Performed by the award-winning Side by Side Theatre Company for actors with learning disabilities, Illyria on Sea takes Twelfth Night to a 1950s seaside resort in this refreshing and enchanting interpretation of Shakespeare’s carnivalesque comedy. For those unfamiliar the plot, it involves cross-dressing, crossed wires and cross-gartering. Viola, an impressive Sarah Field, is shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria where she dresses as a boy to gain employment with Count Orsino. Orsino, however, is in love with Olivia, who in this version owns the seaside hotel. Dance numbers and humour bring the play to life and the cast masters the Bard’s lines with panache. ‘If music be the food of love play on!’

This adaptation is spectacularly original, yet remains true to its source throughout.

James Emtage as the brooding Orsino opens the dialogue with suitable grandeur and stately presence, but Ben Rees steals the show as Feste the clown. In full costume, Rees’s subtle sad-clown expressions and Shakespearean serious-fooling become the perfect combination of somber and flippant. He closes the proceedings with a fantastically eerie final song.

The comedy is well delivered and incorporates just enough slapstick to fit be with the silly seaside setting. Toby Shaw deserves praise as Andrew Auguecheek, Sir Toby Belch’s gormless sidekick. Sir Toby’s drunken swagger is perfected by Paul Taylor. Nevertheless, the romance of the play is not lost in the carnivalesque proceedings, particularly in a wedding scene performed with an almost ethereal tenderness by Theresa Byrne and David Atkins.

The performance bounced along at an energetic pace and had only one or two lulls during joke-telling segments that became slightly repetitive. Musical interludes add to the dream-like atmosphere, while the use of haunting masks borders on the stuff of nightmares. The joy in this Twelfth Night is in the little touches – the supporting cast in Pierrot garb, the imaginative puppet ship-wreck, Malvolio’s yellow stockings. This adaptation is spectacularly original, yet remains true to its source throughout.  

Reviews by Amber Segal

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The Blurb

Side By Side Theatre Company Stourbridge are in their 17th year. They have performed in Sweden, Prague and at the Edinburgh Fringe and won many awards at theatre festivals. Last year they were awarded the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service and have once more been chosen to be part of the Royal Shakespeare Company's Open Stages Project with Illyria-on-Sea, a comic, musical interpretation of Twelfth Night, set at the sea-side in the 1950s. 'A performance that delights the eyes and makes us feast with our hearts... Dream On was beautiful' Donald C Stewart ( for Dream On, 2012.