Funniest Shakespeare for a long time

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until Saturday.The programme tells us that Samuel Pepys saw this play several times and thought it 'silly.

David Henshall

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until tonight.

The programme tells us that Samuel Pepys saw this play several times and thought it 'silly.' It is - wonderfully, hilariously silly and if the Bard is watching it from his seat in the gods he will be as pleased as punch with this production.

It is not simply the funniest and most entertaining Shakespeare I have seen in a long time but it also delights the eye and you can hear every syllable of the witty exchanges. A triumph for young director, Abigail Anderson.

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It is played, on a set almost totally devoid of props, in a manner the playwright would happily recognise - with the cast constantly taking the audience into its confidence and playing to the crowd outrageously.

The play in full fig would carry a cast of 14 characters plus a few lords, officers, sailors, priests, musicians and attendants. Here they manage with just eight actors. Only Viola and Olivia, don't have at least two roles and the thing works like a dream.

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Oliver Senton has the most difficult double act as the serious, lovelorn Count Orsino and the lisping, idiotic Sir Andrew Ague-Cheek, a brilliant transformation, while Tim Frances is just as clever dodging between the booze-soaked Sir Toby Belch, the tough sea captain and the priest who marries Olivia and Sebastian.

Sebastian and Viola are identical twins, separated by a shipwreck and washed up at different times and different places in the country of Illyria, each fearing the other drowned and going their separate ways. Viola, for safety, dresses as a man and becomes Orsini's right hand helpmate, employed by the Count to help him win Olivia's love. Instead, Olivia, nicely played by Anna Hope, falls for the handsome young messenger.

Bradley Clarkson as Sebastion and Amy Humphreys as Viola, apart from dressing in indentical clothes, look nothing like one another and it is part of the joke of course that while those on stage are constantly mistaking one for the other, the audience is never fooled.

Michael Onslow has a great time chatting to us as the arrogantly pompous Malvolio, reading the letter purporting to have come from Olivia declaring her secret love for him, but written by her maid Maria (the busy and bright Mary Ryder) as part of the wicked yellow socks and garters trick played on him by the two drunken knights.

Eamonn O'Dwyer's Feste is an almost permanent colourful figure in the proceedings, clowning the pieces together and singing several really lovely ballads in a very well acted evening of priceless pleasure.

David Henshall.

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