Twelfth Night at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

There are few pursuits as British as watching Shakespeare in the open air – find out what BRITAIN thought of this re-imagining of this classic comedy…

Twelfth Night Re-imagined. Photo Johan Persson
Credit: Johan Persson

There is something quintessentially British about the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Perhaps it is the backdrop of the luscious rose gardens and the nosey lakeside swans as you approach the theatre. Or perhaps it is the performance material, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Or maybe, just maybe, it is the steadfast stoicism of the plastic mackintosh-wrapped public, who’ll enjoy performances come wind, rain or shine.

The programme tells me that this new version of Twelfth Night is reimagined for ‘everyone aged six and over’, and there is, at times, a child-like aura to this pirate-like, carnivalesque world. It began with us being asked to sway and swoosh to create the sound of the waves – the shore is, after all, where the two twins Sebastian (Guy Lewis) and Viola (Sarah Ridgeway) are marooned at the beginning. We shuffled our feet to a dance too and there was even time for the luckiest 10-year-old in England to take part in an on-stage dual featuring water pistols. It’s certainly a nod to the summer tradition of panto, but the audience participation never feels stilted, nor does it isolate the adults in the audience (of which there were many).

The actors’ performances are superb – many play multiple roles – while a special mention must be given to Nick Malinowski whose simultaneous portrayal of the John Travolta-esque Duke Orsino and the shipwrecked ‘some are born great’ Malvolio shifts between hilarity and bury-your-face-in-your-hands absurdity. Also captivating is the Scottish actor Iain Johnstone whose Feste is the perfect melancholic troubadour. Music is a crucial element of this production; pianos, cellos, ukuleles, guitars and drums create an upbeat atmosphere, with each cast member a multi-instrumentalist. I can only imagine this production to have been a casting director’s dream – or nightmare depending on how you look at it.

On the whole I thoroughly enjoyed this family-friendly production – Shakespeare is always extra special when you know the play already. Yet for those with a minimal knowledge of the play, the weaving of this tale of mistaken identity and star-crossed lovers is clear, articulate and – importantly for a production which seeks to introduce Shakespeare to children – faithful to the original dialogue: there’s no dumbing down here. As if this wasn’t enough, a hilarious touch saw a giant illuminated fairground sign light up every time a character falls in love. Still what I found myself most swept up with was the music, sailor ditty ‘Hey ho, the wind and the rain,’ particularly apt considering the changeability of the British summer weather. As the Duke Orsino says, “if music be the food of love, play on!”

Twelfth Night is on until 12 July. Upcoming shows at the Open Air Theatre are The Gershwins’
Porgy and Bess (17 July-23 August) and To Kill a Mockingbird (28 August-13 September). Visit openairtheatre.com for more information.

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