Principal Theatre’s open-air Twelfth Night is a delightfully fun and energetic production that glides by like a theatrical sun rolling around the heavens.
Setting the action in, presumably, 1966 proves a winning choice for all sorts of reasons. First, it provides the England football shirt-wearing Sir Toby Belch and his bohemian acolytes ample excuse for revelry, with frequent musical interludes from that era’s unassailable pop canon – Michael Armstrong’s wonderfully primal, hirsute Belch is a “wild thing” indeed. The 1960s conceit also neatly inserts Belch’s overindulged conflict with Malvolio (a terrifically haughty Ian Angus Wilkie) into a time when the cords of deference were being pulled apart by a rowdy coalition of pop musicians and beatniks.
Fittingly, then, Viola/Cesario (the impish Katie Arnstein) and her long-lost twin Sebastian (Alexander Piggins, a Britpop refugee) are guitar-strumming troubadours, able to charm the miniskirt off Alex Gilbert’s Olivia, played as a self-admiring fashion victim who amusingly transforms from wallowing disdain to lustful assertiveness.
If the performances at times seem to have graduated from the Terry Scott school of subtlety, that only befits both the 1960s concept and the nature of an outdoor production designed in large part for picnicking families. In general, the acting is excellent – special mention should go to Lawrence Russell, superb as Andrew Aguecheek, as pliable as he is pusillanimous – and Principal Theatre has delivered a charming summertime Shakespeare that has the joyful exuberance of a popping champagne cork.