Tag Archives: Matthew Spencer



Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

TWELFTH NIGHT at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre


“The emotional stakes reach the treetops in the park. The magic shoots for the stars. It is innovative, funny, cheeky, camp and degenerate.”

I’ve never really been sure where Illyria was geographically, but walking away from Regent’s Park, as the moon rises and the lights twinkle through the greenery, the urge to pinpoint it on the map is great. It seems to be somewhere between Montenegro and Croatia. But what a fabulous holiday destination it would make. Not for the sun and the sea, mind. But the locals. According to Owen Horsley’s louche version of “Twelfth Night”, there’s a little harbour café, named after its eccentric owner, Olivia. Its décor as unprincipled as the people that gather there, full of debauchery, music, liquor and queerness. It is Olivia’s world. Played by the tremendous Anna Francolini, Olivia grandly presents herself, channelling Norma Desmond, veiled in black lace and bluesy piano chords in five-four time. Belting ballads and clutching her brother’s ashes, Francolini sets the tone. Loud in her grief, silent in her longing, and always self-mocking.

You just want to go there and while away the early hours with this motley crew. The bar has seen better days. And so has Sir Toby Belch. Michael Matus, as off-duty and off-his-head drag queen, is a loveably licentious Toby, smeared in campness and lipstick. Matthew Spencer’s Andrew Aguecheek is a foppish travelling salesman type. A sofa-crasher, teetering on the verge of outstaying his welcome. Anita Reynold’s Maria is on hand to out-mischief her mischievous colleagues, while Julie Legrand’s Feste is primed with wistful wisdom, ready to out-sing her hostess. Weaving himself into the throng is Malvolio, a deliciously prim Richard Cant with sinewy self-righteousness, flexing his indignation like a haughty schoolmistress.



The band of musicians add merriment and melancholy in equal measure. Late night jazz adds magic to the twilight while a saxophone cries to the moon. The intended queerness that Horsley is unearthing from Shakespeare’s text is less a celebration than an extra layer. What comes across more is the eccentricity and the camaraderie, the joie-de-vivre and the affectionate rivalry. Shipwrecked, and stumbling into this mayhem, Viola (the brilliantly sassy Evelyn Miller) surprisingly takes it all in her stride. Mind you, she has just run into the dashing Orsino (a thoughtful and commanding Raphael Bushay), so her mind is on other matters. Dressed as a boy – Cesario – she is reluctantly despatched to persuade Olivia of Orsino’s unrequited love. But damn it all – Olivia swoops out of her veil to pop her lusty eyes on the alluring amorousness that Cesario/Viola exudes.

Interestingly, the secondary plotline explores the unrequited love more convincingly. Antonio draws the short straw, always the one left alone at the end of the play. Nicholas Karimi is a potent symbol of loyalty, also subtly conveying the shadowed buds of love for Sebastian. Andro Cowperthwaite (a dead-ringer for Miller’s Viola), while returning the affection has the thankless task of being too easily seduced by Olivia. We never lose sympathy, but the haste with which the happy couples all come together is a flaw which dents our empathy. Similarly, the cruelty towards Malvolio fails to come across sufficiently, and his vow for revenge resembles a telling off in an unruly classroom. What is achieved, however, is a novel and refreshing sense of forgiveness, which steers us towards a finale steeped in affection and fellowship.

The emotional stakes reach the treetops in the park. The magic shoots for the stars. It is innovative, funny, cheeky, camp and degenerate. Again, if only this bar could be found in a holiday brochure. I’d be there like a shot. You just want to spend as much time as possible with these characters. Well – actually – you can do that by going to the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. And I strongly urge you to do so.

TWELFTH NIGHT at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Reviewed on 9th May 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Richard Lakos





Previously reviewed at this venue:

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES | ★★★★★ | August 2023
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND | ★★★★ | May 2023
LEGALLY BLONDE | ★★★ | May 2022
ROMEO AND JULIET | ★★★½ | June 2021

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night

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Haunting Julia – 2 Stars

Haunting Julia

Haunting Julia

Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

Reviewed – 3rd November 2018


“a disappointing production, that neither scares nor moves, though Spencer’s performance is the saving grace”


The papers called her ‘Little Miss Mozart’ but twelve years after her death, where she was found having overdosed on sleeping pills at the age of nineteen, Julia’s father Joe, is still looking for answers. He has invited Julia’s last boyfriend, Andy, to the music centre that he has built around Julia’s bedroom, an unaltered shrine to her genius. Joining them is Ken Chase, a local psychic, so he says, though his connection to Julia’s life goes far deeper. It is both a ghost story and a psychological narrative of grief and loss. The weight of creative genius on a person, particularly from such a young age, is interestingly explored and commented upon.

However Haunting Julia isn’t one of Alan Ayckbourn’s best plays and, in this case, it isn’t helped by the overall production. Originally intended by its writer as a ninety minute piece, in longer form it is now a slow journey, repetitive and unengaging. It plods along, pedestrian-like, until the melodramatic ending which elicits more laughter than fear from the audience tonight.

Matthew Spencer delivers a strong and nuanced performance as Andy Rollinson, Julia’s boyfriend at the time, beginning the play as a sceptical non-believer, and ending the play shaken and moved. However he is flanked by two disappointing performances from Sam Cox and Clive Llewellyn. Cox is unconvincing, acting out towards the audience rather than towards his fellow actors, and the emotional complexity of this stifling, grieving father figure is not accessed by his performance. Both Cox and Llewellyn also struggle to deliver the notes of humour that pepper the script and are characteristic of Ayckbourn’s writing, causing the play to drag and stagnate over and over.

The set, designed by Jess Curtis, is functional and competently done, but it isn’t anything awe-inspiring, and the spacing of it contributes to the frequently bizarre staging of the actors by director Lucy Pitman-Wallace, which often makes the interactions between the characters feel unnatural and performative.

This is a disappointing production, that neither scares nor moves, though Spencer’s performance is the saving grace.


Reviewed by Amelia Brown

Photography by Mark Sepple


Haunting Julia

Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch until 17th November


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Rope | ★★★★ | February 2018
The Game of Love and Chai | ★★★ | April 2018
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert | ★★★ | May 2018
Abi | ★★★★ | September 2018
Abigail’s Party | ★★★½ | September 2018
Once | ★★★★★ | October 2018


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