There’s a wonderful moment in Twelfth Night, when at a moment of maximum complication, one of the characters metaphorically winks at the audience, saying, “If this were play’d upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction”. There was more than enough complication in this delightfully wacky all-girl production put on by The Grove - whose long tradition of drama dates back to the Fanning era - directed by Helen Brown and Lauren Temple.
Much of the humour in Twelfth Night comes from gender ambiguity when two bored and underemployed aristocrats, Duke Orsino, (played with supercilious aplomb by Upper Sixth Salopian old stager Abi Watkinson), and Olivia (played by the equally experienced Eve Hartley) fall for the same man/woman.
The bored, flirtatious, emotionally unstable Olivia falls for Orsino’s disguised page-boy Viola, whom she thinks (the disguise is successful) is a man, while Orsino also falls for him - rather to his discomfort - relieved at the end of the play to discover that he is a woman after all in a memorable (and these days of course unnecessary) ‘Oh that’s all right then’ moment. All parts being played by girls could only add confusion to an already confused scenario; clever direction ensured that this only added to the humour.
That the shipwrecked twins, Viola (disguised as the page boy Cesario) and her brother Sebastian were played by real twins (Lexi and Livi Bothamley-Dakin) added some metatheatrical verisimilitude to a production that abounded in both scripted and unscripted metatheatrical asides and other improvisations – with all of which the cast were, quite miraculously, able to enrich this immensely witty production.
One the glories of Twelfth Night is the parallel plot involving the humiliation of Olivia’s pretentious and overbearing steward Malvolio (played by the statuesque Sophia Bureau) by the trio of her sassy maid Maria (played by Hattie Haynes), her sharp-witted but permanently drunk uncle Sir Toby Belch (played by Ella Windle), and Sir Toby’s clueless, love-starved and dim-witted friend and creditor Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played by Jetty Russell, who made a hilarious virtue of necessity by playing the part on crutches - the result of a real-life injury.
The humiliation of Malvolio involves the bullies hiding in the shrubbery, and the two Third Formers (Eva Hall and Sapna Chudasama) who played Shrub 1 and Shrub 2 provided one of the many delightful cameos with which the production was liberally sprinkled.
‘Colour!’ is what I have scrawled in the centre of the programme on which I was taking notes. From the symbolically rainbow-coloured jigsaw flooring, to the kaleidoscope of colours used in the girls’ costumes, the production was as literally as it was metaphorically colourful.
The plot of Twelfth Night can be hard to follow even in a ‘non-gender-bent’ production, so perhaps one of the biggest compliments was that paid by a Churchill’s Third Former returning from the first night, who said that he had no idea what it was about, but that it was absolutely hilarious.
This was a whole-House production and there were far too many actors to name them all, but they are all to be congratulated for laying on a wonderfully entertaining evening.
For more photos, please see the Twelfth Night Photo Gallery