Iris Theatre’s production of Twelfth Night is certainly a Shakespeare production for all audiences. Set in the idyllic gardens of St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden, it incorporates elements of immersive theatre, live music and an immensely talented cast that makes for an accessible and thoroughly enjoyable performance of a Shakespearean classic.
Part of what makes this production so engaging is the way in which the company make such expert use of their beautiful outdoor space. The audience is directed through the garden to different scenes, really making everyone feel a part of the performance and adding a level of intrigue that is sustained throughout. Beginning in a small courtyard before being told to follow the cast into the St Paul’s Church garden, the show transports its audience to a whole range of different scenarios with ease. The only problem with this is that if you don’t make sure you’re in a good seat, it can be a bit of a challenge to see all of the action. Yet this really doesn’t impede the enjoyment of the show to any great extent, and by the third or fourth time moving around the garden you get to know where the best places to sit are.
Clearly all members of this cast are exceptional in their own right – I could easily single out all of them by name – and this again helps to make the production of Twelfth Night so enjoyable. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Henry Wyrley-Birch as Aguecheek; his scenes are full of humour, created by his over-dramatic facial expressions and exaggerated movement. I was also impressed by Julian Moore-Cook who opens the play as Orsino with an immediately engaging and passionate delivery. It is testament to these actors’ great skill that even a Shakespeare beginner like myself could largely follow the story without too much effort. Their ability to project their voices over the loud hustle and bustle of Covent Garden is also impressive and, despite a number of potential distractions (noisy helicopters and street buskers to name just two), the cast did not falter once.
Carys Beard’s set design has an authentic, DIY feel: twinkling fairy lights hang across the garden, fishing nets line the walls and floors, and large ship masts have been created from wooden poles and scrap fabric. This makes for an enchanting, almost magical atmosphere in which you can be transported to the land of Illyria with ease. I especially enjoyed the delicately decorated church scene at the finale of the play; floral trees decked again with fairy lights continue the wonderful atmosphere that had prevailed throughout the evening. Costumes have a similarly handcrafted feel, combining modern clothing with traditional Elizabethan style, and I felt these were nicely in keeping with the rest of the set.
This is one Shakespeare production I can wholeheartedly get behind. It offers an engaging and inclusive take on a traditional comedy and allows both seasoned Shakespearean veterans and complete newcomers to enjoy the show in equal measure.
Twelfth Night is playing at St Paul’s Church until 24 July. For more information and tickets, see the Iris Theatre website.