Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Brendan O’Hea
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
Set alongside Pericles and The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night forms a third of The Globe’s touring production schedule this season – with all three mixing themes of displacement, refuge and loss. The show is vigorous, playful and fun with a few twists and quirks that charm, but likely is not one for the history books.
Though the timing of the play’s world moves slightly, it is largely set around the time of the yearly Christmas revelry. A young girl, Viola, has washed up on the beach, a shipwreck survivor after a storm that she believes (erroneously) claimed the life of her twin brother. She dresses as a man, Cesario, to ensure her safety and survival in this strange world. In this guise she enters into service of the Duke Orsino (falling in love with him in the process) who sends her to Olivia to woo her on his behalf. On her side, Olivia’s house is in disarray with her uncle and his friends making mischief as part of their drunken partying, and the fool, Feste, working to cause as much disruption as possible.
A cast of different looks, voices, styles and demeanours bring an enjoyable energy to the production. The mix encourages a feeling that each character is brought to this place by a fate, or worldly chance, rather than as a result of entrenched social condition or habit – a welcome idea for sure. Making a real presence of this diversity brings depth to the show, connecting a modern audience with a play that contains some fairly out of date capering with its sad treatment of Malvolio and Sir. Andrew. This diversity also brightens an area of blandness in the production.
The individual characters are generally great on their own – stylistically they fit but there’s a lack of ease or cohesion on stage. In an unhappy twist, it’s the play’s doomed relationship, that of Sir Andrew and Sir Toby, that shows the most real intimacy throughout. Perhaps we’re seeing a difficulty inherent in people of such different backgrounds and experiences in creating lasting, deep relationships (noting the two knights above seem to be the only two shown to share a common background). This feeling of disjointedness muffles the energy and drive of the play and it feels, especially at times like Malvolio’s imprisonment and the “discovery” section with the siblings that it’s going through them for form’s sake.
The play is Shakespeare with a message for the modern world. One of community, of difficulty. It’s not terribly clear, but it’s a good journey nonetheless. Modern performance elements like the music, some gesturing and asides bring the text to life, giving the play some real charisma. Overall, it deserves to do well, but could do better.
Touring, with final London performance on 21 August