The Bard is back with a bang!
The Lord Chamberlain’s Men specialise in touring Shakespeare’s plays, performed much as he intended, to venues he would have known. So when the all male company first pitched up at Shrewsbury Castle a decade ago, it was a perfect fit. Up went the House Full signs and everyone’s expectations.
The same signs were up again last night as 500 faithful fans streamed through the portcullis for the company’s triumphant return to the natural embrace of the castle walls.
Their ‘Twelfth Night’ is a real romp. They roar through the filleted play with a cast of seven, shape-shifting actors – who don’t all appear on stage together till twenty five past nine.
It’s a cracking cast and the enforced doubling just adds to the fun. The men playing women do so with restraint. There’s no false femininity…just honest utterance of Shakespeare’s lines…letting the author do the work.
So Ollo Clark is as boyish in Viola’s pale sea-washed dress as when she dons Cesario’s doublet and hose. Her impossible affection for her master – Edmund Sage-Green’s Orsino – has all the hopelessness of a schoolgirl crush on a drama teacher; and the silent comedy of their tender moments – a dumb play of petty petting – is as funny as the jokes.
Tom Lincoln’s Olivia is exceptional. By refusing to ‘girl it up’, he makes the description of his/her own physical beauty quite hilarious. Coveting Viola, he’s like a cougar with an innocent toy boy; whilst Clark’s portrayal of the pivotal penny-dropping moment is clear and communicative.
Meanwhile, Edmund Sage-Green throws on frock to become a common cockney Maria. It’s as if Eliza Doolittle had got a job at Downton Abbey.
When the men are playing men they are equally large as life. Jon-Paul Rowden gives us a marvellous Malvolio with the vanity of Kenneth Williams and the feyness of Larry Grayson. When he lustily flexes his yellow, gartered stockings, their ‘day-glow’ hue brought the house down.
Director Andrew Normington is unashamedly playing for laughs. But, as the daylight fades and the footlights cast their long shadows, there is tenderness too. Subtle staging allows the divided twins to spot each other by turns. The audience seemed transfixed, waiting for the happy resolution; which made the curtain call cheers sound all the louder.
And the best news is they are back in the county in September.