Some Kind of Theatre‘s production of one of Shakespeare’s most discombobulating tales is reliably filled with passionate declarations, character confusions and cross-dressing.

Director Christopher Paddon immediately envelopes the audience through the stage’s design, as the mixture of hot house lights and a surging sea soundscape transport us to a sun-beaten beach. That said, the set seems patchy and mismatched, and there appears to be little context or justification for the Victorian setting other than the complex courting rituals of the period. Despite this, the story is clear and the pace is strong. 

Elsa Van Der Wal (Viola and Sebastian) has a crystal-clear voice and wonderful understanding of Shakespeare’s language, delicately illustrating Viola’s yearning for her master.

Michael Brown’s Orsino, is dignified, often sorrowful, yet his likability makes the audience feel safe in his hands. Their relationship is sweet, intimate and comforting but perhaps underused as you are left wishing for more build up before their blissfully happy ending.

Elsewhere, however, the piece begins to unravel. Rather than use two actors, Van Der Wal is also required to play Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian. More definition is needed both visually and physically between the twins to make sure that Sebastian is not lost in this Labyrinthine plot: It should only be the characters within the play that are confused by the drag and not the audience as well! In fact, all the actors juggling multiple roles have one character who is much more defined than the others. As a result, during the integral resolution scene where both twins are on stage, some of the satisfaction and humour is lost. Van Der Wal has a herculean task to keep the audience on board with only a dressmakers dummy for help.

Other notable performances include Chris Pearson (Sir Toby), Gerry Kielty (Feste) and James Sullivan (Andrew Aguecheek). Their performances are joyful and warm. Sullivan’s physical and vocal comedy thrusts life into the gangly Aguecheek. His interpretation is something between one of Neverland’s “Lost Boys” and an Etonian alumnus – a person with no idea of how to function in the real world but who enjoys the journey anyway. This is pleasantly contrasted by the shrewd charm that oozes from Kielty’s Feste.

At times, others struggle to match their dexterity and alacrity; while energy and character remain strong, the dialogue is often lost.

The pace is of the piece is buoyant, the comic timing well considered and it truly earns its slower, weightier moments. The complex story is delivered clearly and cheerfully for the most part but does become mystifying and clumsy by the end. Perhaps consolidating the Victorian setting and nautical theme, as well as taking some of the weight off of Van Der Wal, would elevate what is still a fun and a lovable piece of theatre.

Twelfth Night will also be performed at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe
13-26th August (not 19th)
Paradise in The Vault (Venue 29)

Buy tickets here