But it IS new for the drama students at Arts University Bournemouth, and new for the audience enjoying it at Poole until 27th February. In the original, which would have been played by an all-male cast in Elizabethan days, heroine Viola dresses like her brother Sebastian, in the guise of the boyish Cesario, to protect herself in the strange court of Duke Orsino in Illyria.
In the AUB production, with its nod to the currently fashionable “gender neutrality”, men play women and women play men. Not only does this VASTLY improve the ratio of women’s parts in the play, but subverts every expectation.
And (mostly) it works brilliantly, young women relishing the chance to swagger and power-play, and the men mincing in 50s fashion. The one problem for me is that the men seem to think that women always stand coyly with the weight on one leg and their heads tilted – the Lady Cora Grantham version of womanhood!
There are some sensational performances in this. Feste the clown is always a difficult character for modern audiences, but he works perfectly as a zoot-suited hipster, personified by the multi-talented Olivia Spencer, whose Festen performance, so different, will stay in the memory.
Dominic Vallance, who so impressed in a tiny Daisy Pulls it Off role, gave a very Eddie Izzardesque performance as Olivia, substituting the usual snappish grief for shameless and charming flirtatiousness
Lala Bint and Emma Henderson play the Sir Toby and Sir Andrew double act with charm and bucolic gusto, and Henry Uings is a lovely Maria. Niall Walker’s Viola/Cesario captures most of the poetry of the role, and Elizabeth Benbow didn’t allow her stature to dwarf a powerfully lovelorn Orsino.
The actors sat at the back of the stage in deckchairs throughout the show, as the action happened in front of stylised trees, walls and waves, brightly coloured and imbued with fun, accentuated by a great choice of rock’n’roll.
The gender confusion stopped mattering very quickly, and it all ended with a Claire Camble Hutchins choreographed conga. Hooray for everyone!
Pictured are Sir Toby Belch and Maria rehearsing, and the cast in their deckchairs.
The production is on at Poole until Saturday 27th February, with performances at 2.30 and 7.30 on Saturday, and tickets are still available.