“A perfect introduction to Shakespeare on stage” – Theatre Review: Twelfth Night @ Nottingham Playhouse

Hayley Lawson

Nottingham Playhouse Theatre performed an outdoor performance of the Shakespeare classic Twelfth Night. Impact’s Hayley Lawson reviews.

Feeling doubtful about weather issues and having never seen an outdoor production, I approached the venue completely in the dark about what I was about to see. Despite a slight shower mid-performance, I soon decided I hadn’t any complaints. With a cheerful set and animated characterisation, it was impossible not to enjoy the show. The use of colourful and over-the-top costumes alongside set pieces like Lego and beach spades meant that the show had a greater sense of accessibility than a traditional Shakespearean production, so people of all ages filled the seats in preparation for an unforgettable show.

This production lived up to its comedic text, with unconventional twists to make it even more enjoyable. For example, we saw a cast of four women, who each took on multiple roles and did it with smooth transitions, making it easy to see which character they displayed at each scene. Further unconventional aspects included musical scenes, and references to modern shows like West Side Story, alongside witty commentary like stating “That sounded good. You’d think Shakespeare wrote it”. There was also audience participation, once again making the show more enjoyable and accessible. An example of this was when Sir Andrew frequently entered the audience to tap members lightly with a toy horse, or to hide from other characters’ intense scenes. Furthermore, Duke Orsino had the audience join in on a jingle about Olivia.

We still had his comic relief portrayed by AK Golding’s servant character, as she limped through the aisles and appeared through the set’s nooks and crannies

Something I found interesting about this performance (and initially quite negative) was the absence of Feste. In the original play, he has a very large role, but the minimalistic casting meant that he was not there. A key interpretation of Feste is that he acts as a voice of reason for the audience, and says what we think. This production managed to make the show spectacular without him, as the characters almost used the audience as Feste by, for example, asking us to ensure Malvolio gets to bed, which is a job given to Feste in the original play. At first, it felt like something was missing but as the show went on, his absence worked more and more and he wasn’t missed much. We still had his comic relief portrayed by AK Golding’s servant character, as she limped through the aisles and appeared through the set’s nooks and crannies.

An improvised interruption that made for a laugh from the entire audience

On the note of casting, this show did not disappoint. With Lisa Ambalavanar switching between the upper-class Olivia and working-class Maria using accents and mannerisms, it was impossible not to be impressed. Zoe May Dales also made the perfect switch between characters, being an irritating Malvolio and a gentleman-like Sebastian she took the stage by storm. AK Golding was the perfect comedian with her roles as Andrew Aguecheek and Orsino, and as she played Orsino she stunningly captured his mockable melancholy. I have to praise Charlotte East for her ability to work with the crowd and environments as she excellently kept the audience engaged through the weather, traffic and any other surprise.

Being an outdoor performance, the show did have more freedom. People felt more included but there were interruptions. At one point the bell tower chimed and Charlotte East stayed in position before looking in the direction of the noise and saying “Do you mind?” – producing an improvised interruption that made for a laugh from the entire audience. Likewise in the scene where Andrew Aguecheek is asked to “cut a caper”, one audience member exclaimed “Again!” and requested that Sir Andrew joined in this time. With a joking complaint, she obliged, staying in character and adding a unique taste to the experience.

Full of comedy, romance and disguise, this production of Twelfth Night did not disappoint. I chuckled through the entire show, which is what Shakespeare meant for Twelfth Night to do. Whilst not particularly conventional, it felt like a perfect introduction to Shakespeare on stage.

Hayley Lawson

Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.

In-article image courtesy of @nottinghamplayhouse via No changes were made to this image.

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