SHAKESPEARE al fresco grows apace at Ripley Castle, where Sprite Productions have expanded their summer run to four weeks.

This is the fourth year chez Ingilby for artistic director Liam Evans-Ford and his increasingly progressive company, whose horizons now stretch to staging The Tempest on the lake next summer.

The lake looms large behind Phoebe Whyte’s shipwrecked Viola, as she is washed up on the shore of Illyria to set in motion Shakespeare’s comedy of order, class, gender confusion and garish cross-gartered stockings.

As always, this promenade production has no set design credit in the programme. Instead, Sprite make merry in the woods and the walled gardens, finding new locations once more.

One scene gains extra comic pounds from the audience being one side of a garden gate, and assorted members of Sir Toby Belch’s “lighter people” looking in from the other. A bell on a garden wall comes in handy too, while the circular centrepiece of the walled garden affords an ever-moving hiding place for James Holmes’s wonderfully bleary Belch, Philip Benjamin’s frivolous fop, Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Catherine Skinner’s scheming Brummie Maria to duck and dive as Alex Barclay’s preposterously pompous Malvolio puffs up his ego while reading Maria’s forged letter of affection from Joanna Croll’s courtly countess, Olivia.

Comic performances veer towards the broad, especially Holmes’s Oliver Reed-style turn, but there is seriousness too in Stephen Darcy’s duke, Orsino, and the purposeful demeanour and awkwardness of Phoebe Whyte in her male disguise as Cesario. Max Gell maximises the bewilderment in Sebastian, Viola’s twin breather, as Shakespeare weaves his web of mistaken identities.

The audience is led hither and thither either by musical director Geoff Hense or by the beckoning hand of Jack Whitam’s jester Feste: Whitam by name, and witty by nature in his floating performance as the sharpest of all Shakespeare’s Fools. Whitam, all elongated fingers, quizzical observation and decisive comment, never overplays any moment, a necessary and well judged contrast with the breathless Malvolio-baiting badinage around him.

Kerbel’s fast, fluent production moves with élan between frenetic farce and turbulent romance, darkening like the summer skies when the mood demands. The sprightly Sprite have another hit on their hands.

Box office: 01423 770632.