“Twelfth Night” by East London Shakespeare Festival- 23/07/22

Now, I mentioned in my last post that we were off to a second theatrical production, almost straight from “Room on the Broom”. If this sounds like madness, let me assure you that it was. This second show wasn’t one I was reviewing so just attending as a normal, paying punter. Which means that this won’t be a proper review as I was part-relaxing and part-child-wrangling. But it’s rare that anything like this comes to Highams Park so I couldn’t let it pass without a mention.

The production was staged by East London Shakespeare Festival, whose mission is to “merge the contemporary culture of East London with the inspirational storytelling of Shakespeare’s plays in outdoor parks and community spaces across East London.” They take Shakespeare out into the community, in the hope of reaching those who wouldn’t naturally access the plays. Of course, this isn’t super-applicable to this one, who insisted on wearing her “Taming of the Shrew” outfit to the performance:

She’s already read Twelfth Night as well and claims it’s her “favourite Shakespeare comedy”, so had some idea what was going on – more so that Reuben, who asked me quite a fundamental question about the plot (“are they the same person?”) surprisingly close to the end . Still, I think he enjoyed the slapstick and banter between Toby Belch and Sir Andrew. There was a lot to enjoy about this production – from the 80s music to the audience participation – so didn’t matter too much if the younger audience members weren’t 100% following the plot.

And let’s face it, Twelfth Night does ask you to partake in a pretttty big suspension of disbelief, doesn’t it? If I grew a beard, I don’t think I could convince my sister in law that I was in fact my brother. Might be worth a try sometime though.

A few practical things first  – the production was in a fenced off area in the Highams Park next to Humphreys. I’ve maypoled danced there most weekends over Spring and sang there last week so I, of all people, should know that there is no shade in that bit of the park. Eva had brought her umbrella with her but got tired of holding it up so eventually went to sit basically in the blackberry bushes at the side. You can guess how those Tudor sleeves fared among brambles. Roo kinda ducked behind our camping chairs for shade but I think we were all relieved when it clouded over halfway through. So if you’re going to an outdoor production, probably best to get there early to get a good shady spot. There was an aisle to our left that the actors were using to get to the stage so no one could sit in that bit, which was a shame as it was one of the shadiest parts. The camping chairs were also a good move, even if we had to stop at Tesco on the way to buy them. I do own some, but they’ve been off on vacay with a choir member since Christmas so it seemed worth £15 to buy a couple more. We also stocked up on drinks and fruit to keep hydrated while we sat in the sun and some sweets to try and keep the kids happy.

Onto the play itself. You might have guessed by the reference to 80s music that this was not the most traditional Shakespeare ever. I’m normally a bit of a purist when it comes to these things but, as I say, I was just there to relax and a frothy, fun version is sometimes what you need. Malvolio’s yellow stockings – neon fishnets – were certainly striking and the use of “Don’t You Want Me” just before the interval fitted surprisingly well into the characters’ emotional states at the time. There were still the more traditional Twelfth Night songs (“With hey, ho, the wind and the rain”) but this version definitely took a “more is more” approach when it came to music. After all, if music be the food of love…play on!

The ensemble worked well together and there was some great physical comedy, especially in the scene with the plants. Malvolio, played by Philip Honeywell, was fittingly unlikeable and I really liked Ursula Early’s interpretation of Olivia as clingy and desperate for love. Olivia is often a bit of a bland character but she was infused here with a kind of nervous energy that made her much more interesting. I believe it was Arysha Kelly’s professional debut as Viola/Cesario and, if so, she did a magnificent job holding the whole twisty plot together. As well as acting, the cast sang, played guitars and even did some vogueing. What a multi-talented lot.

I missed a large chunk of the second half because Eva had wandered off in search of a drink and found a puppy. But we were back in time for the ending where, in classic Shakespearean fashion, everything worked out just fine. Even if the Duke was struggling to tell which twin was which.

If you’re looking for a laidback, family-friendly version of Shakespeare this summer, this is just right. There are still a few dates left –

27-29 July at Clissold Park, N16

05-07 Aug at Springfield Park, E5

For tickets and more info, click here.

No disclaimer needed as I actually paid for this one. All opinions do remain honest and my own though. 


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