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Review of English Repertory Theatre’s Twelfth Night at Oxford Castle

English Repertory TheatreThe beautiful surroundings of Oxford Castle are the perfect setting for Illyria, the site of Twelfth Night, one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies. In the smaller exercise yard, there is the stage area, sweeping steps, backdrop of a grassy knoll and a ‘river’ running through. The outdoor ambience, complete with breeze and transformation from evening to night, enhance the picture of shipwrecked heroes and their fun-loving companion’s quest for love.

Gavin Davis’ modern interpretation intensifies the hilarious shenanigans with a very British influence – cast adorned in Union Jack attire – play out an almost music hall/variety show style with additional contemporary songs and slapstick physical comedy (prepare to experience the shipwreck first hand!). Daniel Jennings’ larger than life performance comprises both Sea Captain Antonio and the fool Feste, in a seamless form, with his presence filling the performance area, and drawing the audience into the action by sharing the fun. He is the ringmaster of this circus.

A shipwreck has brought Viola to disguise herself as a man and seek employment with Count Orsino. The British theme continues in what seems to be a rather ‘garden party’ backdrop to the action. Orsino and Viola (disguised as Cesario) bond over tennis, japes and tea. Orsino, renewing his pursuance of the lovely Countess Olivia, to distract himself from his confusing feelings for this new young ‘man’ in his service. Cesario becomes the reluctant messenger of love for his/her master and encounters the feisty and lustful Olivia who is drawn from her period of mourning by an almost manic obsession with this new blood. Annemarie Highmore plays Olivia as crazy in love in a fun frolicsome way (and congratulations should go to the skill of not looking as completely frozen as she must have been in a swimsuit on a particularly cool August evening). Rachel Waring handles the dual persona of Viola and Cesario both pursued and pursuing love with endearing ease, her character trying to do right for everybody, the hero of the piece.

What would Twelfth Night be without the mischief of the lovable rogues? Sir Toby Belch and Olivia’s gentlewoman Maria (Jack Taylor and Katharine Mangold) are the perpetrators of the naughty playfulness that is running alongside the complicated love life of Olivia’s household. Their additional pranks on poor steward Malvolio convolute the situation even more, encouraging him to dress and behave in an uncharacteristic and ridiculous manner. Steven Blacker is uproarious in his yellow tights and maniacal grin as he follows what he thinks are the instructions to win his mistress’s heart. Throw into the pot Sir Andrew, also set on wooing the Countess, and we have all the ingredients for what is essentially a wonderful British farce.

The play comes to a happy and joyful conclusion, and a feeling that the cast have enjoyed the performance as much as the audience. A beautifully produced interpretation in unique surrounds.

Review by Rachel Borland

21st July to 5th September 2014
Celebrating 450 years since the birth of the Bard and to launch a brave new annual season of popular plays by English playwrights, Oxford Castle Quarter will host Twelfth Night in an unprecedented co-production with the English Repertory Theatre, to be presented open air from July until September this year.

About the show:
Who invited Feste? Who is that girl from the shipwreck and why does everyone love her? Just what does that Butler think he is doing? The annual Illyrian Garden Party goes so horribly wrong with just a little help from the drunken antics of the local gentry, a large bottle of Scotch and a generous sprinkling or piety, to bring you the most hilarious results in this rollicking tale of mistaken identity and unrequited love.
Prices: Adult – £22.50, Concessions – £17.50. Group discounts available.
Performances: Matinee performances take place in the Exercise yard and start at 2.30pm. Evening performances take place in the Castle courtyard and start at 7.30pm


  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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