Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare, Red Rose Chain Theatre in the Forest, Rendlesham until August 28

Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare, Red Rose Chain Theatre in the Forest, Rendlesham until August 28

THE shores of Illyria were never sandier than in this production of Shakespeare’s boisterously funny comedy.

The seaside theme runs through Twelfth Night like Lowestoft through a stick of rock and the pace never slackens as shipwrecked, cross-dressed Viola falls for her boss, Orsino, who sends this new, young manservant to woo Olivia, the woman he loves... and she promptly falls for the boy.

Add a drunken kinsman and his witless sidekick; a musical fool; a pompous steward, a scheming minx of a lady’s maid, a chorus of seagulls, Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, and a very unusual casting of his friend, Antonio, and you have all the ingredients needed for a seaside farce.

It is played out against a sweeping curtain of tall pines acting as a backdrop to the beach with its two crazy beach-huts, a boat and deckchairs and a brightly clad troupe of eight actors who play all the roles and work as puppeteers.

It is a real family treat with slapstick fun and larger-than-life characters. There is tremendous physical comedy, particularly from Edward Day whose Malvolio is part Mr Bean, part Monty Python. Mocked and ultimately humiliated for his lofty superiority, his yellow stockings proved to be one of the highlights of the evening.

Lauren St Paul is a splendid Viola, speaking Shakespeare’s verse with conviction. She has a lyrical voice that projects without apparent effort in the natural arena of the forest.

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Fleur Keith’s Olivia is quite a handful. Impatient, coquettish, shrewish and physical she literally throws herself at Viola.

Christopher Ashman is Orsino, pining for Olivia’s affection while strangely attracted to the young “man” he has just employed. But it is as Sir Andrew Aguecheek the actor really breaks into a gallop of hilarity, showing off his impressive dressage skills. He plays Aguecheek’s moment of pathos with touching sincerity.

Owen Morgan is Olivia’s perverse fool, Feste, never far from his guitar; Joanna Carrick is the scheming Maria and David Newborne gives us a convincingly drunken Sir Toby Belch.

The production is full of comic surprises, great jokes and good songs and director Joanna Carrick has gone for romp over romance in this fresh and hugely entertaining show. Take a picnic and prepare to laugh.