Fergus O'Donnell as Malvolio and Lizzy Watts as Olivia.
Fergus O'Donnell as Malvolio and Lizzy Watts as Olivia.

In Cast's excellent cafe before the start of the show, a woman at the same table as me took out a synopsis of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night in preparation for the performance. She must have found Filter's version something of a surprise, though possibly knowledge of the original is essential to make any narrative sense of this gallop through the play, 90 minutes including copious musical numbers and extended horseplay. Despite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre's involvement, this version seems to me to do Twelfth Night no favours.

On the other hand, Twelfth Night offers a highly effective launch-pad for physical comedy, decent songs, ingenious sound gags (Tom Haines and Ross Hughes in charge) and uninhibited audience involvement. The first-night audience was equally enthusiastic in its final applause and its relish for joining in the knockabout fun.

Six actors play nine parts, Sebastian's sea captain friend Antonio the only character of any substance to be cut, but the truncated script focuses mainly on the unorthodox wooing of Olivia by Cesario/Viola and the war between Malvolio and the lighter characters. Orsino is somewhat sidelined, though Jonathan Broadbent is an engaging link with the audience and doubles as an unusually energetic Sir Andrew Aguecheek: full marks for the "back trick"!

Sean Holmes' production, redirected by Oliver Dimsdale and Ferdy Roberts, takes place somewhere between a rock-concert and a props store, with two specialist musicians (percussion and cello/guitar) supported by pre-recorded sound and contributions from the actors.

The best integration of the original play with music and clowning comes with the development of the second verse of "O mistress mine" ("Present mirth hath present laughter") into an increasingly manic country-tinged number while members of the audience gleefully hurl pompoms at Sir Andrew, hoping to stick them to his hat! Very entertaining, if rather an unlikely thing to devote 10 per cent of Twelfth Night's performance time to!

The gulling of Malvolio proves how potent cheap laughs can be, with Fergus O'Donnell coming on like a guitar hero, then bravely stripping to absurdly tight gold shorts for a unique interpretation of the yellow stockings cross gartered costume.

Oddly enough, in the middle of all this, the Viola/Olivia scenes are played with touching sincerity: Polly Frame's Scots-accented Viola (doubling Sebastian – neatly distinguished) suggests the hurt beneath the chirpiness and Lizzy Watts, even if not my idea of a countess, is equally good as an unusually spirited and expressive Olivia. Geoffrey Lumb blusters well enough as Sir Toby Belch, the only character in period costume, but Sandy Foster's two parts (Maria and Feste) are severely reduced: apart from singing well, she is reduced to pulling Art of Coarse Acting faces.

- Ron Simpson