Twelfth Night [Outdoor Production]

After two years of not being able to perform live, owing to some virus or other, I am pleased to say that BOAT are back “on the island” with a triumphant production of Twelfth Night.

Attending one of these events on a fine Summer’s evening is an all-in-one package of delights.  There is a trip across Poole Harbour to Brownsea Island, a couple of hours or so to mingle with the Red Squirrels, the Common Terns on the lagoon and/or your fellow BOATers, while indulging in whatever food and drink you brought over with you (or are partaking in from the bar).  There is an opportunity to visit the 19th century St. Mary’s Church by candlelight, to listen to the period music by Courtlye Musick  and The Mayflower Consort, then – the main course – there is a famous play by William Shakespeare.

In preparation for this review I have re-read the play and – frankly – it didn’t inspire me.  The monochrome words, from a 1601 (or so) post Christmas entertainment with minimal direction from “the bard”, are as nothing compared to seeing those words interpreted, in glorious costume and colour, with the brilliant direction of Brian Woolton, by talented and experienced performers – old faces and new – of the BOAT cast.

Notable amongst the newbies must be counted Brooke Camilleri Agius, who takes the lead role as Viola/Cesario and Nick Robinson, who brings so much bawdy humour – complete with suggestive body-language – to the part of Sir Toby Belch.  Also making his BOAT debut is Christopher Wareham, who brings abundant character and humour to the relatively minor part of Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian.

Of the oldies there were some who have returned to the fold after many years of absence and others whom we have seen often in recent years.  Scott Free returns after 18 years  and plays an excellent Feste (the Fool) – singing several songs , which may be more medieval/folk than his “daytime job” as a swing/jazz crooner but are, nevertheless, a tour de force.  After a mere 10 years away, Ant Henson convinces as the lovelorn Duke Orsino – torn between his love for Olivia and a strange attraction to his new manservant.  Stuart Glossop, whom I have seen in many local productions, excels as a very camp Sir Andrew Aguecheek while BOAT veteran, Martha Jenkins, brings out Olivia’s love for Cesario and/or Sebastian very well.  Rachael de Courcy Beamish brings enthusiasm and humour to the role of Maria as she plots the downfall of Malvolio and deserves a special mention for her protracted laughter (not easy to perform on demand) after seeing the aforementioned steward “dressed to kill” in the manner that she and her co-conspirators have designed.   Simon Meredith is another regular and he lights up the part of Malvolio – transforming scowls and grimaces into ridiculous cheeriness, followed by confusion, dismay, shame and anger – to the great amusement of conspirators and audience alike.

The convention of the box-tree scene (Act II, Scene V), in which Malvolio is unaware of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Fabian (a great part for regular Denise King) hiding behind ornamental box-trees, becomes a riot of slapstick as they desert the stylised ‘lollipops’, which symbolise the trees, to variously (and hilariously) dive behind walls, plinths and other parts of the set to avoid being seen by Malvolio.   If I could save just one scene from this production for posterity – this would be it.

A great performance by a talented leading cast is nothing without the set, the costumes, the supporting cast, the stage management, the lighting and sound; this show has all of those in spades.  Well done to everyone – BOAT are back – with a BANG!