In 2012 Shakespeare’s Globe revived their all-male Twelfth Night originally performed in 2002 to celebrate the 400th performance of the play. After a stint in the West End last winter, the production has made its way across the pond cherry-picking its cast from different incarnations along the way and is being presented in rep with Richard III. Famously directed by Tim Carroll to be as close to the original production as possible, Twelfth Night invites the audience to come early to watch the cast put on their makeup and costumes and listen to Elizabethan music.
Once the play starts, however, the audience would never know they were watching a 410 year-old play. We’re not really in Illyria, we’re in an Elizabethan hall. The way the play is staged doesn’t require a set other than a table, some benches and chairs and some shrubbery. Everything the audience needs to know is in Shakespeare’s words and in the performances onstage.
The cast is so phenomenal and so well-blended, that the ensemble nature of the play is a blessing. We get to see Mark Rylance’s kabuki-esque Olivia, skittering across the stage under a large skirt, hiding behind a white painted face and bright lipstick and rouge. We get to see Samuel Barnett’s sexually ambiguous Viola/Cesario with curly auburn locks and and a serious fear of swordsmanship both literal and figurative. And, the draw for many, Stephen Fry’s pious and ultimately humiliated Malvolio. But these big names are supported and upstaged by hilarious performances throughout the play. Angus Wright’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek is hilariously proper and idiotic with his pale face and Anna Wintourbob. Paul Chahadi is wicked as Maria, who in cahoots with Andrew Aguecheek and Sir Toby Belch sets up the humiliated of Malvolio. Peter Hamilton Dyer’s Feste is funny, honest and has a beautiful singing voice.
This particular production of Twelfth Night brings out the absurdity of the situation by heightening the humor through caricature. But there are moments of poignancy throughout. When Orsino and Cesario listen to Feste’s song and explore the budding romance between them, there’s a sweetness in the attempts to conceal and test their interest in one another. Rather than being classically attractive, Rylance’s Olivia is a study in crazed control. The scene between Olivia and Viola/Cesario showcases this perfectly and Samuel Barnett’s Viola is caught off-guard, yet steadfastly strong.
Of the many productions of Shakespeare in New York this fall, the double bill from the Globe (I saw Richard III in London in February) are fresh, entertaining and riotous fun.
THEATRE REVIEW by Kate Mulley