With a play as familiar as Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night it is rare to leave the theatre feeling as if you have seen something new – but that was the case with the latest version on stage at Derby’s Guildhall.
To mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme Derby Shakespeare Theatre Company has dedicated its new production of the Bard’s greatest comedy to the soldiers who lost their lives that year.
The group has set the play in early 20th century country homes, reminiscent of those from Brideshead Revisited and produced a cast to match – even giving a much-loved teddy bear to a dim-but-charming Sir Andrew.
In this version of the play shipwrecked Viola is washed up on the shores of Illyria as a wartime nurse.
Believing her twin brother to be dead, she disguises herself as a soldier and decides to become a servant to lovelorn Count Orsino and act as his envoy to woo the beautiful but melancholy Olivia. But Viola ends up falling in love with Orsino, and Olivia for Viola in disguise as Cesario. Cue the laughter.
However as confusion and capers ensue, the war creeping up on them becomes ever more present and we witness call-up papers arriving for the menfolk.
This production was a brilliant team effort from a talented cast who handled the play’s manic energy with expertise.
Timing is key to keeping the pace of the quick-fire scenes flowing and the funnies from flagging, and they couldn’t be faulted.
The permanently pickled Sir Toby, played by Ian Currie, and his gang of mischief makers were outstanding. Their facial expressions were a joy and their irreverence irresistible. Currie and Leni Robson, who played the bawdy, bombastic Maria, were perfect together.
Niki Caister as Olivia was glamorous and graceful and fizzed about the stage with the confidence of the Lady-of-the-House who always got what she wanted.
Laura Smith, who played a bewitching Viola/Cesario, had the audience enthralled by the deception we shared with her and was perfectly cast for the part.
She would certainly have stolen the show if it hadn’t been for the wonderfully prim and starched, but nonetheless vulnerable, Malvolio played by E Montgomery Ashford.
When he discovered the forged love letter from Olivia he pulled off the role beautifully with both dignified restraint and barely contained delight.
His comic exaggeration was priceless when, as a result of the prank, he confronted Olivia smiling and dressed in yellow stockings and cross garters. It was a scene few who saw it will forget.
The rest of the cast was: Antonio Neil Scott; Curio Martin Weston; Fabian Phillip Hodgkiss; Feste Alex Vilkaitis; first officer Jonathan Wolff; maid Kelly Herrick; Olivia’s housekeeper Chris Bloor; Olivia’s women Elizabeth Cordes and Sarah Hartshorn; Orsino Richard Whitehorn; Priest Ian Arnot; sea captain Martin Pearson; Sebastian Stuart Mourton; second officer Terry Powles; Sir Andrew James Dean; soldier Barry Elms and Valentine Elspeth Reid.
The directors were Chris Scott and Charlotte Matthews; stage manager Ken Owen; lighting designer Steve Greatorex; lighting operator Neil Jones; sound designer Alex Vilkaitis; choreographer Lulu Baiser; set build Ken Owen and Neil Jones; wardrobe mistress Flora Palmer; wardrobe assistants Jane Roy and Ann Sharpe; seamstress Vanessa Anderson; props Helen Cornfield and Michelle Angus; prompt Margaret Arnot; publicity Edward Pickering-Symes; press officer Joan Chambers; business manager Bryan Cleary and PA to the directors Katyana Malcolm.
Twelfth Night can be seen at Derby’s Guildhall Theatre until March 12 at 7.30pm with a matinee at 2.30pm on Saturday for tickets go to http://www.derbylive.co.uk