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BWW Reviews: TWELFTH NIGHT RE-IMAGINED FOR EVERYONE AGED SIX AND OVER, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, June 28 2014

Viola, masquerading as a boy called Cesario, loves Orsino, but he loves Olivia (mainly because he doesn't know "Cesario" is a girl) - but Olivia loves Cesario (not knowing "he" is Viola), while Viola's twin brother Sebastian (he comes in very handy later on) is still missing at sea and now in the dubious company of Antonio (the pirate enemy of Orsino). Meanwhile, poor old Malvolio is trying to do his best to serve his mistress, Olivia, but her uncle, the bibulous Sir Toby Belch, is busy boozing with his buddy Sir Andrew Aguecheek and plotting with Olivia's maid Maria to bring down straitlaced Malvolio with a forged love letter from Olivia. Got all that?

The joy of these Shakespeare adaptations for kids is that (whisper it) they're also adaptations for grown-ups (like me) who find all this plotting and posing in assumed identities rather wearing - yep, this one really is for everyone aged six and over! Director Max Webster also gives us a helping hand in tracking all these lusty pursuits by installing a tall "Test Your Strength"-style tower that rings when true love blooms. He is also extremely proficient at getting the actors on and off the stage in the right costumes - no mean feat when there's seven of them and a dozen parts to fill.

If we gain clarity (how I love clarity when Shakey is in town) we lose nothing of the poetry, the comedy, the energy of this wonderful romp. Sarah Ridgeway has something of the 1960s Carry-On Barbara Windsor's delight in dressing as a man, though we never forget that she's a smart woman with plenty of the charms required to snare smart aristocrats like Orsino and Olivia. Nick Malinowski's Duke is a white-suited playboy whose braggadocio fades as his heart melts. Malinowski's Malvolio also changes character, from one inviting scorn to one inviting pity, as he is locked in the doghouse - the Luis Suarez of Illyria. Riann Steele's beautiful and calm Olivia does eventually soften towards him, her decency even forgiving the infamous yellow breeches and cross-tied garters of his failed suit.

With Iain Johnstone and Vera Chok playing many instruments superbly as well as their roles, Wayne Cater and Guy Lewis might be sidelined a little as the comic double act Belch and Aguecheek, but they tread the line between drunken coarseness (there are a lot of kids in the audience) and slapstick clowning perfectly - and watch out for the water pistols!

Set in the lovely Regent's Park Open Air Theatre and with just enough audience participation to please the kids without alienating the adults, 100 minutes or so flies by, the low comedy punctuated by some of Shakespeare's most well-known lines and most lilting verses. If you're at school and seeing his work for the first time, or seeing his stuff for the first time since the classroom, I cannot recommend this production, with its music, its total absence of pomposity and its spectacular venue, highly enough. And, if like me you've seen a few of Shakespeare's plays (even the 225-minute Hamlet at The National a few years ago), then you'll revel in this stripped-down and focused Twelfth Night.

Twelfth Night Re-Imagined For Everyone Aged Six And Over continues at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre until 12 July.

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From This Author Gary Naylor