★★★ | Twelfth Night – Sheffield Crucible Theatre and National Tour 2014

In Shakespeare’s gentle comedy about unrequited love, tomfoolery and cross-dressing; twins, Viola and Sebastian are separated in a shipwreck and believing each other to have drowned, Viola to disguises herself as a young man called Cesario who falls into the service of Orsino, a benevolent Duke. The Duke holds an unrequited love for grieving widow, Olivia, a wealthy countess, but Olivia falls for Cesario, not realising that “he” is Viola in disguise, whilst Viola’s affections are firmly set on the Duke. Meanwhile, Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s drunken uncle, plots a cruel trick upon Malvolio, the head butler, to make him think that his mistress, Olivia, has fallen in love with him. As the confusion reigns, love begins to blossom and bloom.

Shakespeare can be considered a little heavy by many, but this production felt light and accessible, with a number of genuinely funny moments. Focussing more on the comedy of the play, the show feels surprisingly contemporary whilst remaining faithful to the original use of language. Shakespeare aficionados will no doubt appreciate the text, dialogue and rich characterizations which are ably provided by the cast, whilst those who are not so familiar with the Bards work will find much to entertain them in this fresh take on the classic play and easily lose themselves in the story.

Director, Jonathan Mumby neatly nestles charm and romance in amongst the comedy; using a flurry of rose petals quite literally bursting out from the characters, a scattering of musical interludes and a delightful, grin-inducing opening to the second act. The static, shabby chic set provided an unobtrusive backdrop for the piece, allowing for the performances to take centre stage. As an ensemble, the cast worked remarkably well together. In the straighter roles, Jake Fairbrother stood out with his perfect diction and charismatic persona as Orsinio being matched only by Rebecca Johnson, who provided a commanding performance as the headstrong and determined Olivia. David Fielder garnered the most laughs out of the comedy roles, as he delightfully swayed and staggered his way through his turn as the drunken Sir Toby Belch and Hugh Ross easily demonstrated his mastery of the text with his portrayal as Malvolio.

The play’s most often quoted line; “If music be the food of love …. play on” is taken quite literally with the score, coupled with the well thought out lighting, adding depth and atmosphere to the theatre and enhancing the feel of the piece. Despite a couple of the scenes feeling a little overlong, the blend of drama, physical comedy and music all combined together to make for an enjoyable evening, and a surprisingly short feel to the 3-hour running time.

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Twelfth Night is currently playing at Sheffield Crucible Theatre until the 18th October 2014. For further information and to book tickets, visit http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/twelfth-night-14/?tab=1#unit-production-dates . The production then heads out on national tour, details of the venues and how to book tickets can be found at http://www.ett.org.uk/productions/81/twelfth-night