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Twelfth Night (Chester)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Venue: Grovenor Park
Where: Chester

Grosvenor Park in Chester is a delightful setting for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a tale of mistaken identity and mischief. The same cast appear in Glyn Maxwell’s companion piece, Masters Are You Mad? which alternates with this Bard classic.

Separated by a shipwreck, siblings Viola and Sebastian find themselves in Illyria each thinking the other dead. The play focuses on Viola who masquerades as a man, falling in love with her master the Duke of Orsino and becoming the object of Lady Olivia’s affections. Along the way, a motley crew of noblemen and servants also combine to create widespread mayhem. Krupa Pattani’s Viola is fun, feisty and commands the stage in this pivotal role; she has the audience on her side throughout.

Twelfth Night’s design, by takis, is simple and natural – with bamboo poles offering useful screening, and areas of differing height provide interest. A path through the performance area gives entrance and exit options, encouraging movement and giving all the audience good views. Directing, Alex Clifton makes good use of the design and keeps the story moving on, even in the slower sections of Shakespeare’s script, helped by the strongest elements of the piece which are the comedy scenes.

The most crowd-pleasing scenes feature Sir Toby Belch (Jack Lord), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Scott Arthur) and Feste (Chris Vincent). Together with Fabian (Ellen O’Grady) and Maria (Victoria Gee), the characters’ movement is well choreographed particularly during their Malvolio scheme. All the comedy performances are outstanding; Sir Toby is a charming drunk, while Sir Andrew is goofy and exuberan and Malvolio’s pomposity is a joy. As often with Shakespeare, the Fool character provides comedy and serious scheming and, as Feste, Chris Vincent gives an exceptionally energetic and nuanced performance.

Outdoor settings can bring serious pitfalls: Grosvenor Park though, has plenty of covered seating and a well-contained stage area. Performers mingle with the audience and this is well managed. Although some voices are a little quiet at the start, they soon rectify this and the very occasional traffic noise is easy to ignore, once engaged with the performance.

There’s a lovely community spirit among the audience and theatre staff, which helps to make this an excellent way to experience a high quality theatre production.

- Laura Maley