Summer Shakespeare at Oxford Castle Unlocked comes this year from BMH productions, complete with a substantial and multi-talented cast, a live band and an eye-poppingly weird Caliban.
But before the electric fireworks of The Tempest, a love story: Twelfth Night, accompanied by birdsong, the soft sunset, stern castellar surroundings and teasing clouds that never quite bring rain. The action takes place in demob 40s, complete with a couple of Rosie the Riveters (Hannah and Rachel Wilmshurst) providing the muscle. The world of feckless aristocrats and impatient staff is well realised, and the themes of social ascent and desire thwarted are given a primacy and poignancy by the proximity of war.
Although the men are charming (even the idiots and drunks) the show belongs to the women; femme fatale Nancy White gleams as Olivia, Laura O’Mahony is a barnstorming Maria. Viola and Sebastien are very much chalk and cheese twins; Phillip Cotterill’s Malvolio delivers the biggest shock of the show; Ralph Watson is a beautifully balanced Andrew Aguecheek. Front row seats recommended!
The second hour sees notable scene-stealer Clare Denton take centre stage as Prospero - all Disney villainess charisma - berating her daughter (wide-eyed wild girl Justine Malone) and her tattered glittery spirits even as she fiercely protects them; mummy knows best, indeed. As the sun goes down, the actors light up, and eerie drifts of magical multipart song alternate with rollicking comedy from Simon Marie, James Silk and Ashley Hunt’s mesmerizingly monstrous Caliban.
The music is a blend of sea-shanties and modern folk, jitterbug and Elizabethan favourites. Clapping and toe tapping is encouraged. The presentation of Ariel is astonishingly sinister and subtle. For such brief productions there is considerable insight and nuance; each final dance acknowledges the ultimate inadequacy of happy endings, even as it celebrates the blissful, beautiful moment.
(There are at least five INCREDIBLY COOL things about this production I have left out of the review because, you know, spoilers. Massively recommended and laugh-out loud funny.)