Shakespeare’s lessons in Lancs

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Theatre review
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Twelfth Night

Octagon, Bolton

Music may be the food of love, but Lancashire provides the menu for a Twelfth Night set squarely in the heart of the county.

Based on the premise, shared by some, that Shakespeare’s ‘lost years’ could have been spent educating the offspring of the Catholic gentry at both Hoghton Tower and Knowsley Hall, director David Thacker infers here it might also have taught the Bard about ‘upstairs, downstairs’ etiquette at the time.

So his characters know their place in the social order, even if they have been shifted on in time to the 20th century. Count Orsino becomes a piano-playing aristo, Olivia – the object of his desire – a more emancipated woman, while Feste, the ukulele-playing clown, channels a little of George Formby.

It’s a potent recipe, if not yet quite fully cooked.

Thacker keeps nearly all his cast – most of them in mourning – on stage throughout, which tends to make the first act feel rather too sorry for itself, slowing the cinematic ‘quick cuts’ between scenes that are required.

That pace will quicken, and maybe make the antics of the clownish fops Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek a little more tangible. As the eponymous Belch, Ian Blower does at least throw himself – as well as his stomach contents – into the role, while Mawgan Gyles’ Aguecheek could have wafted in from Brideshead.

Charles Villiers makes a truly stately Malvolio and, not for the first time, can have you feeling some sympathy for the ill-served steward. Certainly the way in which he is hurled beneath the stage at the height of his ridicule might have lesser actors demanding a stunt double.

Overall, the skilled editing of the text, a clarity to its delivery and a mashing up of several scenes makes for an entertaining Lancashire Night Out, or should that be Owt?

It runs here until March 22.

David Upton