Tag Archives: Owen Horsley



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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Linck & Mülhahn


Hampstead Theatre

LINCK & MÜLHAHN at the Hampstead Theatre



“Wilson and Bain are remarkable, deftly switching between the comedy and the subtler, more poignant moments”


Linck and Mülhahn is billed as an epic romance inspired by the true story of an 18th century gender pioneer. I expected it to be an interesting story, and an important one. What I did not expect, was for it to be funny. But funny it is. Very funny.

Much of this is down to Ruby Thomas’ script, which is both witty and bawdy, full of inuendo, and lightning-fast flirting. Owen Horsley’s direction pumps the play with energy, and it races along, aided by punk rock scene transitions by sound designer Max Pappenheim. Despite the heavy subject matter, the play rushes along with zest and spirit.

All that survives of this true story are the court transcripts, documenting Anastasius Linck’s life and their gender non-conformity. Ruby Thomas has framed this story as a romance between Linck and Catharina Mülhahn. There are shades of the screwball comedies in these lovers’ fast-paced flirtation. Both are radical, passionate about the contemporary political philosophy and enjoy a racy joke. Their sizzling romance begins with the feisty young Mülhahn (Helena Wilson) gawping at the dashing Linck (Maggie Bain) through a window. Her unabashed lust, and boldness, is refreshing in a period drama. Throughout the play the dialogue crackles out from the era, making the characters feel so real, it’s easy to forget they’re all long dead.

Both Wilson and Bain are remarkable, deftly switching between the comedy and the subtler, more poignant moments. A particular highlight of both performances is a quiet scene where they bathe one another. Their chemistry and connection are the heart of the play and there is no doubt that these two belong together.

Another stand-out performance is from Lucy Black, as Mülhahn’s mother. It’s a fascinating character, she is bitter, trapped in her internalised conventionality but hopelessly bored and lonely. Black seamlessly navigates the complexity of this role, making her at once both a villain and a victim of her own era.

Simon Wells’ set is modern and evocative. It is a revolving two-storey structure made of veiled screens and doors, which often light up in different colours, courtesy of lighting designer Matt Daw. This creates an illusion of privacy in more intimate scenes, but also the sense that their privacy is as flimsy as the screens themselves.

There are moments where the comedy muddles the emotional punch, especially in the second half. There is also a narrator, which at times feels melodramatic, and unnecessary given the strength of the story itself.

But it is a great story, and this play has spun it in a way which feels fresh, and vibrant. This is not the story of a downtrodden victim. It is the bold and unapologetic cry to leave shame behind and live your own truth.


Reviewed on 6th February 2023

by Auriol Reddaway

Photography by Helen Murray


Previously reviewed at this venue:


Big Big Sky | ★★★★ | August 2021
Night Mother | ★★★★ | October 2021
The Forest | ★★★ | February 2022
The Fever Syndrome | ★★★ | April 2022
The Breach | ★★★ | May 2022
The Fellowship | ★★★ | June 2022
Mary | ★★★★ | October 2022
Blackout Songs | ★★★★ | November 2022
Sons of the Prophet | ★★★★ | December 2022
The Art of Illusion | ★★★★★ | January 2023



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