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Twelfth Night review at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, Chester – ‘fluffy and frivolous’

Scene from Twelfth Night at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, Chester. Photo: Mark McNulty

Luckily for Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, the rain doth not raineth every day, but it did pour on this particular evening of Twelfth Night. It is one of three productions, the others being Henry V and The Borrowers – as the theatre puts it: “a bit of Shakespeare and something for the kids”– being played in rep by a cast of 16 supported by a community chorus.

While not a washout, this frivolous interpretation, directed by Julia Thomas, is a very light take on Shakespeare’s mistaken-identity romantic comedy. Played in the round and interspersed with jubilant dances and frolicking, the production is a delightful summer evening out but not ground-breaking drama.

Designer Rhys Jarman’s weaving of cross-dressing throughout the costuming is overwritten by having Antonio’s (Joseph Millson) unrequited love for the macho Sebastian (Marc Benga) played as gay panic. It is one example of how moments that could have been tender and sincere are fluffed up for comedy.

Though the cast does well in the battle against the tempestuous acoustics, overall performances lack animation. Jessica Dives’ sweet fool has about as much edge as a spoon and, aside from a daybed, hand-holding moment of intimacy between Viola/Cesario (Whitney Kehinde) and Count Orsino (Steven Elliott), there is no lust or passion.

Samuel Collings is a glorious exception as an ascetic yoga master Malvolio. He offers much needed, sustained energy to stringently marching behind Olivia in his steward’s role to fantasising about winning her hand while standing on his head.

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Fluffy and frivolous open-air production of Shakespeare’s romantic company