Reviews Roundup- Twelfth Night

The Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park

Anna Francolini In Twelfth Night. Photo: Rich Lakos

The show may take place outdoors but the critics seemed uncertain whether the setting of the play is a seaside cafe or a gay nightclub. Either way, a production-dominating Anna Francolini as Olivia owns it. Some reviewers complained that the added songs didn’t add much except time to Owen Horsley’s gender fluid production. They enjoyed Michael Matus’ Sir Toby Belch as a drag queen, and were moved by Richard Cant’s Malvolio.

Nick Curtis in the Standard (4★) said the show was ‘Stylish and surprisingly sexy…Owen Horsley’s production leans heavily into the themes of sexual and gender confusion in Shakespeare’s play. His staging is witty and seductive, only marred by an almost willful lack of pace.’

Andrzej Lukowski at Time Out (4★) also had a pretty good evening. ‘I’m not sure Owen Horsley’s lengthy production finds any incredible new depths in Shakespeare’s greatest comedy. But it is, nonetheless, lovely stuff.’ He was not alone in liking Olivia: ‘in the show’s most entertaining turn, Anna Francolini stars as a Miss Havisham-alike, clad in elaborate veils of mourning, tottering about with her late brother’s ashes.’

Frey Kwa Hawking for WhatsOnStage (4★) found it ‘a dignifiedly twilight world, stylish and welcoming.’ Aliya Al-Hassan at London Theatre (4★) said ‘this inventive production is a thought-provoking delight.’

Sam Marlowe in The Stage (3★) was less impressed: ‘as a whole the staging fails to ignite, its musical interludes decelerating scenes that, delivered with superficial, presentational sentiment, are often already in danger of becoming laborious.’ She wasn’t keen on the director’s interpretation: ‘while this is pleasant enough entertainment, its performative passions keep the drama’s pleasure and pain at arm’s length.’

Similarly Clive Davis of The Times (3★) thought it was laid on a bit thick: ‘director Owen Horsley unveils a vision of Illyria which, playing up the queer themes, ends up jabbing the audience hard in the ribs every time it aims to raise a smile. By the end of the night, you can’t help feeling a little bruised.’ And the end was a long time coming, ‘As the evening marches towards the three-hour mark… the surfeit of songs slows the action.’

Kate Wyver writing for The Guardian (3★) found enough to keep her happy: ‘There is much to delight in. Ryan Dawson Laight’s sumptuous costumes shine and Michael Matus gives a glorious turn in drag as Toby Belch, a bully towards Richard Cant’s proud Malvolio, who doesn’t deserve the level of cruelty set upon him.’

Claire Allfree in the Telegraph (3★) thought ‘Horsley’s overlong production struggles to cohere the play’s admittedly disparate elements.’ She said it ‘depends far too much for its energy on Sir Toby.’ For her, it was ‘Richard Cant’s astonishing Malvolio – a bony withered nerd in buttoned-up tweed – who steals the show.’

Twelfth Night is performing at the Open Air Theatre until 8 June 2024  Buy tickets direct from https://openairtheatre.com

Average critics’ rating 3.5
Value Rating 58 (Value rating is the Average Critic Rating divided by the typical ticket price. In theory, this means the higher the score the better value but, because of price variations, a West End show could be excellent value if it scores above 30 while an off-West End show may need to score above 60.)

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