DRAMA IN THE PARKS: Somewhere under the trees in Old Coulsdon is an Elizabethan rom-com romp. BELLA BARTOCK had it, and herself, covered
As I gazed across the fairway at one of Coulsdon Court’s “twilighters” ferreting around in the undergrowth for his latest lost ball, I pondered what Shakespeare himself might have made of the game of golf.
There is no shortage of medieval sporty references in his works, from falconry and archery, there’s backgammon and even football. Bear baiting, rightly now regarded as an abhorance, gets a mention in Twelfth Night, which the Theatre Workshop Coulsdon is currently performing in a wooded glade between the 9th and 10th holes at Coulsdon Manor Hotel.
But there’s no mention of golf in any of Shakespeare’s works, not even in the Scottish Play, which suggests that his Bardness never encountered anyone wielding a mashie nibblick on the links at Stratford.
Had he done so, then it will have been Shakespeare, surely, who will have coined the phrase “a good walk spoiled”. He certainly came up with plenty of other lines well remembered and repeated even today.
Twelfth Night has its fair share of bons mots. Right from the start, there’s “If music be the food of love, play on…”, as our players set the scene for the mistaken identity comedies to come. There’s the first recorded use of the word “whirligig”, and “no more cakes and ale” rings out familiar across the stage, too.
There’s also the well-cast line, “Some are born great. Some achieve greatness. And some have greatness thrust upon them.” Given that this is delivered by self-reverential Malvolio, deftly performed under the trees by TWC regular Bruce Montgomery, it was clear he had himself in mind as one who was about to have greatness thrust his way.
A bit like Jason Perry in May, when he was elected as Mayor. There’s a good chance self-regarding Perry will mishandle his situation as badly as Malvolio does in Twelfth Night. Mayor Perry would do well to pay a visit to the Coulsdon outdoor theatre before its run ends next weekend. He might pick up a few tips on how to avoid making a fool of himself.
After all, as Shakespeare observes elsewhere in the piece, “There is no darkness but ignorance.”
Following two wretched years of covid, our local AmDrams are at last back performing with summer productions in the open air, though they really could do something to avoid date clashes, because reviewing two productions in two nights really is more than I can take 50 years on from when I was drafted in as an emergency dresser for Dame Edith at the Old Vic.
Given her woeful conduct at Wandle Park the night before, I left Pandora back in her box and on this evening was kindly driven up to the hills of Old Coulsdon by the much more dependable Claudia de Boozy, my oldest chum from our college days.
Thankfully, Claudia had brought a blanket from the car, for it became quite chilly in the breeze as the sun set during the opening half of the performance. And unlike the petulant Pandora, Claudia arranged for refreshments in the interval, laid on by the hotel staff, which was much appreciated.
According to the notes in the excellently produced programme, TWC has been here before, having produced Twelfth Night 23 years ago, when they were performing at The Woodman pub in Woodmansterne (Bill the bawdy Bard would have approved). Four of the 2022 cast are back for more (though not in the same roles, thank goodness!), but there were others among a most gifted cast who weren’t even born at the end of the 20th Century.
Esme Jennings, who plays Olivia, has just been accepted into the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. Perhaps stardom beckons for her like other past TWC performers, such as Art Malik?
Lucy-Ann Bird is another youngster, whose Maria, in scenes with Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, provides the glue that holds the piece together.
The cast even includes a couple of teens, Tom Phasey, as Sebastian, and Arlo Woodford, as an officer, whose acting belies their youth.
Indiana Scorziello is now a TWC regular, and she just keeps getting better. Her performance here as resourceful Viola masquerading as young gentleman and go-between “Cesario” is central to the piece, and is well delivered.
Shakespeare gave the Elizabethan public what they wanted: a rom-com romp with a ship wreck, where aristos fall in love with servants, pomposity is pricked when stewards indulge in absurd delusions of grandeur, and where the only sane or sober one among the cast members turns out to be the in-house comic, Feste, played with some aplomb by Anya Destiney.
A bit of cross-dressing went a long way in Shakespeare’s time (there wasn’t much on the telly, after all), and any staging in the open air comes with its challenges. But here, Harris and Lewis have excelled themselves. Not the Hebridean islands, but Steve Harris and Keith Lewis, the stage crew and part of the company responsible for building the three-part deck stage that provided a versatile and compelling setting for the action and was readily visible for the good-sized audience.
But then, all aspects of the backstage production work, the sound and subtle lighting for dusk, to the luscious costumes, worked well and enhanced the piece.
Part of this is undoubtedly because of the steady-hand of the director, Richard Lloyd, assisted by Pete Bird, once again delivering a show to a very high standard.
Lloyd, as Sir Andrew, in the scenes he shares with Mike Brown as the rumbustious Belch and Simeon Dawes as Fabian, nearly steals the show, with some of the most inventive staging, best pratt-falls and Shakespearean comedic acting you are likely to see.
It certainly had the audience fully engaged and laughing out loud.
In the end, it all comes down to colour choices and cross garters as well as the cross-dressing. You need to see it through to the end to see how it all works out… Suffice to say, it’s to be hoped that we won’t have to wait another two years to enjoy another TWC spectacular.
- Twelfth Night by the Theatre Workshop Coulsdon continues at Coulsdon Manor Hotel with performances at 7.45pm tonight and on August 3, 4, 5 and 6. For more details and to book tickets (£10, concessions £8), click here
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