Twelfth Night – The Globe, London

Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Emma Rice
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

From about 10 seconds into Emma Rice’s last self-directed play for The Globe, you realise that some people are going to absolutely hate it. That realisation should also come with its mirror image – some will mark this up as an absolute triumph for Rice and the new creative wave she’s brought to The  Globe.

With apologies to those followers of factions in this divisive theatrical issue, this is a nonpartisan review. The show has a three star rating because despite some moments of hilarity, some excellent casting choices (genuinely, the effort put in here to represent a diverse cast is beautiful to see) and intriguing creative decisions it also has several problems that interrupt understanding and an emotional connection with the work.

Twelfth Night is a play that rewards subtlety and nuance – as a story about shifting identities and genders, about trickery and seduction it creates delight in building layers of meanings and double entendres. WIth bombast in performance and the 70s disco inspired soundtrack here those more delicate notes have been eclipsed. We’re given a visual spectacular with sequins, with dance numbers and (best of all) kilts and jumpers – but though gamely attempted by some fine actors we don’t get a portrayal of actual human emotions derived from love and loss.

Washed overboard by storm at sea and each fearing the other drowned, Violet and Sebastian (twins) make their way to Illyria to seek Count Orsino. Disguised as a man and sent to woo on the Count’s behalf, Viola herself becomes the target of Olivia’s affections and much confusion ensues. Elsewhere in Olivia’s house, Sir Toby and his friend Sir Andrew get involved in a prank on Olivia’s servant Malvolio that ends in regret.

Super performances from Joshua Lacey in particular as the Count Orsino, and Tony Jayawardena as Sir Toby Belch as well as Anita-Joy Uwajeh as Viola bolster the production to some sort of sense. Katy Owen’s a treasure to have on stage normally, but this Malvolio is too annoying to gain any sympathy, and too ineffectual to dislike. As Feste, Le Gateau Chocolat is a whirl of confusion – adding little (apart from a lovely singing voice) and leading the musical interruptions to the play.

The music is also, on its own, super. Bouncing disco beats mixed with some tradition to reflect the Scottish island that Illyria supposedly has become in this production (kilts, some Scottish dancing and an accent from Sir Toby Belch as further evidence) sound fun – but whether it’s an issue with the sound desk or the Globe’s acoustics it becomes brash and overbearing as part of the production – drowning out any lyrics we’re supposed to attend to.

Overall, it’s confused, confusing and fails to take full advantage of the richness of the source material for the sake of an “exciting” new version. There’s certainly a place for Emma Rice’s sparkling creative touch, and the Globe could certainly be it – there’s a lot to be said for her past productions that reinvigorated the theatre and attracted a heaving new audience. However, it has missed the mark here.

Runs until 5 August 2017 | Image: The Globe

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