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Twelfth Night review at Leicester Square Theatre, London – ‘fairy tale fun’

Twelfth Night at Leicester Square Theatre, London. Tamaryn Payne and Ellie Nunn in Twelfth Night at Leicester Square Theatre, London. Photo: Boris Mitkov
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The tiny square acting space in the Lounge at Leicester Square Theatre comes pulsatingly alive when Grassroots Shakespeare London (there is an American sibling) burst into action.

Recently engaged as resident players at the venue, the company espouses ‘original practice’ which here means neither all-male casts nor doublet and hose, but doing without a director. A speedily delivered account of the trimmed text shows them to be an efficient, often imaginative ensemble.

Ellie Nunn, daughter of Sir Trevor and Imogen Stubbs (herself a memorable cinematic Viola) is vulnerable and daring, funny and touching (despite a ghastly wig) as the shipwrecked heroine. She delivers the “willow cabin” speech as if inventing on the hoof, dreamily tries on Orsino’s ring destined for Olivia and finally kisses him enthusiastically. A foot taller than his twin, Kit Loyd’s bemused Sebastian could scarcely be mistaken for Viola, but somehow this doesn’t seem to matter.

Nunn is supported by Tamaryn Payne as a skittish Olivia – her ‘grief’ is an obvious excuse to deter Orsino’s advances – and Jim Conway’s complex Malvolio, whose forced ‘smile’ is a comic horror but whose final grinning exit suggests genuine lunacy as much as a promise of revenge. If John Pickard’s Sir Toby could be more full-bloodedly raucous, Benjamin Bonar’s moustachioed innocent of a Sir Andrew flirts winningly with the audience.

The costumes are attractive if slightly ramshackle, in rusts, pinks and lilacs, suggesting a medieval Middle East. Warm lighting and the cast’s harmonious humming contribute to the fairy tale fun, but the elegiac quality which should underpin this play gets lost in the helter skelter.

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Engaging account of Shakespeare's comedy of love and cross-dressing lacking melancholy depth