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Twelfth Night review at Open Air Theatre – Regents Park London

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In 2005, Timothy Sheader brought a sizzling 18th century Spanish colonial outpost to the stage of the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park, for the setting of his production of Twelfth Night. Three years on, and his first season as artistic director of the venue, the Shakespeare play has been reimagined again – this time by Edward Dick – within a high society setting placed somewhere between the twenties and thirties.

It could be glamorous, given a different storyline, with the characters strutting around to a crooning saxophone in floor length bias cut silken dresses, suave dinner jackets or double breasted suits, courtesy of costume designer Fotini Dimou. But Twelfth Night is no champagne swigging cocktail party, and the contrast between the cool setting and the haplescharacters facing various degrees of identity crises is where the comedy begins.

Janie Dee plays Olivia as a wannabe femme fatale, whose failed attempts to smoulder, sashay and seduce the much younger and much shorter Cesario – actually the disguised Viola (Natalie Dew) – gain a lot of laughs. The petite Dew is surprisingly convincing as a man as she puffs out her chest and swills wine from the bottle while being hoisted on to the shoulders of the other men. Unfortunately, however, there is more chemistry between her and Dee, than between her and Oscar Pearce’s dandyish Orsino who she is meant to be infatuated by – making the final reconciliation at the end unconvincing.

Tim Woodward’s womanising Sir Toby Belch and Clive Hayward’s Andrew Aguecheek, who resembles a bouncing blond toddler in a lilac one-piece tuxedo, are a complementary duo. Along with Claire Benedict’s Maria, they torment the irksome Malvolio (Richard O’Callaghan) whose demise is actually pitiful and uncomfortable to watch.

The most notable performance is by Clive Rowe as Feste. On one hand he is a travelling freak show with his horned afro, plaid pink jacket and bizarre antics of rolling on the floor, while on the other he is like a Harlem jazz musician with a melodic singing voice and occasional southern American twang. Bringing these two elements together is a prop we would all like – a suitcase come cocktail bar. Although a little obvious, Rowe delivers all the sexual innuendo and flatulence jokes with the right amount hamming-up, and is sure to be a hit with audiences.

All in all, Dick’s production, while not pushing the boundaries in any way, does what it says on the can – it is a fun show, with a nice twist, presented in a magical space.

Production Information

Open Air Theatre – Regents Park, London, June 13-July 30

Author
William Shakespeare
Director
Edward Dick
Producer
New Shakespeare Company
Cast includes
Natalie Dew, Oscar Pearce, Tim Woodward, Claire Benedict, Clive Hayward, Clive Rowe, Janie Dee, Richard O’Callaghan
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