Shakespeare plays have a habit of coming in multiples in London: for instance, I've already seen four versions of Julius Caesar in the last six months alone, and there are two more on the immediate horizon in Bristol and at London's new Bridge Theatre imminently. In February, the National gave us a modern-dress version of Twelfth Night featuring that distinctively tall comedic talent Tamsin Greig as Malvolio (who was re-dubbed Malvolia); now the Globe, just along the Thames, offers another modern-dress Twelfth Night, again featuring a female actor as Malvolio, but this time impersonating a man, in the very diminutive shape of the spirited and sprightly shape of Katy Owens.
The production marks the second and last of Emma Rice's Shakespeare productions as part of her brief tenure as artistic director at this theatre (though she has directed several other non-Shakespeare plays here). When she was appointed to the post in 2016, she admitted she had not read many of the plays, telling one interviewer, "I have tried to sit down with Shakespeare but it doesn’t work. I get very sleepy and then suddenly I want to listen to The Archers."
There's certainly no danger of falling asleep watching her lively, noisy shows, full of blazing electronic lighting and sound that also threw down the gauntlet to the Globe's orthodox of trying to recreate the conditions of Shakespearean "shared light" performances. And as much as Globe purists may shudder, there is so much comic invention -- not to say interventions -- that I smiled far more often than I frowned.
Some of the changes are simply puzzling: why, for instance, has the dwelling place of the Elephant, referenced to twice in the original text and just down the road from the Globe, become the Rose and Crown here? (I loved those references about it being the best place to dwell as I used to dwell there myself!) But so much comedy is released in this playfully inventive production that only a curmudgeon could complain.
There's lots of music and song -- presided over by a gold kaftan wearing Le Gateau Chocolat whose moniker is good enough to eat but whose voice you want to drink in; so much so that at times it threatens to be turning into a musical. Tony Jayawardena's golf-playing, tartan-kilted Sir Toby Belch and Marc Antolin as his his foppish sidekick Sir Andrew Aguecheek steal the comic honours, and there's adorable work, too, from John Pfumojena and Anita-Joy Uwajeh as the separated twins Sebastian and Viola and Annette McLaughlin and Joshua Lacey as Olivia and Orsino who pair with them (eventually).