Castle Theatre Company’s rendition of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at Glemham Hall contained lots of cheeky humour combined with a topical take on gender
On a Friday evening in the summer sun, whilst enjoying a picnic in the picturesque grounds of Glemham Hall, I watched Castle Theatre Company act out Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Although it’s a classic I’ve never before had the opportunity to watch live, I read the play at university (and of course experienced the storyline through teen classics She’s the Man and Just One of the Guys). Twelfth Night tells the story of Viola, who becomes separated from her twin brother in a shipwreck, and unwittingly becomes embroiled in a love quadrangle after she assumes the male identity of ‘Cesario’. It’s a comedy, but it provides many opportunities for a contribution to the conversation on gender.
I’m going to touch wood here, because we’ve been so lucky with the weather so far this year. It was the perfect evening to enjoy Shakespeare on the lawn. There wasn’t a cloud in sight as the actors emerged from the estate’s walled rose garden to act out the shipwreck which separates Viola (Emma Louise-Howell) and her brother, Sebastian (Theo Holt-Bailey). With very little in the way of staging and props, the actors executed this scene creatively with just a blanket and some puppets.
Feste, played by the flamboyant Barney Mercer, then set the tone for the play with his musical narrative and comedic antics, egged on by inebriated knights Sir Toby (Danny Booth) and Sir Andrew (Dan Hodgkinson), both of whom made us roll over with laughter.
However, it wasn’t just the drunken humour that hooked us in. A story of misunderstandings, Twelfth Night also works in a hilarious trick played on Malvolio, Lady Olivia’s head servant (in Castle Theatre Company’s version we see even more gender rules broken as Malvolio becomes Malvolia). Played by Jasmine Price, Malvolia falls for a prank which sees her don bright yellow stockings to gain the interest of Olivia (Steph Sarratt). Malvolia’s delusion and utter naivety, combined with the appearance of what looked like modern-day, knee-length yellow golf socks, made this one of the most entertaining scenes in the production.
With the cast making full use of Glemham Hall’s immaculate lawn, walled galled and yew tree avenue, this performance epitomised the medium of immersive theatre. Director Lucy Knight ensured that there always something to catch the eye whilst other action was taking place on the main stage, whether it was Feste and his crew of pranksters hiding behind hedges, or Olivia and her waiting-gentlewoman Maria (Emily McLean) taking a stroll through the gardens. This, paired with excellent musical direction by Georgie Proctor, left a lasting impression.
Glemham Hall has hosted Shakespeare plays each summer for the past 19 years, and I’m sure next year’s 20th anniversary will be very special. If you’re able to book a spot, I highly recommend doing so, if not for the excellent entertainment then at least for a blissful picnic on a glorious Suffolk summer evening.