For the rain it raineth every day is a risky refrain for an outdoor Shakespeare production! But the Oxford Shakespeare Company sings it, with bright confidence and cheerful defiance. The audience have sweets and Pimms, with blankets and hot chocolate waiting for evening chills. A gypsy folk band strikes up under the rustling trees; blackbirds clatter through the long borders of Wadham Gardens. A colourful caravan has washed up on the tidy grass, in an elegant scatter of tires and pallets, and as Viola (delicate, heartbreaking Alice Coles) stamps boldly into scene, the band scarper, cast instruments aside and reform into the familiar story. Here is rag-tag gypsy king Orsino (David Alwyn) lounging in his junkyard, displaying a rainbow of extraordinary coats and smouldering indiscriminately; here is tank-topped Malvolio, tapping obstreperously at an ancient laptop; and Lady Olivia, trailing chiffon and rock star glamour, melancholy shuttered behind vast sunglasses. The levelling effect of the Illyria encampment allows an interesting fluidity in the relationships. Marie Fortune’s Maria has full freedom to display her chimerical charms; while James Lavender’s Malvolio seems eminently reasonable in his impatience with Olivia’s bohemian household. The booze runs freely throughout. The constant inebriation of Sirs Toby and Andrew (a nice turn from George Haynes as a slumming rich kid) sends the story stumbling drunkenly into thickets of cruelty, before returning to comedy with a sigh, a song, a spectacular caper. The twins (Marie Fortune doubles up as Sebastien) make a fine pair of saucy chancers, winning hearts and fights. As they swap bottles for instruments and anger for romance, a happy note; love conquers (almost) all; with time to explore the risks of skinny jeans, the myriad ways to extract money and jewellery from social betters, and the very best way to light an oil drum fire.
Beautifully acted, funny, sad, romantic, passionate, bawdy, imaginative - and all in a lovely setting. Go. See. Enjoy. For those with practical concerns: it's easily accessible, seats are at 2 levels, there are blankets to hire, sweets, crisps, wine, water, and hot chocolate to purchase if required.