It wasn’t the best day to travel to Stratford to see an outdoor production. The rain was persisting down from a gloomy grey sky and looked set to continue for hours if not days.
When we arrived at the outside stage at the Dell we saw members of Linlithgow Players standing around forlornly under dripping trees debating the best course of action. It had been decided that their play ‘What…You Will?’, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’, could not go ahead as the stage was too slippery. Plan B was to perform under the partial shelter of nearby trees. Plan C was to use a bandstand – but this was ruled out because of its proximity to the booming loudspeaker commentary accompanying a day of raft races on the river. It looked like a case of rain stops play.
Then a minor miracle happened. A friend of the local vicar suggested asking if it was possible to use the Holy Trinity church hall across the road and, coincidentally, a stone’s throw from the Bard’s resting place. Fingers – and everything else – were crossed as we awaited his response. To everyone’s delight, he agreed and the Players rushed inside to set up the scenery and don costumes. Many members of the congregation who had been having coffee decided to stay – considerably boosting audience numbers.
After a bout of frenzied activity the stage was set and the play began with a ship-wrecked Viola (Liz Drewett) lamenting the loss of her twin brother Sebastian (Mark Eggeling) as she arrived on the shores of modern day Scotia – a thinly disguised version of Scotland.
The ensuing action took place around the estates of the love-sick rock star Duke (Gavin MacDonald) and the object of his desire, American film star Olivia (Therese Gallacher).
Enter Viola, now disguised as a man, to complicate things with a love triangle which sees Olivia falling for her. The plot thickens with Maria (Sue Spencer), a mischievous Hungarian house-keeper, Olivia’s drunken uncle Toby (Ian Stewart) and his gormless gullible sidekick Andrew (Ray Myers) who set out to fool estate manager Malcolm (Les Fulton) into thinking Olivia has fallen for him.
Meanwhile, Sebastian is far from drowned but has been rescued by Tony (David Wotherspoon) and turns up to complicate things further.
The play moved along at a cracking pace and breathed new life into Shakespeare’s classic tale of mistaken identity and romance.
The cast had worked as a team to re-write their lines in modern speech, except for the two characters who arrive from ‘Shakespeare Land’ – twin siblings Olivia and Sebastian.
With its comic timing and superb acting, it was easy to see why the play, first performed in their home town of Linlithgow as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Open Stages project, had won the accolade of being selected to be performed in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The entire play centres around the many predicaments faced by Viola, a part played to perfection by Liz Drewett who was ably supported by a truly talented cast. There were many magical moments but the one that brought the house down was when Malcolm is duped into wearing a bright yellow tartan outfit to go a-wooing.
Another highlight was the ongoing boozy banter between Toby and Andrew which was expertly timed for maximum comic effect. The final dance routine – Prince’s ‘1999’ executed as an Elizabethan madrigal – was a delight and the whole production was directed with flair by Sandra Moar.
We felt so privileged to have seen this play which the dismal weather threatened to cancel. As one person commented, “Being able to perform in the church hall was a godsend”. It certainly proves that where there’s a will there’s a way – and I’m sure Will Shakespeare himself couldn’t have plotted it better.