THEATRE | Farmyard Bard … ‘More rock’n’roll panto than RSC – and in a good way’

FRONT ROOM PRODUCTIONS bring music and a promenade style to the tale of siblings Viola and Sebastian, stranded in the strange, northern lands of Illyria – home to farmers, country folk, and a lot of sheep. RICHARD HORSMAN enjoys a summer TWELFTH NIGHT down on the farm at TEMPLE NEWSAM

Leeds-based Front Room Productions do things differently, so if your idea of an outdoor summer Shakespeare is Pimm’s on the lawn of a stately home whilst a thesp shows us his Bottom, dream on.

The company that brought us Oliver and A Christmas Carol with audiences chasing the action around the nooks and crannies of Kirkgate Market have turned their attention to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night staged, improbably, amid the sties and stalls of Home Farm at Temple Newsam. Stout footwear is advisable for all.

They’ve cut a lot of lines and added a lot of pop hits, with lyrics adapted to the rustic setting.

The result is a rollicking fun evening with some great set pieces which use the sightlines and spaces of the farmyard location very effectively.

Overall the feel is more City Varieties’ Rock and Roll Panto than RSC, and in a good way. I can’t see Dame Judi making quite so many references to poo.

In fact, I can’t imagine a Shakespearean company anywhere having such fun with the material.

The actors are clearly enjoying every minute .. Riana Duce as Olivia attempting to seduce Viola (Olivia Race in drag as servant boy Cesario) with strawberries and cream, then necking the spray can when she’s rejected, Alex Prescot in full screaming camp mode as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Leanne Rowley as a female version of Sir Toby Belch (“Dame Tobiana”), the consummate party animal complete with “I am 40” birthday badge, and Harri Pitches striking a pose and a chord as the busking farmer ready to lead the company in another musical number.

Steve Banks stands out as Malvolio .. he certainly stands out in the dayglo yellow shorts that supplement the yellow stockings and cross garters. It’s a measured performance that balances comedy and pathos, and allows for a double take when interrupted by a goose.

Olivia Race (who also directs) holds it all together as Viola/Cesario and as Maria; just in case there weren’t enough multiple identities to contend with.

I think perhaps I’d expected a bit more overt interaction with the animals. Or a tractor. Or something obviously agricultural.

Yes, the geese and the ducks scurried around a bit and there aren’t many theatres where you can watch a performance alongside a Middle White Boar called Captain (or perhaps you can, if you substitute “middle-aged”) but with a few minor tweaks to the adapted lyrics the show would work equally well in a mill or a dockyard or any heritage location.

That said, it’s fun and it’s different and another success for the Leeds company that brought us the innovative Hurry Up Jess (set in real teenage bedrooms) earlier this year, and which will be bringing a site-specific performance to the Middleton Railway very soon.

Watch out for the work-in-progress tryout of that on Saturday 8 September.


Twelfth Night runs at Home Farm, Temple Newsam, until Sunday 12 August – tickets here.

You can take chairs or blankets for the performance, but remember you will encounter real poo. Parking is free at Temple Newsam after 5.30pm.