Back with us in Wadham College’s lovely gardens for a 14th season, the Oxford Shakespeare Company treat us to a hugely enjoyable production of Twelfth Night – a light-hearted romp perfect for alfresco entertainment.
The play was memorably delivered by OSC in 2008 when director Nicholas Green relocated the action to the beach front at Blackpool, thereby supplying the raison d’etre for James Lavender’s Malvolio in daring yellow Speedos rather than cross-gartered stockings.
This time Green wafts us to a gypsy encampment, a setting oddly reminiscent, with its focus on a caravan, of that seen in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem. David Alwyn’s bare-chested Count Orsino, come to that, has more than a touch of Mark Rylance as Rooster Byron.
Lavender is back to provide a splendid butt of the jokes as the pernickety, pleased-with-himself steward. This time the sartorial flourish comes in yellow long-johns.
After so long in the game, OSC recognises that lucidity is a vital requirement of a production that is going to be seen by large numbers of foreign students. The dozens seated around me in the sunshine last week were clearly finding no trouble in following the action, with much laughter from them at appropriate moments.
As ever, the most relishable comic episode comes as the bibulous Sir Toby Belch (William Findlay), his doltish pal Sir Andrew Aguecheek (George Haynes) and Feste the clown (Robert Madeley) combine to revenge themselves on the pompous Malvolio.
Their satisfaction is gained, of course, by convincing him that his mistress Olivia (Molly Roberts) is in love with him, thanks to a letter-forging scheme cleverly devised by her maid Maria (Marie Fortune). Her reward for this, Sir Toby’s hand in marriage, always strikes me as one scarcely to be envied.
Olivia’s true love, meanwhile, comes to be Orsino’s ambassador of the heart Viola (Alice Coles) in male disguise. A good thing that her twin brother Sebastian arrives as a more suitable suitor. Unusually (but most effectively) he is played here by a woman – another role for the very versatile Marie Fortune.
Feste’s songs and other agreeable musical interludes are supplied by the company’s brilliant in-house composer Nick Lloyd Webber, with the players multi-tasking on various instruments.
“Viola on cello,” I jotted in my programme during Come Away, Death, thinking it would have been fun had we had Cello on viola.
Performances continue at Wadham College until August 15.