Francesca McClimont admires DIY Theatre Company’s Twelfth Night on Oxford’s Hogacre Common

PERFORMED in the beautiful open grounds of Oxford’s Hogacre Common, DIY Theatre Company’s latest production, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, was well and truly a breath of fresh air.

The Shakespearean comedy, performed for two days at the end of last month, was just what a culturally-starved audience was craving after months of lockdown.

The matinée on August 29 kicked off the shows with a windy yet energetic and optimistic start, but Sunday evening’s final show was picture-perfect, with a stunning sunset that provided the perfect backdrop to the drama unfolding on the open air stage.

The set was framed by its rural setting and surrounded by lush orchards and allotment gardens. After crossing the footbridge that goes over the railway, audiences were immersed in magical lighting to guide them to the venue: shadows of blue and purple lit up the shrubs that lined the path to give a glimpse into what a special evening lay ahead.

In line with Covid-19 safety regulations, members of the audience were asked to sanitise their hands and leave their contact details on arrival.

Each household then sat in their own small group distanced from others.

Twelfth Night is a lighthearted comedy which plays on the themes of romance, madness and disguise.

Gender confusion is mainly what constitutes the latter theme and creates a love triangle between Olivia (theatrically played by Lucy Gibbons), Duke Orsino (brought to life by Alex Jacobs’ stage presence) and the twins Sebastian (thoughtfully portrayed by Maddie Hunter) & Viola (who disguises as Cesario – played by talented Mali Borja). It also comments on social and female agency: Olivia’s handmaid, Maria (whose ingenuity and cheekiness was cleverly depicted by Izzy Jacobs) is the mastermind behind the plot to ridicule Malvolio (whose obsessive nature and infatuation with Olivia were impeccably portrayed by Henry Jensen).

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The characters to bring out the most laughter from the audience were Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (played by Ben Shaw and Sylvan Wroe-Pattullo, respectively). Both of these young men managed to capture the essence of these drunkards’ characters: their body language and speech slurring made even the most serious audience member laugh.

The actors ranged from 12 to 18 in age, so it is worth noting how well they all adapted to Shakespearean language. This was DIY’s first Shakespeare play and a move away from musical theatre. However in traditional DIY style there was a live band playing Elizabethan-style music, composed by cast members Aidan Lack and Henry Jensen, which complimented Shakespeare’s genius script beautifully.

The lit-up walk down the path to the venue, followed by the stage lighting that adapted to the shift from daylight to twilight to nighttime, showcased what RD Productions are capable of. Behind RD are Ryan Phipps and Danny Owen, who created the ambiance of each scene with their lighting and sound effects that greatly enhanced the action on stage, which included birdsong that sounded as real as any bird in the surrounding woods, and thunder as similar as the storms that brewed during rehearsals. Much to the sound technician’s frustration, every now and then our little Shakespearean bubble was pierced by the sound of a passing train, helicopter or ambulance – amusing reminders of the modern world encroaching on the magic.

Modern technology also allowed RD Productions to bring Twelfth Night to those who weren’t able to make it to the shows in person.

The Sunday night performance was livestreamed on YouTube, much to the delight of those who live abroad or who were in quarantine at the time.

Oxford Mail:

Mike Wroe put his English teaching skills to good use while directing this play. It was evident in the acting and enunciation of every cast member how much they had learnt from him about tone, cadence and rhythm.

Assistant director and stage manager Poly Smart equipped every scene and character with the props needed. Her in-depth knowledge of the play was indispensable to both director and cast.

Costume manager Lisbeth Tickell also deserves a commendation for the Shakespearean clothes that were perfectly tailored to each character.

The Twelfth Night weekend showed how the company could pull off anything, even in the toughest of times. Emerging from lockdown, only the ever-optimistic and bubbly Mel Houldershaw could produce one of Oxford’s first socially distanced shows in such a beautiful and safe way.

To see the show, email to purchase a £10 link to the online production.