It’s the small things which make Joyce Branagh’s Twelfth Night such a triumph. Lots and lots of genius small things.
Chief among them is the servant Fabian, a minor character who is afforded just a handful of lines in Shakespeare’s original text. However, by channelling the spirit of Acorn Antiques’ Mrs Overall, Cassie Vallance squeezes every ounce of comedy out of the role and is a crowd favourite from her first raised eyebrow.
There’s more. Much more. Having moved the action to the 1920s, Branagh finds a perfect backdrop to this often silly tale of love, lust and yellow stockings in the hedonism of the flapper age.
Here, Orsino the Duke of Illyria desperate to attract the attention of Olivia, still grieving for her dead brother, is a fop straight out of Brideshead Revisited while Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek are the kind of hangers-on Jay Gatsby would have been forced to eject days after one of his parties officially came to an end.
The plot of Twelfth Night is pretty thin, but here elements of slapstick, some top notch music from the onstage band and a stand-out performance by Clare Corbett, whose Feste the clown is the lovechild of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel raise the production from a simple knock-about comedy.
As the mistaken identity, cross-dressing and couple swapping reaches its peak, just occasionally the main action becomes a little lost in the flourishes and it would have benefitted from having 20 minutes or so shaved from the running time.
However, this is clearly a company having fun and with their energy infectious, so too is the audience.
Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre runs to September 1. For the full programme visit shakespearesrosetheatre.com