Theatre | Twelfth Night | Ken Longworth

GREAT FUN: Drew Tingwell and Tom Heath (Sir Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek) in Shakespeare in the Vines' Twelfth Night. Photo: Sarah Walker
GREAT FUN: Drew Tingwell and Tom Heath (Sir Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek) in Shakespeare in the Vines' Twelfth Night. Photo: Sarah Walker

WILLIAM Shakespeare’s romantic comedy Twelfth Night opens on a beach and is set largely in a town’s streets and gardens, so it is an appropriate play to present outdoors at Australian vineyards, including Calais Estate at Pokolbin.

Melbourne company Essential Theatre has been staging summer Shakespeare in the Vines productions at Australian wineries and gardens for 16 years and this show will have 22 performances at 19 venues, with the Calais Estate presentation on February 24.

With audience members coming from Sydney and other places beyond the Hunter, the staging offers a variety of options. Patrons can just come to see the show, which has the watchers sitting on a hillside adjoining the winery, a restaurant and other buildings, arrive in the middle of the day for a VIP experience that includes a tour of the vineyard and winery and a five-course lunch, or have a meal when the gates open at 4.30pm, two hours before the performance begins.

Twelfth Night starts with a young woman, Viola, swimming to the coast of the Mediterranean country Illyria. The ship on which she and twin brother, Sebastian, were passengers has been wrecked, and she believes her brother has been drowned. Terrified that as a woman she will be victimised, Viola disguises herself as a boy, taking the name Cesario.

When Viola arrives in a nearby town, she is introduced by the ship’s captain to the ruler, Duke Orsino, and finds herself attracted to him. But the Duke, who has a passion for one of the town’s women, Olivia, sends the male-garbed Viola to woo her on his behalf. This leads to more confusion, with Olivia in turn falling for the “boy”. The shambles intensify when the identical twin turns up after being rescued.

Twelfth Night, directed by Amanda LaBonte, has eight actors – Sharon Davis, Jean Goodwin, Jack Dixon Gunn, Grant Foulkes, Tom Heath, Helen Hopkins, Drew Tingwell, and Cariad Wallace –  with several playing two roles. Jean Goodwin, for example, is both twins and Grant Foulkes doubles as the ambitious but inept villain Malvolio and the captain. The costumes, which are various shades of black, white and grey, amusingly add to the confusion, with the only vivid colour being Malvolio’s yellow tights.

Bookings for the show, which begins at 6.30pm, can be made through Ticketek. Show only tickets are $50, students (to 18) $40. The VIP lunch package is $190, and includes reserved seating on the hillside. Show-only patrons are advised to bring a blanket or rug to sit on. In the event of rain, the performance will be held in the Calais Estate barrel room.

Calais Estate is at 151 Palmers Lane, Rothbury. Go to, or phone 4998 7654.