Visits by the Bristol-based Tobacco Factory could become one of the regular highlights of the Everyman season, I wrote a year ago, when the company first brought one of its Shakespeare productions to Cheltenham.
If only my predictions could always be so well-founded.
Then it was Two Gentlemen of Verona. For their second visit director Andrew Hilton has brought this more familiar comedy, but has chosen not to dwell upon the usual contrast between the false formality of the court and the arcadian myth of the forest.
Duke Ferdinand struts and dresses like a dictator; his alter ego the dispossessed Duke Senior – both played by Chris Bianchi – and his merry men lounge in rustic garb.
But that’s about it, and one large vaguely rural backdrop hangs over the entire production, seeming to unify the two worlds, in which it is the play of passions, not conflicts of class, that command attention.
Central to this celebration of love is Dorothea Myer-Bennett’s wonderful Rosalind. Sad, giddy, manipulative, wise, her escape to the countryside is a liberation of spirit and intellect. Watching her performance was like seeing a plant grow to full flower in a single evening.
Jack Wharrier is a commendable Orlando, whose jaw almost hits his boots when first favoured by the lovely Rosalind.
Even if the scenes in which he pretends to woo her disguised as a boy may lack the customary unease, careful attention to the text brings out shades of character in a play easily marred by caricature.
There’s an occasional sparkiness between Daisy May’s Celia and Rosalind, and nowhere is such insight better exemplified than in the problematic and sometimes tedious roles of Touchstone and Jaques.
Vic Llewellyn plays the former as a rather cynical, eccentric, old show-off, while Paul Currier is a superb Jaques, viewing the world off-centre like a melancholy drunk.
And Hannah Lee is so good as country-girl Audrey they even let her play a part not in the original, as the court tell-tale Hisperia.
At three hours, it’s surprising the evening shows start as late as 7.45. The time flew nevertheless.
The play continues to Saturday. Tickets 01242 572573 and online.