Twelfth Night

William Shakespeare
Purplecoat
St Luke's Church, Liverpool

Twelfth Night with Andrew Aguecheek (Sam Liu) Toby Belch (Karl Falconer) and Fabian (Thomas Whittaker) Credit: Chris Chapman and Purplecoat Productions
Twelfth Night with Sebastian (Jack Spencer) and Feste (Lee Burnitt) Credit: Chris Chapman and Purplecoat Productions

"Pound for pound the best fighter" is a neat little phrase coined from the world of boxing. It’s a rather elegant attempt at comparing boxing ability objectively, a way that allows the pundits to compare the tiny little bantamweight warriors with their heavyweight counterparts—a task that would ordinarily be next to impossible. Never the twain shall meet.

It could work just as well for theatre criticism too. Why not? If the fringe is the bantamweight of British theatre, then the RSC, National Theatre and co. must surely be the heavyweights. Well, thanks to our friends of a pugilistic persuasion, these very different strands of the theatrical spectrum need not be such strange bedfellows anymore.

I jest of course. But after watching Purplecoat’s production of Twelfth Night in the splendour of St Luke’s Church Liverpool, I’m not sure I actually am jesting. For here is a company of actors, virtually without any palpable resources—and yet somehow they always manage to produce stimulating, original theatre, which is something that cannot always be said of many more celebrated luminaries.

Purplecoat’s Twelfth Night takes places at the seaside, a particularly apt location when one considers its long association with mirth and misrule. Surrounded by towels and clad in beach attire, the young cast do a commendable job of interpreting one of the bard’s most darkly comic texts.

Now Duke Orsino must have been presented in a multitude of guises over the centuries, but I’d bet my bottom dollar you’ve never ever seen him resplendent in a lycra leotard before. Me neither. Full marks to Daniel Carmichael, a statuesque, but as self-pitying Duke as you will ever spy. Rhea Little’s Olivia meanwhile is a petulant, pouting miss. Caitlin Clough plays Cesario/Viola with just the right amount of incredulity and repression.

Indeed, the whole cast deserve to be applauded for creating a theatrical romp. It really looks like these guys are having a ball. Once into its stride, the asides and adlibs simply fly. For this production of Twelfth Night never takes itself that seriously. Alas, If only that were true of others.

The lads and lasses of Purplecoat can always be relied upon to put a smile on your face, worth the (exceptionally low) admission fee alone. There’s really not much wrong at all with this Illyria, save perhaps for the addition of a beach ball and an ice cream cone or two.

Overall, this is theatre that punches well above its weight. What the heck, sometimes only a cliché will do. As for the heavyweights, I’ll leave the final words to that other champion of the underdog, Shelley: "look on my works, ye mighty, and despair."

Reviewer: David Sedgwick