Friday, July 29, 2011

Summertime in England means touring outdoor theatre, traditionally camp as panto and inevitably vulnerable to the vagaries of, well, summertime in England. The last three open-air shows I saw were all victims of rain from heaven dropping upon the place beneath with no likeness whatsoever to mercy: Oddsocks struggled on with the Scottish play while Miracle's Sherlock Holmes and Illyria's Mr Fox both took shelter, losing along with the umbrellas and damp picnics some of the dynamic energy of these larger-than-stage productions.
Wonderful, then, that for the return of Illyria to Frome with Twelfth Night, the evening was warm and dry and the ECOS amphitheatre happily crammed with a family audience and a party atmosphere. Director Oliver Gray takes his responsibility to Shakespeare's text seriously, going back to the First Folio editions to seek out and expose innuendo wherever it may hide. He follows the Elizabethan tradition of using a multi-tasking team of five players, with a brilliant quintet: Alastair Chisholm, Martin Clark, Lawrence Kemp, Emmeline Prior and Miriam Jay Allwright doubled up in unlikely ways to create a score of characters, most of whom are unrequitedly in love. This is quick-change, quick-fire comedy, every line played for laughs and lots of witty adlibs, yet the poignancy is there too in moments of menace and magic, as if longing for love can bewitch the eyes as powerfully as Puck's fairy juice - this production is more than an al-fresco romp, it touches a real Shakespearean nerve of human frailty and how little we understand our own impulses or our universe.

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