Trinity College Gardens on a still, perfumed night was the idyllic setting of Oxford Theatre Guild's sparkling production of Twelfth Night.
Oxford audiences are so blessed with student summer garden productions that it is relatively unusual to see a full gamut of ages in the cast. The combination of zesty youth with seasoned age worked well, with experienced longstanding amateurs working with talented newcomers, accentuating the play's themes of youth and experience. Love and loyalty are powerful and moving at any age – and in any combination of genders.
Directors Simon Tavener and Moya Hughes' confidence and flair was evident from the first moment when the cast filed on carrying umbrellas. Catherine Woolley's costumes and Tom Atkinson's versatile set design also gave much visual delight.
Music was one of the greatest pleasures of the evening, and both the cast and an outstanding Feste (actor and composer Joe Swarbrick) cut through the clowning and self-delusion with a melodious – but still implacable – river of pain, which culminated in the dark imprisonment of Nick Quartley's excellent Malvolio.
Maxwell Windich's Bertie Wooster-like Duke Orsino's antics provoked his manservant Curio (John Baron) to twist his face into a wonderful series of comic gurns, but Orsino's growing delight at discovering Cesario's true identity demonstrated a dextrous heart.
As with Malvolio, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Tim Eyres) was entirely believable and one of the best interpretations I have ever seen. Aguecheek's humanity gave his fall real bruises, and as he left with his ego and finances in shreds, there was pathos in his ignominious exit. Even Maria's (Fleur Yerbury-Hodgson) relentless good humour, and Fabienne's (Amanda Holland) remorseful misgivings could not sweeten Sir Toby Belch's (Peter Roberts) choleric spite and snobbery.
Feisty exchanges between imperious Olivia (Bryony Marshall-Falland) and indomitable Viola (wide-eyed Eloise Sheffield) were perfectly attuned to comedic effect but both could convey deep feeling – not least Olivia's simmering sexual chemistry with Sebastian (Thomas Perry) after a daybed encounter.
Cast out of all of this was the forlorn, lovesick Antonio (Simon Bellamy) who gave up everything: life, liberty and purse to a man who only had eyes for a woman.
As Feste says: the rain it raineth every day – but only for some, it seems.