The play began with a stonkingly good storm and finished with a rousing barn dance and in between there was some fine acting from the cast, who were well-rehearsed and near word-perfect. Opportunities for comedy were well used and there were some particularly funny moments from Sir Toby Belch (Tom Graysham) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Caitlin Ince), evoking lots of laughter from the audience, who, having finished assorted picnics, were in mellow mood on their straw bales.
Malvolio was particularly well cast and Joseph Wilde played the pompous, superior servant with aplomb, making his subsequent humiliation by way of the trick played on him by Maria & Co. particularly pathetic.
Feste, the Jester, also deserves special mention. Exotically costumed and beautifully made up, Kelle Walters gave a great performance which was witty, acerbic and soulful by turns and she sang confidently and well. Puncturing the pomposity of Malvolio and challenging the aristocratic Olivia, she added colour and intelligence to the play.
Tamar Karabetyan was very convincing as a love-struck Viola/Cesario and Sebastian was played ably by Daniel Ritchie, even if the two were not quite physically similar enough to be genuinely confused.
Olivia, played by daisy Dugmore, also put in a very laudable performance, first as a countess in mourning for her dead brother and subsequently as a frustrated woman in love. Elegant, expressive and believable, she carried a leading role well. Duke Orsino, meanwhile, was impressively persistent in his attempts to woo the countess, though a few more lingering looks at Viola might have made the final dénouement and his switch of allegiance from Olivia to his erstwhile servant slightly less abrupt. Again, though, he was well cast, handsomely costumed and a pleasure to watch.
Maria (Lucy Timmons) and Fabian (Sean Pogmore) injected further humour into the evening, Fabian’s cockney wide boy contrasting nicely with the aristocratic but dimwitted Aguecheek, and Maria’s wily plotting accompanied by some fine facial expressions.
All in all, this is definitely to be recommended as a thoroughly enjoyable evening’s entertainment, with the audience engaged right from the start by an enthusiastic and talented group of actors.
A word to the wise: come equipped with blankets and wet-weather clothing as although the weather was kind to us on the first night, with even a few sightings of sunlight, the wind was freezing. Refreshments are available, with some of Blenheim’s fine cakes and tea/coffee etc. in the pavilion behind the ‘stage’.