Twelfth Night (Or What You Will)
Rating: ★★★★
Venue: Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, London
Cast: Raphael Bushay, Richard Cant, Sally Cheng, Andro Cowperthwaite, Anna Francolini, Nicholas Karami, Julie Legrand, Michael Matus, Evelyn Miller, Anita Reynolds, Matthew Spencer, Katherine Toy, Jon Trenchard and Harry Waller

When a shipwreck catapults Viola into their world of abandoned festivities, a web of disguise and deception begins. This new injection of life rocks this melancholic community to the core, but can she finally shake them from their languor and get the party started again? Set against the heat of the Mediterranean sun, Shakespeare’s comedy of mistaken identities is a glorious celebration of love.

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare's most beloved plays, so the prospect of a gender-bending and innovative reimagining left me fizzing with excitement. I think the choice to stage this adaptation of Owen Horsley's Twelfth Night at Regent's Park was a great one, considering the original was the first play ever staged at this theatre back in 1932.

If you're unfamiliar with the play, it follows the story of twins, Viola and Sebastian. Both believe the other has drowned. Viola disguises herself as a man and undertakes the name Cesario and begins to work for the Count, Orsino. In the meantime, Olivia is grieving the loss of her brother and is in no state to find a suitor for herself, but there are plenty of suitors lining up for the opportunity to woo her...

If there was ever a play for gender-bending, Twelfth Night is that, and it's pure queer bliss. Director, Owen Horsley's has taken an already queer play and made it camper - and it works like a dream. The entirety of the play is set in a moonlit café by the sea and the set design from Basia Bińkowska feels immersive, all the more so when actors frequently use the aisles of the theatre as part of the set. This helps to also make the set feel bigger than it is.

Ryan Dawson Laight
does a fantastic job with costume design. I particularly enjoyed Olivia's multitude of overdramatic outfits, which she wows the audience with at every opportunity. I thought the use of more current attire for some characters worked well in modernising the production slightly. While the play stays close to the original material for much of the play, it does have an alternate ending, and without spoiling, it's quite a deflating one. But a bold choice, none the less. 

The choice to make the band part of the cast was an inspired one, and also helped to set the scene of a moonlit café, with live music playing throughout. I also think the use of the many songs throughout was a great way to break up a (slightly too) long production. At nearly three hours, it does feel as though some scenes could have been cut somewhat shorter to become more palatable for audiences.

One aspect this play delivers on in every way is comedic timing. The entire cast is incredibly talented and all bring a unique take on these beloved characters. In particular, the dynamic between Andrew (Matthew Spencer) and Toby (Michael Matus) was a standout of the show. As well as Olivia (Anna Francolini) and Malvolio (Richard Cant), who consistently leave the audience howling with laughter with their wit and well-timed one-liners. 

Orsino (Raphael Bushay) has a domineering stage presence, and has the ability to take ownership of the stage better than most. He brings a gentle and softer approach to the character of Orsino. The chemistry he shares with Viola (Evelyn Miller) is palpable, and their slow burn romance is a performance they both deliver beautifully. 

Owen Horsley has somehow managed to modernise a classic without changing too much of the original material. A tale of mistaken identities at its finest, with a celebration of affection and love in all forms at its centre. An innovative reimagining that will no doubt appeal to classic Shakespeare fans, as well as modern audiences. 

You can book tickets to see Twelfth Night at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, here.

**photo credit: Richard Lakos**

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