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Steam-age Shakespeare travels first class

Twelfth Night, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford, until February, 2018.

As Malvolio says: "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."

So it is with the Royal Shakespeare Company's latest production of Twelfth Night.

This isn't one of the Bard's best plays but the set designs are sensational - and the cast isn't half bad either.

Adrian Edmondson - who achieved a form of crazy immortality in the tv series The Young Ones - gets back to his comic roots as Malvolio, the butler with designs on his mistress (Kara Tointon), who in turn has fallen in love with Cesario (Dinita Gohil), who as it happens is really Viola, a woman in disguise.

Meanwhile, Viola's identical-looking twin brother (Esh Alladi) has just arrived at the nearby railway station.

Yes, yes, he was earlier lost at sea but RSC director Christopher Luscombe has updated this production to Victorian times which allowed for the recreation of a railway station, along with an opium-smoking artists' salon, plus a glorious conservatory complete with Roman statues and a fish pond.

The statues are used to great effect by the other comic turns: John Hodgkinson as Sir Toby Belch and Michael Cochrane as Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

But it's Edmondson who has to run the gamut of emotions from haughty, to preposterous, to pitiful, as this lacklustre plot of love-at-first-sight evolves into something closer to Gilbert and Sullivan with cross-dressing.

Twelfth Night is today seen as a play about gender identity and sexual attraction. Whether Shakespeare saw it that way - with men desiring other men and being worried about it - is open to modern interpretation.

It may not have been such a big deal in the Elizabethan theatre when all the female roles would have been played by young boys anyway.

But yes, I think this musical light farce with a touch of pantomime, great comic timing and amazing staging does have a little greatness thrust upon it.

* This RSC production of Twelfth Night is to be broadcast live from the theatre in Stratford next Valentine's Day (February 14). To find your nearest cinema screening the play visit:

Photo by Manuel Harlan, above, of Dinita Gohil, as Viola, and Kara Tointon as Olivia.

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