCON’s SW Why Would You? tour (produced by Barbican Theatre) is a lively Feste, interacting with the audience and adding depth with song and silliness while conniving Maria is played by charismatic and musical student Chloe Carrubba.
Accomplished Norona (Island King in Netflix Original’s The Crown and much more) wrings every ounce of fun from the gift of a role of Sir Toby Belch, drunk, petulant and mischievously egging on nice-but-dim Sir Andrew (Ashleigh Reynolds whose comic timing and gawkiness is spot on).
Under tight direction from Jon Nash (co-director Untamed Theatre’s tour of Much Ado About Nothing), playfulness is the name of the game and there’s a distinct feelgood factor from the get-go with live music, bar, hot drinks, food and interval desserts to add to the atmosphere.
Take a blanket and enjoy.
Reviewer: Karen Bussell