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English Touring Theatre’s production of Twelfth Night, which is at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre until Saturday, offers a great evening of entertainment; however, as with most Shakespeare plays, don’t expect to end the night with a neat notion of the characters’ mental, moral or emotional stability.

The portrayal of the wise and wise-cracking, musical yet misanthropic fool Feste is a key element that one anticipates in any production of Twelfth Night. Whilst Shakespeare’s fools often present a problem for modern audiences as the majority of the formerly funny one-liners and witty word-play is lost in translation of comedic taste shifts of the last 400 years; in this production, the decision to cut the occasional antiquated gag is to its credit but the presentation of the whole play as a tale told by the roguish raconteur-for-hire is a flash of theatrical brilliance. This is supported by the wiry, dead-pan Irish depiction from Brian Protheroe who swaggers with the air of an ageing rock star who has seen too much, too young and who may be hard up on his luck but that’s his prerogative in order to retain a detachment from the world and the potential emotional messiness that results from too deep an involvement in it.ross_waiton_as_antonio_in_twelfth_night_sheffield_theatres_and_english_touring_theatre_photo_mark_douet

There are many theatrical devices which, after being conceived by directors, played with by actors and interpreted by production budgets, become meaningless when realised onstage; however, whilst this production is packed with layered concepts (many of which I may not have been fully aware of had I not attended the excellent pre-show talk given by Assistant Director on the production, Peter Bradley) they are not at the expense of the production as a whole.

The most effective of these is the use of rose petals as a symbol of how twins, who unexpectedly land in a place deeply entrenched in sadness, are able to touch those lives they come into contact with in a magical, mysteriously beautiful way. By placing this at-first-reading frivolous comedy in 1920s Britain, the echoes of the Great War strike an appropriately melancholic chord and the final startlingly haunting scene of blood-lit petals, silently trodden by the ghosts of the characters we have just enjoyed, overlaid with the melodic folksy tones of Feste is one which serves as a brilliant denouement to this morally suspect tale.

Perhaps, at times, some of the cast may have been struggling to adapt from the intimacy of a thrust stage format (this production started its life at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre); last night was only the first night on a more traditional proscenium arch stage, but there were moments when the relationships and sentiments were not totally believable. However, this will no doubt improve as they settle into the new staging.david_fielder_as_sir_toby_belch_in_twelfth_night_sheffield_theatres_and_english_touring_theatre_photo_mark

The Grand Theatre are in the process of a deeper relationship with the works of Shakespeare and are positioning themselves as a hub through which young people of Blackpool can connect with his works in a variety of ways. It was therefore heartening to see the (again depressingly diminutive) audience largely made up of school pupils, all of whom were impeccably behaved and intelligently engaged with the production throughout. I look forward to more offerings in this vein and urge local audiences to support the high-quality works of drama available on our doorstep. Twelfth Night plays at Blackpool Grand Theatre until Saturday 25 October and tickets are available from just £15 online and from the booking office.

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    Melanie Whitehead is the Creative Director of The Old Electric, Blackpool's newest theatre. She previously worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.

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