Twelfth Night

Loft Theatre, Leamington, until December 15

Reviewer: Peter McGarry


The clue is in the sub-title What You Will.

Even the least of Shakespeare enthusiasts will have heard of Twelfth Night and will probably associate it with post-Christmas frolics. Certainly the name of the game is revelry and you’re invited to enjoy it on several different platforms.

What makes the play so good is a tightness of construction that is never deliberately up front. Story line and characters are drawn with a subtlety which enables them to function on separate levels of individual choice.

William Wilkinson’s production is fast, bright and lively. It opts for plenty of movement and cheekily stampedes a few sacred cows. Why, for example, does Sir Andrew Aguecheek wear a kilt?  Why does the recently widowed Lady Olivia keep careering happily around the stage looking like a cross between Dorothy from Oz and Sandy from Grease?  Why do characters wear trilby hats or totter on high heels and sport other types of anachronistic clothing?

The simple answer to all these is: why not?  Who says we need a formal costume pattern?  Where on earth is Illyria anyway?

So it’s down to what makes this an enjoyable evening. Clever direction, spirited performances and a dazzling set design by Kimberlee Green.

It opens with a tremendous sea storm sequence for the first entrance of lovelorn Viola, hinting at some of the play’s darker qualities. These don’t really recur because the antics that follow cast them aside in favour of lightness and cheer.

Beatrice Cranke’s Viola is finely drawn without recourse to too much boyish posturing when she adopts her disguise.  Jeremy Heynes, kilt or not, is a delightfully comic if never very foppish Aguecheek.  Craig Shelton’s Malvolio has strength and substance but does not convey the patronising pomposity that so sets the character aside from the rest.

Indeed, Malvolio should be the key to the play’s element of tragic undertone, a pointer to the more cruel aspects of human nature culminating in his final aggrieved line.

Here the choice is clearly fun. An opportunity to savour colour, spectacle and all-round entertainment.

Definitely a case of what you will.


 Reviewer: Nick le Mesurier

Nick Le Mesurier reviews Twelfth Night at the Loft Theatre, Leamington The Loft’s version of Twelfth Night is a colourful rendition of Shakespeare’s tale of unrequited love, delivered in modern dress but without fancy gimmicks or pretensions. It is a show full of bold characters who speak their lines with obvious affection and respect. One doesn’t go to see the play for the plot: one goes for the feeling. In Illyria, fantasy and reality become one, and when the two are finally separated we and the characters are left wiser and without regret.

Except for Malvolio. We feel for him as his self-delusion is exposed. He is perfectly characterised by Craig Shelton as a Stan Laurel figure, tragic in his willingness to be deceived, his famous yellow stockings and cross garters lurking beneath his dark suit and bowler. It is a beautiful performance. Visually this production is stunning, the set and costumes full of strong colours, the direction generous and firm. The casting is good throughout. Peter Daly-Dickenson is distinctly untrustworthy as the roguish Sir Toby Belch, and Jeremy Heynes is a slightly forlorn if beautifully kilted Sir Andrew Aguecheek. These and other experienced actors draw the best from rising stars such as Elizabeth Champion, gorgeous as Olivia, and Beatrice Cranke as Viola / Cesario. Martin Cosgrif as the wise clown Feste might have been Shakespeare himself, holding up the mirror to our all too human vanity: his singing held the audience spellbound. Lorna Middleton is feisty as Maria, and Mark Roberts suitably lovelorn as Orsino. All in all it is a beautifully imagined rendition that is modern without seeking to be controversial, and it brings a strong season at The Loft to a triumphant end.

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