Twelfth Night or What You Will

Regents Park Open Air Theatre Summer Season has fast become a staple in many theatre enthusiast’s diaries, with the promise of seeing classic plays and musicals executed in new ways, it always makes for an enjoyable evening at the theatre and this play is no exception. Twelfth Night was the first play ever staged at Regents Park in 1932, so it is wonderful to see this new modernised version taking to the boards.

Twelfth Night is renowned as Shakespeare’s great comedy about grief, and this is perfectly portrayed throughout the piece. The setting has been moved to a small café in a seaside town called Olivia, named after the diva who owns it. The café has become a safe space for Olivia’s queer chosen family who support her in grieving over her late brother. In a story about mistaken identities, unrequited loves and gender switches, this new revival directed by Owen Horsley is a wonderful exploration of queer relationships and is more open about the sexuality and obvious passions between some of the same sex characters written by Shakespeare. Owen has wonderfully captured the original feeling of this play while modernising it and maintaining its core meanings.

The set design by Basia Binkowska, along with costume design by Ryan Dawson Laight really emphasise the grandeur of the piece. Drawing on inspirations from the 1930-40’s, there is an air of sophistication until you delve below the surface. The set has been well thought out and is functional as well as beautiful to look at. Ryan previously designed costumes for last years La Cage Aux Folles and you can see a similar style in a lot of the costumes here too, touches of glitter and well-tailored suits all bring glamour to the play.

Anna Francolini plays the role of Olivia with wonderful chaotic energy. A wonderfully exaggerated diva attitude fits perfectly here. She mourns her brother with untold grief and finds herself falling into a spiral as she makes choices and falls for the disguised Viola believing her to be a man servant sent by Orsino to persuade Olivia to be with him. Evelyn Miller is strong and intense as Viola, too mourning the loss of her brother following a shipwreck. She is disguised and trying to make sense of the chaotic world around her.

Michael Matus has a star turn in this play as Toby, an aging drag queen who is at the centre of the drama and plots throughout. Bringing the comedy relief in a pairing with Matthew Spencer as Sir Andrew the two together create magic on stage.

Accompanied by a selection of songs composed by Sam Kenyon which have a beautiful sound to them and give some actors the chance to show off beautiful singing voices. The feel of the songs is in keeping with the original text and all add to the progression of the story very well.

This is a fantastic interpretation of the original writing, and like no other Shakespeare play that has ever been seen before. With delightful comedic moments and then sadness following shortly after. People often say they cannot understand Shakespeare in it’s original forms but this piece feels up to date and accessible.

This show was reviewed at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre on the 9th May 2024 where it runs until the 8th June 2024.  Tickets available here: Twelfth Night | Open Air Theatre

Review written by Rosie Browne


Photo credit: Richard Lakos

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