Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Alex Clifton
Reviewer: Brian Gorman
This thoroughly enjoyable and infectiously energetic production benefits enormously from the glorious open air setting of Chester’s beautiful Grosvenor Park. A three sided playing area with a backdrop of towering trees, gently swaying in the summer breeze, provides the perfect stage for a triumphant piece of Shakespeare at his rib-tickling best. This is the story of shipwrecked siblings Sebastian and Viola, and their romantic entanglements with Duke Orsino and the lady Olivia. But Twelfth Night really comes to life with the shenanigans of the drunken and uproarious Sir Toby Belch (Jack Lord channelling the spirit of Brian Blessed), his hapless sidekick Sir Andrew Aguecheek (an excellent physical performance by Scott Arthur), and Olivia’s puritanical sourpuss manservant Malvolio (Matthew Rixon).
Director Alex Clifton mixes the slapstick elements with the more melancholic ones perfectly, succeeding in creating a wonderfully satisfying, yet bitter sweet, evening. Krupa Pattani is a loveably perky Viola, and combines well with Tom Radford’s matinée idol Duke Orsino. Lorna Beckett creates a delightfully aloof Lady Olivia whose long legs turn to jelly when she falls for Viola (who is pretending to be a boy), and later easily transfers her feelings to Sebastian (a solid Haseeb Malik).
As always in a Shakespeare comedy, it is the Fool who plays a pivotal part in the proceedings, and Chris Vincent camps it up gloriously as Feste the jester in the style of an understated Kenneth Williams. Easily the most enjoyable scenes are those featuring Sir Toby and Olivia’s servants; the permanently exasperated Maria (Victoria Gee), Ellen O’Grady’s Fabian (think Father Ted’s Mrs Doyle), and upper class twit Sir Andrew. Jack Lord is simply hysterical as Sir Toby, and threatens to steal the show with his unrestrained energy and moustache-twirling music hall theatrics.
It is Matthew Rixon’s magnificent Malvolio who provides the icing on the cake however, with his towering presence, affected walk (he seems to glide across the ground as if on castors), and fruity delivery. Lord and Rixon are a beautiful double act, and their ongoing feud results in some hilarious face-offs.
As the daylight fades, and the temperature drops, Grosvenor Park reveals itself to be a vital element of the production. Melancholia is in the air, and Feste’s heartbreaking final song against the rustling of the leaves on the trees is truly affecting.