a few months ago, a trip to The Priestley was a sombre experience.
The air was cold, the audience thin and the place had a decaying
and resigned feel to it. When I paid my last visit, I really did
think the place was all washed up as a theatre venue.
Well, I'm glad to say I was wrong. Dead wrong. A brand new management
team, led by Tom Sandford, has come in and adopted a fresh and professional
approach to running the theatre. Judging by the audiences and the
general buzz around the place, all their hard work is paying off.
with comedy value"
the first major play of a new season - and a new era - it has to
be said Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare is a canny choice.
For starters, there are no performance fees to pay, as the author
is long deceased. What's more, the text is one being studied by
hundreds of school children across Bradford, which is why both matinee
performances have completely sold out. This is the kind of inspired
marketing ploy that will help ensure the long-term survival of The
The play itself is a solid Shakespearean yarn full of the Bard's
favourite comedy devices - confusion, disguise and mischief. During
a shipwreck, Viola is separated from her twin brother Sebastian
and presumes him to be dead. Stranded in the imaginary world of
Illyria, she disguises herself as a man called Cesario and enters
the service of Orsino, who she falls in love with.
Meanwhile, Orsino is in love with Lady Olivia, who is mourning for
her dead brother. When 'Cesario' is dispatched to woo the object
of Orsino's affections, Olivia falls in love with the disguised
Viola. From here there is much confusion, sadness and frustration
but ultimately harmony and happiness prevails.
There is also a second whimsical strand to the plot that involves
much mischief and general buffoonery from Olivia's hard-up, hard-boozing
uncle Sir Toby Belch, wealthy but foolish knight Sir Andrew Aguecheek
and the riddling court jester Feste.
When I went along to see this play on the second night, the scenes
zipped along at a good pace, and it was clear all the actors had
a good grasp of their lines. But delivering Shakespearean verse
is not easy, and in this respect some cast members faired better
In staging this production, ACT has gone for a simple design, with
a two-level dais featuring arches and plants commanding one third
of the stage. It certainly provides a good way for the grander characters
to enter and exit, but given the space it hogs, it seems to be rather
I'm always reluctant to single out individual performers in amateur
productions, because I know how much effort everyone puts in. But
for me Colin Fine gave one of the star performances as the boozy
Sir Toby Belch. It would have been easy to overplay this part but
Fine got it spot on. His timing was excellent and his subtle range
of expressions and reactions were great to watch.
range of outfits"
Olivia, Angela Reed gave a commanding performance, delivering her
lines with crispness and ease. A mention must also go to Cat Moss,
who did a sterling job in the hefty lead role of the Viola and Cesario.
I'm not brilliant at identifying period costume, but the garb looked
rather Victorian to me, with a few 20th century props thrown in.
The bright colours and eclectic range of outfits definitely added
verve and vitality to this production.
Given the tight rehearsal schedule, ACT deserves much credit for
staging such a large production to such a high standard. Yes, some
actors struggled to project while others were rather garbled in
their delivery, but this certainly didn't spoil the evening's entertainment.
If this production has a flaw, it's the intermittent lack of stage
direction. At times the actors made poor use of the available space,
and end up huddled together in corners as if they were trying to
keep warm. At one point towards the end of the play, the entire
cast seemed to be stood in a long line across the stage, with one
poor soul on the periphery looking like he was stuck to the wall.
With improved direction, I feel the production would have gained
extra life and energy. When the cast did venture onto the apron,
you immediately felt drawn into the action, so it's a pity they
didn't threaten the front row with their toes more often.
But this is something to work on for the future, and the fact remains
that ACT's two-hour performance of Twelfth Night is accessible,
enjoyable and brimming with comedy value. So if you haven't been
to the theatre for a while, why not get yourself down to the new-look
Priestley. An enjoyable evening, a warm welcome and a well-stocked
bar awaits. Now what more could you possibly want?