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Oxford Shakespeare Company - Twelfth Night

29th June to 15th August 2015.

Review from Newbury Theatre.

The setting is a gypsy camp site, with caravan, tyres and assorted rubbish, and the introduction comes from the cast as a boisterous gypsy band. Recasting the two noble courts of Duke Orsino and Countess Olivia as gypsy families is a bold move from director Nicholas Green, but Orsino in tatty clothes and estuary accent (David Alwyn seemed to be channelling Russell Brand at times) and Molly Roberts’ brash Olivia lost much of the subtlety of the characters.

Alice Coles was a feisty Viola/Cesario and Marie Fortune (with a cockney accent veering towards Dick Van Dyke) an energetic and enthusiastic Maria. She worked well with William Findley as Sir Toby and George Haynes as a less gormless than usual Sir Andrew. The fight scene, and the lead up to it, between Cesario and Sir Andrew was delightful and very funny.

Top marks go to James Lavender and Robert Madeley for excellent performances as Malvolio and Feste. Lavender managed to give us a pompous and stupid Malvolio, but one that you could genuinely feel sorry for. The reading of the letter was a delight, and the yellow trousers and bare chest a sight to behold. Plenty of laughs, and pathos too.

Feste was a revelation. After the foolery, we suddenly saw a much darker and gloomier side to Feste, when he sang Come Away, Death. And the intensity of his venomous parting remarks to Malvolio was scary. I’ve never seen a Feste with this depth of emotion before.

Robert Madeley also excelled with the songs, composed by Nick Lloyd Webber. The music, raw at times, jubilant at others, went perfectly with the production and added an extra dimension to it.

The director and cast should think about positioning and sight lines for the audience. In the first half of the play, there was a lot of sitting and lying on the grass – much of this was invisible if you were two or more rows back, and there was a bit of business with an oil drum; the actors enjoyed it but most of the audience couldn’t see it.

The gypsy setting gave a very different take to the production, which didn’t work for me, but there are many things to like about Oxford Shakespeare Company’s Twelfth Night.


Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

The caravan of love

Gypsy rivalry at the centre of Oxford Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

Oxford Shakespeare Company: Twelfth Night, at Wadham College, Oxford, until August 15

The Oxford Shakespeare Company's 14th season in Oxford sees the staging of William Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night in Wadham College's beautiful gardens.

Directed and designed by founder-director Nicholas Green, underneath a canopy of spreading trees, the set is a rustic caravan on a lawn strewn with tyres, oil drums and empty bottles of alcohol.

The conceit is that all the characters come from rival gypsy families. Most of the males are bearded and everyone is dressed in dirty or ripped clothes, their skin smudged with black oil (costumes, Adrian Lillie). The gypsy theme is a style decision rather than a critique of Shakespeare's intentions, however.

The gypsy theme has inspired Nick Lloyd Webber to compose a series of delightful tunes to accompany the lyrics sung by the gap-toothed clown, Feste (Robert Madeley). The rest of the company forms a jolly gypsy band, performing with energy and bonhomie. Many of the audience were foreign visitors and the music helped with the accessibility.

The play has a number of complex love affairs. Orsino (David Alwyn), a heart-throb type, tall with a ponytail, woos the melancholy, mourning Olivia (Molly Roberts) using a go-between, Cesario. The joke is that Orsino doesn't realise that his messenger is the recently shipwrecked Viola (Alice Coles) who is in disguise as a boy.

Unfortunately for Orsino, Viola falls for the petite Cesario's ardent poetry. However, Olivia then confuses Viola's long-lost twin brother Sebastian (Marie Fortune) for his sister and marries him. Green's casting decision here just adds to the gender-bending merriment. And of course, Viola is secretly in love with Orsino, but cannot tell him she's really a girl.

Olivia's steward Malvolio (James Lavender) also loves Olivia. He is clearly a fool in, and for, love but Shakespeare punishes him for his sinful pride. His tormentors are Maria (Fortune, doubling), Feste and aristocrats Sir Toby Belch (William Findlay) and Andrew Aguecheek (George Haynes). Malvolio, uncharacteristically dressed in yellow trousers and wearing bondage belts cross-gartered over his bulking bare chest, is an object for sympathy rather than mockery. Lavender's subtly nuanced performance means audiences leave entertained but thoughtful.


There are reviews from Daily Info Oxford ("the levelling effect of the Illyria encampment allows an interesting fluidity in the relationships"), the Oxford Times ("hugely enjoyable... a light-hearted romp perfect for alfresco entertainment").