VICTORIAN steampunk has been seen in Shakespeare on the national stage and now Barnard Castle’s thespians boldly embrace the genre to give an alternative twist to Twelfth Night.

Metallic paraphernalia and Goth-style costuming add a fresh dimension to the Castle Players’ open air production, which director Jill Cole turns into fete-like revels with much carousing and mischief on the large performance space.

Set designer Simon Pell’s wheel-spinning, steam-spewing tower dominates one side of the stage opposite a pair of forbidding iron pillars on the other, symbolising the distance between the lovelorn duke and chilly object of his passion.

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Visual comedy is enhanced by the large ensemble of non-speaking citizens who surge in choreographed movement about the space, adding to the perpetual partying against which the main characters conduct affairs of the heart complicated by mistaken identities and cross dressing disguise.

The role of household steward is gender-inverted, with Laura Shaw hugely funny as Malvolia, like a stern Carry On matron suddenly turning seductive vamp, raising loud laughs for her “cross gartered” posturing.

Perfect comic timing and expression also come from Ian Kirkbride’s ruddy-faced inebriate Sir Toby Belch, Ben Pearson’s hapless Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Bunny Forsyth as saucy maid Maria.

Viola (Libby Harding) and Olivia (Ella Blackburn) are engaging and natural in pursuit of the objects of their affection. Jevany Thompson is sufficiently lookalike to add to the confusion as Olivia’s missing brother. Cal Baker could expand more deeply into Orsino’s sensibilities as unrequited lover.

Visual highlights include the opening shipwreck scene and the crowd moving as one behind flat topiary figures to eavesdrop on Malvolia. Feste’s lines are adapted to be spoken by six Clowns, who comment on the action like a comic Greek chorus.

Clashing sound effects and music director Phil Sculthorpe’s dreamlike score underpin the production’s surreal quality. Performances nightly until Saturday.

Pru Farrier