Mister Pernickety usually writes about restaurants and other nose-bag providers, but from time to time he feels an overwhelming urge to share his views on non-food culture – Food for the Soul you might say (though not to be confused with Soul Food which is made of such things as black-eye beans, chillies and chitlins, and can present a serious gastric challenge.)
The production of Billy Bard’s Twelfth Night at Ludlow Castle this season is something not to be missed for it’s the most exciting and witty Shakespeare Show Mr P has ever had the good fortune to see. This could well be the directorial debut of a great new talent. Although Charlie Walker-Wise left RADA only six years ago, his impressively confident production is sophisticated, quick and fresh, and squeezes every drop of wit from the script.
Setting the play in Mallorca at the time of the Spanish Civil War somehow makes its rather dodgy plot less implausible to a 21st Century audience than if it were in Tudor costume, and points up the consistency of man’s weaknesses.
Mr W-W’s casting has been inspired. Mr P and his companion could spot no weak link, no bad apple, no surreptitious under-achiever amongst the company. As in many of Will’s comedies, there is a gender bender agenda (which must have been especially confusing in the Globe of the old days when young chaps yet without Adam’s Apple played the female roles.) In this case, cross-dressing confusion is provided by Viola, out to seek acquaintance with the Duke Orsino (Mr P won’t try to explain the whole convoluted plot; it might bring on a mal-de-tete among his less cerebral readers), who spends 95% of the action as a young man servant to the Duke, oozing confidence and smart-arsery, called Cesario. She/he has some of the finest poetry in the play and it is delivered with thrilling clarity by Catherine Bailey (a former child actor who appeared with the RSC at the age of 15, and has done her time in East Enders and Holby City.)
Another inspired decision of Mr W-W’s has been to turn the rich, drunken twit Sir Andrew Aguecheek into a P G Wodehouse silly ass, in whose mouth Shakespeare’s wit is surprisingly apropos. He is played with butter-coloured hair and dazzling comedic skill by Paul Trussell, paired with a faultless Sir Toby Belch (Patrick Brennan).
Kirsty Besterman’s deeply mourning and finicky Countess Olivia combines well her haughtiness and vulnerability, while her servant, Maria (Lucia McAnespie) has a lovely Irish wildness to her.
As always in this play, the casting of Malvolio is key, and John Challis (AKA Boycie) is a great coup. Malvolio, Olivia’s steward is pompous, hubristic and ultimately ridiculous when the victim of a cruel trick. Challis is an old hand, with the experience of a former RSC and National Theatre player and the natural perfect timing to deliver some of the funniest scenes Shakespeare wrote.
Mister P cannot urge you strongly enough to see this ephemeral production, even if it means a long journey. And he would recommend a good light dinner beforehand at the Green Cafe by Dinham Bridge.
Twelfth Night at the Ludlow Festival runs until Saturday July 9th.