'An actor's route to Shakespeare these days is to have a successful TV series and then be invited to play a big role at one of the national companies. Nobody does Shakespeare anymore. There are fewer of his plays at this year's Edinburgh Festival than ever before.'

Over the last couple of years, Phil Willmott (right) has been trying to redress the balance. His first ventures were at the Man in the Moon and now Illyria - a fantasy of Twelfth Night - has just opened at the Finborough.

'If you're going to do Shakespeare on the fringe, you have to do something with it. Working in small intimate spaces, the psychology of the characters becomes paramount. We have worked against the way characters are usually played,' he explains.

'Sir Toby Belch is really vicious, but he's usually portrayed as a fat, jolly old man. So we've cast him as a handsome thug. All too often the Malvolio plot is played down. A servant is deceived into believing his mistress in love with him. It's remarkably cruel. In our production, Malvolio is a very beautiful, lonely dyke. It's fascinating to see what that does to audiences' sympathies. Twelfth Night is a comedy, but it's not just a romp. I was worried that all this work would stop it being funny. I'm delighted to see that it hasn't. . . but the laugh catches in the throat. Everyone thinks they know the play. It's fascinating to work on that assumption.'

Finborough box office: 071-373 3942

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