Twelfth Night - Review

Here's another chance to see this all-male version of Shakespeare's 'Twelfe Night' which previously had a run at the Globe over the past summer. It features Mark Rylance as Olivia and Stephen Fry as Malvolio, and is running alongside another of last summer's successes at the Globe, Richard III, again with Mark Rylance in the lead.

Entering the auditorium, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Globe had been squashed and miraculously trundled indoors for the winter. Two small galleries made of oak, or what certainly looks like oak, stand at either side of the stage, offering lucky audience members the chance to be a part of the show - and, indeed, they are invited to peruse documents and rub shoulders with the cast as the plot unfolds. A wooden screen at the back of the stage is made of the same expensive-looking wood and the stage is partially lit from above by candlelight, so that the overall effect of Jenny Tiramani's beautiful and elegant set is to suggest an indoor theatre of the kind the Globe are building on Bankside. And, as if the light from the candles is not enough, the house lights remain on for the duration of the performance so that the actors can see the audience and vice versa.

Authenticity is also at the fore in terms of the costumes. Made form materials sourced almost from the four corners of the world, the sumptuous costumes resemble those of Shakespearian times as closely as possible, though the layers of clothing the actors have to wear under the sweltering lights, must make acting even more of a feat of endurance than usual. But the costumes sparkle and, together with the setting, really do spell class.

In a black, jewel-studded dress and a small golden countess's coronet perched on his head, Mark Rylance as Olivia has at least a passing resemblance to a young Queen Victoria. When she (he?) first appears she is dour, and rather prim and proper and the fact that she is mourning for her brother frames a rather sombre portrait. But simmering under her mourning dress, she has the heart of a passionate woman who, when faced with what seems to be a most attractive and available young man, is more than ready to cast-off her mourning dress with barely a second thought. Mr Rylance's dress is cut so it hangs just glancing the floor, so that when he walks across the stage he seems to be floating rather than walking.

In many productions of this play, I have been disappointed with rather camp portrayals of Sir Andrew Aguecheek. But Roger Lloyd Packer sensibly avoids that, even if his style of dress is flamboyant, presenting Sir Andrew as an obvious fool, but one who is wholly masculine and thus leaves us in no doubt as to what he would like to do with Olivia. Similarly, Colin Hurley does not have the enormous stomach that we regularly see on Sir Toby Belch, but does have the flushed cheeks of one who lives his life with a glass of something alcoholic permanently in hand. Mr Hurley's Sir Toby is nevertheless an intelligent man shot-through with an ample streak of bitterness and resentment. And Stephen Fry is in fine form as the detested Malvolio who, in spite of his overbearing demeanour, we come to feel some semblance of sympathy for at the end of the play. In general, I found all the performances hugely impressive and enjoyable.

Tim Carroll's astute and meticulous production really is something very special. You feel it before the play even starts when the actors are being made-up and got ready right on stage before the play starts. Wonderful costumes, fine music, great acting all-round and lavish attention to even minor details make this a joy to watch. If I remember rightly, when the play was at the Globe it was sold out almost as soon as booking started, so tickets may be hard to come by. But it is certainly well-worth a long and strenuous search.


"The big draw is Stephen Fry's Malvolio, and he acquits himself extremely well. He is suitably grave, dignified and overbearing. My only reservation is that Fry has such natural lordliness and is so handsomely bearded that you feel he would be a catch for any Olivia.. "
Michael Billington for The Guardian

"Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry stand at opposite ends of the acting spectrum. The former is a protean genius who can lose himself unrecognisably in his roles. The latter performs subtle clever variations on the Stephen Fry persona. So they make a piquant pairing - as the grieving Olivia and her jumped-up, killjoy steward Malvolio - in Tim Carroll's all-male, "original practices" production of Twelfth Night."
Paul Taylor for The Independent

"In Twelfth Night...Rylance offers pure comic delight...Stephen Fry strikes me as a solid rather than an inspired Malvolio, comically capturing the puffed up conceit and pomposity of the man, but largely missing the character's poignancy."
Charles Spencer for The Daily Telegraph

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