A CHILLY August evening saw audiences well wrapped up for a night of theatre in an elegant walled garden.

But the cool temperatures could not detract from the warmth of the reception given to The Lord Chamberlain’s Men for their hilarious performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at Arley Hall.

Audiences may have been utterly baffled by one of the bard’s most complicated plots, but that just added to the enjoyment of the tangled romantic comedy, which was brought to life on the stage by an obviously accomplished team of performers.

For those who don’t know, here’s a brief outline of the plot (take a deep breath).

It centres on Viola, who is shipwrecked off the coast of a land called Illyria, along with her twin brother Sebastian - both believe the other to have drowned.

Viola disguises herself as a boy, Cesario, and enters the service of Duke Orsino, who is in love with Countess Olivia.

Orsino sends Cesario (Viola) to woo Olivia on his behalf and Olivia falls in love with ‘Cesario’, little suspecting Cesario is a woman, while Viola has herself fallen in love with Orsino - a perfect love triangle.

Add to this a sub-plot where Viola’s guests play tricks on her pompous steward Malvolio, which see him dressed up in cross-gartered yellow stockings and presumed completely mad, and you see that this is a play of utter mayhem.

Oh, and The Lord Chamberlain’s Men are all men.

So in the case of Viola, a man plays a woman pretending to be a man.

In fact, Ollo Clark, who played Viola, did his job so well that at times I found myself wondering why the other characters did not realise Cesario was a woman because it was so obvious.

His mannerisms and gestures may have been over the top ‘girlie’ but were utterly perfect in this crazy comedy and he was totally convincing.

Tom Lincoln was equally as believable as the love-struck Olivia, managing to combine comedy with the dignity of the countess.

On the subject of physical theatre, credit must go to Lukas Lee, Andrew Keay and Todd James, who played drunken companions Sir Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek and Olivia’s jester Feste.

Their capering, staggering, singing and dancing added so much life, energy and laughter to the performance as a whole - they were a joy to watch.

The true comedic actor of the night was Jon-Paul Rowden as Malvolio - both as the pompous man who takes himself ever so seriously and the smiling fool dancing in his yellow stockings - the memory of those scenes makes me chuckle as I write this.

Edmund Sage-Green played both Orsino and Olivia’s waiting-gentlewoman Maria - it is testament to his performance that I only realised this fact when I checked the programme.

The majority of the small cast of seven men played more than one part, which in some cases added to the confusion but never diminished from the effectiveness of the performance.

They were also all wonderful singers and their music added much to the evening - it was funny, thought provoking, surprisingly catchy and, alongside the truly beautiful Elizabethan costumes, really created a sense of time and place.

Let’s hope The Lord Chamberlain’s Men return to Arley again next year - I’m looking forward to it already.