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Guildford Shakespeare Company’s Twelfth Night – 14th Open-Air Season

GSC Twelfth Night - Alex Scott Fairley, Emma Fenney, Isaac Stanmore (c) Steve Porter.
GSC Twelfth Night – Alex Scott Fairley, Emma Fenney, Isaac Stanmore (c) Steve Porter.

Having attended many productions by Guildford Shakespeare Company in the last few years my overwhelming feeling is how imaginative the company are in finding unique and special places to put on their productions. The audience may come to watch a play but many like me will also have discovered how lovely this historic town is.

This summer’s Twelfth Night is being performed in the idyllic setting of the Castle Bandstand under the cover of trees and with a backdrop of the bowling green and castle. Illyria is a 1950s seaside resort and Olivia (Sarah Gobran) is the owner of the Grand Hotel (and a Countess!) Olivia is mourning the loss of her beloved brother and leaves the running of the hotel to her steward, Malvolio (James Burton) who is getting ideas above his station.

Olivia can be seen wandering about beyond the set for about half an hour before she appears on stage, this illustrates how she has distanced herself from everyday proceedings, not something you could do in the confines of a theatre. The action begins when Viola (Francesca Baker) is washed ashore following a shipwreck in which she believes her twin brother, Sebastian, has drowned. She disguises herself as a boy, Cesario, and manages to find employment with the Duke of the Island, Orsino (Tom Richardson). Orsino is hopelessly in love with Olivia who will not respond to his advances as she is in mourning. Viola’s brother Sebastian (Isaac Stanmore) is also shipwrecked and is brought to Illyria by the sea captain Antonio (James Burton).

Much of the comedy is derived in true Shakespearean fashion from mistaken identity, gender confusion, drunkenness and unrequited love. Twelfth Night is a very popular and frequently performed play and it can be difficult to find a way to do anything new with it without spoiling the original comedy. GSC have managed to do this with the addition of music, notably from Rosalind Blessed as Feste the Fool. The comic scenes are always performed to perfection by GSC notably by Francesca Baker as Cesario and Tom Richardson as Orsino in their unwitting romantic scenes. Matt Pinches as Olivia’s drunken uncle Sir Toby Belch, Alex Scott Fairley as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and James Burton as Malvolio make the most of the classic comedy scenes with impeccable comic timing.

There really isn’t a weak link in the cast, all of them are excellent. Guildford Shakespeare Company always manage to squeeze every bit of fun into their productions, this is yet another triumph.

5 Star Rating

Review by Sally Knipe

This brand-new production transports the eccentric world of Illyria the sunny British seaside of the early 1950s. In a world still in transition from the austerity and grief of the Second World War and looking towards the birth of youth culture later in the decade, this is the perfect setting for a play that evokes melancholy and merriment in equal measure. “The most perfect comedy ever written” The Guardian

TWELFTH NIGHT is adapted and directed by long-time GSC collaborator CHARLOTTE CONQUEST, whose credits boast National Theatre, London, Shakespeare’s Globe, National Theatre Oslo and most recently Strictly Ballroom for West Yorkshire Playhouse. She is joined by Set and Costume Designer NEIL IRISH, another regular with GSC whose other work includes Opera Holland Park and English Touring Opera. A play steeped in music; TWELFTH NIGHT will feature original music composed by PETER LOLE, and sung by ROSALIND BLESSED as Feste, who last appeared with GSC as Goneril alongside her father Brian Blessed in King Lear in 2015.

The cast features several other returning actors, including EMMA FENNEY (Maria), ALEX SCOTT FAIRLEY (Sir Andrew) and JAMES BURTON (Malvolio). Joining them are ISAAC STANMORE (Sebastian), TOM RICHARDSON (Orsino) and new graduate FRANCESCA BAKER (Viola). GSC’s Actor-Managers SARAH GOBRAN (Olivia) and MATT PINCHES (Sir Toby Belch) complete the company. The same cast will be joined by Peter Gordon for The Merry Wives of Windsor in July.

Hilarious and heart-breaking, TWELFTH NIGHT follows the fortunes of Viola, who, washed up on the shores of Illyria, disguises herself as a boy to seek employment. Sent to woo the Lady Olivia by Duke Orsino, it soon becomes clear that Viola’s disguise may just be a little too good.

Francesca Baker Viola / Anne Page
Rosalind Blessed Feste / Mistress Quickly
James Burton Malvolio / Master Ford
Emma Fenney Maria / Mistress Ford
Alex Scott Fairley Sir Andrew / Dr Cauis

Sarah Gobran Olivia / Mistress Page
Peter Gordon Sir John Falstaff
Matt Pinches Sir Toby Belch / Master Page
Thomas Richardson Orisino / Host & Slender
Isaac Stanmore Sebastian / Evans & Pistol

Director(s) Charlotte Conquest (Twelfth Night) / Caroline Devlin (Merry Wives)
Designer Neil Irish
Design Assistant Anett Black
Sound Design Matt Eaton
Lighting Designer Mark Dymock (Merry Wives)
Fight Director Philip d’Orleans
Assistant Director Indiana Lown Collins
Producers Sarah Gobran/Matt Pinches

Guildford Castle Gardens, Castle Street, Guildford, GU1 3XZ
13 – 29 June (excl. Sundays) Evenings 7.30pm

Stoke Park Railway, London Road, Guildford, GU1 1TU
13 – 27 July (excl. Mondays)


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