Beth Kelly

When I was first looking around Cambridge colleges back in the hazy days of sixth form, on some warmer June or July day, I stumbled upon Clare College’s Fellows’ Garden. I don’t especially think we were supposed to have gone in, but the twin pleas of my mother and I to a kindly gardener meant that I was allowed into the little paradise that this year’s May Week show is taking place in. It is like a secret garden, enclosed by box hedges and intermeshing foliage to hide away the roses, the gnarled apple trees, the waterlily-laden pond. One can even walk on the grass – or sit, or sprawl on picnic rugs, as the audience of the show will do.

Twelfth Night is “the perfect comedy”, striking the exact balance of light and dark necessary to keep an audience engaged

Shakespeare is traditional of May Week shows, especially those that take place in gardens. For the most part, Twelth Night is conducted in interiors, but the seclusion of the stage, in a little sunken garden surrounded by lawn and hedge, is enough to create the feeling of the luxurious homes of the Duke Orsino and the Countess Olivia. May Week shows do tend to run on quite a shoestring budget, but this has not hindered the cast and crew in any way, given that the show’s set is the garden in which it is staged. The biggest difficulty, no doubt, will be the unpredictability of the British weather – but this is true of any outdoor show, and nothing that a large umbrella and perhaps an emergency flask of tea can’t solve. “The rain it raineth every day”, after all.

Beth Kelly

Director Will Batty is intimately familiar with Twelfth Night (it was, in fact, his A Level English text) and so felt that it was most fitting to be recreated. The tone of this production, he explained, was more like the aftermath of a party, where everyone is slightly bruised and hungover – and therefore entirely appropriate for a May Week show. The cast agreed with his claim that Twelfth Night is “the perfect comedy”, striking the exact balance of light and dark necessary to keep an audience engaged, without straying into saccarine or cynical territory. The aim of this production, though, is also to draw the eye to the play’s darker elements – the torment of Olivia’s steward, Malvolio, played by the excellent Meg Coslett. Traditionally, Malvolio is shuttered in a dark room and plagued by the voices of the household; in this production, she is to be covered by a picnic blanket and bound in bunting, in keeping with the feeling of a party gone awry. The marriages that come at the end of the play, as is expected in a Shakespearean comedy, are not necessarily the resolution they are passed off as in the script – but to understand how this is the case, you’ll have to see the show.


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The play actually begins with the shipwrecking of two twins, Viola and Sebastian, whose parents were lost at sea. Viola is taken into Orsino’s household; Sebastian is cared for by a kindly sea captain, Antonio – they are, although homeless and displaced, able to take refuge with relative ease. In this political climate, therefore, both Will Batty and producer Beth Kelly think it especially important that any proceeds possible go to Jimmy’s, the homeless shelter that has been running in Cambridge since 1995. Especially with the excesses of May Week, I think it’s really important to highlight the endeavours of cast and crew alike in providing for those in need through their work.

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