This is an interesting venture. Let’s do Twelfth Night as a Christmas show! After all, why not? That’s what the Bard wrote it as in the first place – though no Queen Elizabeth in the audience this time. And does it work as a panto? Well, most of it does, and some of it doesn’t quite, in this stripped down production with four women and two men playing all the parts.

For a kick-off you have to suspend even more disbelief than in Shakespeare’s time, when admittedly a lack of opticians might have made it easier to mistake two people of different height and gender for the same person. Here, it’s even more complicated by the extra doubling-up with a small cast. But hey, that’s part of the fun in many ways, with false moustaches going on and off, women becoming men, women becoming men becoming women, and occasionally one person playing two characters at the same time!

A blank set with a couple of Christmas trees makes it easier for the actors to change location quickly, though an audience may find it slower to catch up.

But the really festive touch is to have all the music in the show as familiar Christmas songs of various kinds to fit with the mood of the piece at any one time. Clever.

There were plenty of other things to enjoy; Jenny Johns’ cheeky clownish Feste; Philippa Howard’s convincingly Hispanic piratical Antonio; to contrast with another, hilariously unconvincing piratical sea captain complete with unconvincing hook (no parrot, though).

Tess Walker as Olivia in wildly over-sexualised vampish pursuit of the disguised Viola is a hoot, as is the general sexing-up of all the love interest; and of course you can’t fail with Malvolio and cross garters – and it doesn’t.

If you fancy a Bardic Christmas, then this is definitely for you.

*** (3 Stars)
John Christopher Wood