An outdoor promenade production of Shakespeare's comedy.
As midsummer brings a scorching heatwave, spending an evening outside watching a play in London can make you feel a little like you’re on holiday. The grounds of the Actor’s Church in Covent Garden are one of the loveliest settings for outdoor shows, and even if Iris Theatre’s annual summer productions don’t quite transport you to some exotic overseas destination, the bursting rose bushes and Inigo Jones’s impressive building will.
This year’s ‘Twelfth Night’ is performed in promenade and we’re trundled in and out of four main spaces in the well-tended gardens to watch parts of the play. Where in previous Iris productions – such as last year’s ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ – the promenade aspect was conducive to the show’s narrative, here it feels a little forced; the journeys are made purely because sitting in different parts of the space is nice. The sets are basic if atmospheric: ripped sails, fishing nets and washed up bits of boat are hung from trees to remind us of the shipwreck which was the catalyst for the play’s ridiculous mix-ups.
Olivia Onyehara’s Olivia – the lady who is wooed by count Orsino, but actually loves Viola, who is pretending to be Orsino’s man-servant Cesario (and is herself in love with Orsino - keep up!) – has a nice, sly, wry smile and plays for some subtle laughs. But as usual with ‘Twelfth Night’, it’s the scenes between the terrible drunkards – a roaring Robert Maskell as Sir Toby Belch and Henry Wyrley-Birch as a spineless Aguecheek – that are the most fun. Here they wander through the audience as they hatch plans and giggle. Tony Bell‘s transformation of Malvolio from serious prat into grinning yellow tight-wearing prat is also pretty darn funny.
Still, ‘Twelfth Night’ is perhaps Shakespeare’s greatest comedy and though there are laughs to be had here, they never quite fulfil their potential. Rushing through the early scenes don’t help, and we lose sight of the characters a little amid all the interruptions to move about. But really, when you’re surrounded by blue sky, warm breeze, beautiful flowers and the Bard’s lines floating at you through the night air, those are things you’re likely to forgive.