An exuberant open-air production from the ever reliable Principal theatre
Summer’s here, so inevitably Shakespeare moves outdoors. Bard-beneath-the-stars aficionados Principal Theatre Company bring ‘Twelfth Night’ to Coram’s Fields in an exuberant production that fittingly channels the childhood spirit of this London park. There’s not much room for subtlety in a jam-packed two hours. But director Christopher Geelan and his cast know how to get laughs from the crowd and everyone’s clearly having a whale of a time.
Geelan moves the action to the swinging ’60s. Twins Viola and Sebastian have been separated after a storm at sea and are washed up in Brighton. Illyria is a hotel, conveniently housing Count Orsino and Lady Olivia, the objects of the twins’ affections. Some cross-dressing later and all’s well that ends well, although there’s a lot of carousing to be had first from Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby Belch and his crew. Like proper hippies, these guys carry guitars with them everywhere, and musical director Ruth Clarke-Irons does a great job of weaving toe-tapping pop into the action throughout.
This is Shakespeare for the groundlings with numerous nudges, winks and pauses thrown in to make the Elizabethan comedy actually funny. Katie Arnstein’s Viola combines Northern gumption and sweetie-pie charm. Alex Gilbert’s haughty Olivia melts deliciously into a naughty – but still kickass – minx and there’s strong comic support from Michael Armstrong as the bombastic Belch, Lawrence Russell as the fabulously fey Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Zoe Littleton’s mischievous Maria, who unite to take their revenge on snotty butler Malvolio with contagious glee.