The Dell Stratford on Avon 18th June 2017

The sun beat down on the hottest day in Stratford since 1976. Sun and Moon’s Twelfth Night drew a crowd of a couple of hundred people and held them. This is a wonderful play. It’s dark and light, fast and furious and slow and tender. If performed well there is a full palette of emotion on show. It was performed very well! Twice!! This audience laughed, fell silent, sang along, engaged and even shed a quiet tear or two. A wonderful afternoon on the banks of the Avon in one of the best theatrical settings in the world. I love this play and I loved this production.

David Johnson as Sebastian. This is as strong a Sebastian as I have seen contrasting impressively and appropriately with his characterisation of Sir Andrew. The cameo where he fights as both characters just off stage is a master-class in slapstick and comic timing.

Sam Pike as Sir Toby Belch. This is an armoured car of a performance. Sir Toby apparently has no concern for who he hurts and what gets in his way as he sets out to squeeze all the pleasure from life that he can. His actions and his ultimate vulnerability are cleverly shaken when he receives bad news from the war.

Mike Gilpin as Feste. Here is a subtle and clever performance of a subtle and clever character. Feste, like other supposed fools in Shakespeare is actually the sharpest eyed of them all. Through a poetic turn of phrase, a fine singing voice (and guitar playing) we are charmed by the clown and allow him to guide us through the inter-weaving plots of the play.

Jessica Holyoake as Maria and Sam Pike as Sir Toby. The carefully underplayed tenderness between these two adds greatly to the effectiveness of the more raucous scenes. Maria is a main driving force of the action and is played with a carefully balanced mix of authority, deference and rebellion. A fine performance.

Chelsea Marie as Olivia and Melissa Barrett as Viola. Here are two wonderfully contrasting performances. The complexity of their relationship and its untangling is developed wonderfully. Their scenes together are highlights of the production.

George Bradley as Antonio. Antonio is sometimes reduced to something of a theatrical device to move the plot forward. Not here. George Bradley gives him an understanding of the complicated politics of Illyria and a deep ambiguity of his dilemma of being caught between his own safety and the obligations of right and wrong over Sebastian. This Antonio acts as a moral arbiter for the play. A deeply sympathetic performance.

David Johnson with Dotty. Sir Andrew is everybody’s victim. Dotty gives him someone he can rely on not to dupe him or rob him or make a fool of him. Everyone deserves to be adored at least once.

Richard Knox as Malvolio and Chelsea Marie as Olivia. This is one of my favourite Malvolios. Here we retain a sympathy for the victim of the play’s nastiest practical joke while understanding entirely why the rest of the household gang up on him. This is a clever performance making Malvolio both a figure of fun (and an entertaining one at that) and as someone whose pain we share. A good Malvolio requires considerable range. This is a very good Malvolio.

Chelsea Marie as Olivia. In her first scene Olivia needs to rebuke and be rebuked by her fool, exercise authority over her household, receive an unwanted messenger from the duke and to transform from a woman in mourning for her brother into someone rapidly falling in love. It’s quite an ask but Chelsea Marie performs it faultlessly. This is a warm, caring and very beautiful Olivia. A memorable performance.

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Lizi Bennett has perhaps the hardest job of all playing various roles from Curio to the Officer who arrests Antonio as well as adding accomplished violin playing and lovely harmony singing. The music adds enormously to the enjoyment of the play and I for one would like to see (and hear) more of it. Few companies of this scale have such accomplished musicians who also know how to act.

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The success and failure of any production of Twelfth Night rests in the breeches role and in Melissa Barrett Sun and Moon have a fabulous Viola. Acting is done as much in what is not said as it is in the fluent and musical delivery of some of Shakespeare’s best lines. This Viola expressed complicated emotions in every word and every pause. Brilliant.

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Full ensemble harmony singing and playing in an idyllic setting. What a way to end the play. The sun it shineth every day. This production travels to Barnstable, Paignton, Exeter, Bristol and other venues Check out Sun and Moon. This is a performance worth seeing. Shakespeare at its most meaningful and enjoyable.