Review: Twelfth Night by York Shakespeare Project

A story of love and its many guises… Twelfth Night. Photograph: John Saunders
6 Apr 2014 @ 10.51 am
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A story of love and its many guises… Twelfth Night. Photograph: John Saunders
A story of love and its many guises… Twelfth Night. Photographs: John Saunders

Review: Twelfth Night by York Shakespeare Project
Venue: York Theatre Royal, April 4

Isn’t it a wonderful thing to leave a play with a smile on your face? Such was the case just now while walking home from York Shakespeare Project’s superb adaptation of Twelfth Night, a production so fun and imaginative that it will have me cooing for days.

The cosy and intimate atmosphere of the Theatre Royal’s Studio is perfectly suited to this warm and engaging production, which from the very start – with the cast strumming guitars and joking amongst themselves onstage – draws you in to a folky take on the fictional realm of Illyria.

Indeed, the flat cap and braces-sporting actors could be extras in a Mumford and Sons video and the spirit of fun they exude is infectious.

Illyria itself, represented by a backdrop of bric-a-brac and other assorted junk, brings to mind childhood games of hide-and-seek in dusty, cluttered attics which further conjures a sense of magic and playfulness that runs throughout the play.

With the help of this imaginative setting, director Mark Smith has given the cast full licence to play and improvise to their hearts’ content in this story of love and its many guises.

Stand out performers include the superb Laura Soper in the role of Viola, here making her debut performance for YSP. Her poise, timing and loving treatment of the text speaks of someone with genuine star quality.

Another is Matthew Wignall, playing the dense but likeable Sir Andrew Aguecheek, whose comedic performance is one of many highlights from this production.

The merry musical band
The merry musical band

Special mention must also go to Maurice Crichton as the fool, Feste. Now a veteran of seven YSP shows, not only is he a fine actor but also a gifted musician, who leads the rest of the cast in a number of gorgeous songs on his ukele.

Music, after all, is really what binds this play together.

It is always exciting to hear how Shakespeare’s songs have been adapted in any new production of his work and once again YSP has excelled itself with a mixture of catchy melodies and haunting harmonies that you could happily listen to and in a dream-like state for hours on end.

I must admit to watching this multi-talented cast – all accomplished singers and musicians – with a slight envy, wishing that I too could join their merry musical band.

According to the programme notes ‘band’ is an accurate description, as the cast have recently formed their own ensemble – The Salt Water Thieves (keep an ear out for them at open mic nights).

As York residents we are extremely privileged to have an initiative such as YSP to enjoy.

Their ability to churn out high quality productions and showcase some of the city’s finest acting talent is something both they and the city can be proud of, and this offering of Shakespeare’s comic masterpiece is no exception.

Just see go and see it!