Review: Twelfth Night, Open Air Theatre

Anna Francolini and Richard Cant shine in a queered-up, bittersweet take on Twelfth Night at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

“And what should I do in Illyria?”

From Anna Francolini’s Olivia channelling Patti LuPone, Ryan Dawson Laight’s costumes drawing from Jean-Paul Gaultier’s predilection for a sailor and Michael Matus’ Toby Belch as a gold lamé-covered drag queen, it is clear that there’s a gay old time to be had in this Illyria. On the shores of the Mediterranean, this community swirls around the laidback vibes of queer café Olivia’s, a fresh outlook wherein Shakespeare’s machinations can take place.

Owen Horsley’s take on Twelfth Night for the Open Air Theatre is a lot of fun, especially when it focuses on Olivia’s household. Dawson Laight’s costumes and Carole Hancock’s wig work establish diva credentials from the off but Francolini grounds her Olivia in real emotion too, her grief for her brother palpable. Sam Kenyon’s songs allow ample opportunity for her to show off her seriously impressive voice too, especially as she warms up to the potential heralded by Cesario’s arrival.

Evelyn Miller offers more understated work as Viola, turned Cesario, but real chemistry percolates between the pair, arguably more so than with Raphael Bushay’s Orsino. Andro Cowperthwaite’s Sebastian connects much more with Nicholas Karimi’s excellent Antonio than is often staged and whilst one might raise an eyebrow at the haste with which he ends up in Olivia’s bed, the bittersweet irony of him ending up with another man plays out nicely in the final tableaux.

In the cerulean tones of Basia Bińkowska’s open set gorgeously lit by Aideen Malone, the closeness of Olivia’s crew also connects well. Richard Cant’s beautifully spoken Malvolio is officious rather than truly objectionable, making him a more empathetic figure as Matus’ bruiser of a Belch has no compunction about the joshing aimed towards him. With Matthew Spencer’s Andrew and Anita Reynolds’ Maria joining in and Julie Legrand’s mournful Feste flirting around the edges, it’s more careless pranking rather than truly callous, a chosen family playing games with each other, ultimately closing ranks to protect its heartbroken mistress.

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