On opening night, Philip Franks’ spectacular revival of Twelfth Night won spontaneous applause at every scene break. Employing the same cast in the main house as the acclaimed Macbeth in the Minerva, it continues a triumphant Chichester season with this accessible, sexy and inventive production - a good night out for Sussex theatregoers.
Franks sets the play in the Armistice year of 1919, a period of mingled joy and mourning, with every one of Shakespeare’s characters reaching out for the healing benison of love, if not always wisely.
Patrick Stewart models his irascible Malvolio on his own Yorkshire father-figure and I was initially puzzled by the strong Scottish accent. But this delivers comic dividends in the cross-gartered scene when his yellow stockings are topped by a kilt as he briefly flashes Olivia and the ladies of the house, before hopping offstage - knees accidentally tied together - to a tumultuous round from a delighted audience.
Laura Rees, a charmingly boyish Viola, gets cross-gender kisses from almost everyone in the cast, including Martin Turner’s magnificently melancholy Orsino and Kate Fleetwood’s Olivia, played as an erotic drama queen.
Sublime casting links Paul Shelley’s Sir Toby - for once slim, witty and wholly sympathetic - with Suzanne Burden’s Maria, her fluting English accent like an above-stairs Mrs Danvers, while Scott Handy’s Aguecheek galumphs around in cycling shorts.
As a reminder of Michael Feast’s fine tenor voice, his darkly challenging Feste regularly stops the show with Matthew Scott’s tuneful arrangements, while he also sets-up shop as a seaside Punch and Judy man on a crowded promenade.
This busy tableau of holidaymakers is capped by an eye-catching moment as Ben Carpenter’s newly-arrived Sebastian joins other passengers to board a steam train at the lllyrian railway terminus - a scene of impressive theatrical ingenuity.