There were moments at Shropshire Youth Theatre’s dress rehearsal of ‘Twelfth Night’ when I felt I could almost have been in Stratford. The excellent scenes between Tabitha Purslow’s haughty courtly Olivia and Maddy Page’s country cousin Viola were so good, a handful of years from now they will surely be drinking at The Dirty Duck.
Tabitha gave her character a surly, sharp tongued, regal bearing. She exuded desperate eagerness in her misguided amorous advances. By exquisite contrast, Maddy played her part as if it was all a little too tiresome. There she is, deftly dropping clues that she is actually a girl in guy’s clothing and becoming increasingly fed up that loved-up Olivia is oblivious. They were perfectly cast and their timing together was immaculate.
Annabel Love also shone as the meddling Maria. All the female leads displayed great maturity, clearly understood the writer’s intensions, recognised his rhythms, and made this Shakespeare stuff seem relatively easy.
The plot is dependent upon cross dressing and the nature of youth theatre usually requires girls to play boys anyway. But in this case, necessity really was the mother of invention. So, tall blond Chloe Townsend turned Sir Andrew Ague-cheek into a beanpole, schoolboy Boris Johnson; and the casting of the excellent Jess Halliday as Sebastian’s kindly saviour gave the play a new romantic dimension.
There was some lovely silent, clowning comedy from Abbie Townsend and a refreshingly slight and nimble Sir Toby Belch from the diminutive Robert Knowles. Indeed the counter casting generally worked a treat.
If there was a weakness it was simply that some of the young cast were trying a touch too hard; trying to be tricksy with the text by adding artificial emphasis and halting phrasing when it’s usually better to go with the flow and let the words do the work.
The surprise package, however, was Oliver Turner’s delightfully mellifluous Malvolio. Adventurous casting allowed Oliver to create a truly memorable and naturally comic character with marionette mannerisms. Oliver was obviously having as much fun playing the pompous old uppity oaf as we were watching him. It was an uplifting experience.
As, indeed, was the entire evening. Shakespeare is in safe hands for at least another generation.
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Photo : Richard Bishop