They do like to be beside the seaside – and who indeed would not, with this lively, fast-paced adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ as an added inducement?
Side by Side Theatre Company of Stourbridge, Worcestershire, have shifted ‘the coasts of Illyria’ to a Britain of the 1950’s, where end-of-the-pier Pierrots, ice cream carts and kiss-me-quickery bring a bright and brisk touch to Shakespeare’s comedy of confused identities.
It’s sometimes forgotten that ‘Twelfth Night’ was originally intended for that very day, the last feast of Christmas, kept then with fruit-filled twelfth cakes, alcohol-fuelled indoor games and general merriment.
It’s a minor masterstroke by Side by Side, then, to shift the action to midsummer and to cast James Rees as Feste, the clown who abets the roguery of Sir Toby Belch (Paul Taylor), and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Toby Shaw).
Here Feste is very much a Master of the Revels, helping propel the action as much as the central characters, Viola (Sarah Field), Orsino (James Emtage) and Olivia (Theresa Byrne).
‘Illyria on Sea’ is, however, very much an ensemble piece that bowls merrily along, propelled by well-chosen musical interludes and several excruciating puns. The enjoyment of the cast in much of this is obvious, and although at some seventy-five minutes it’s clearly an edited version of the original it retains the story and spirit of the original while adding considerably to its capacity to amuse.
Side by Side describe themselves as a company of learning-disabled actors, but their considerable abilities take them through this fast-moving show with barely a pause and real distinction.
Paradise at Augustine's August 12-16, 12.20 p.m., £8 (£6).