Globe Theatre, London
Wednesday 10th October 2012
Twelfth Night has everything one expects and could want from a Shakespearean comedy; cross-dressing, a couple of drunks, a witty fool, some farcical confusion; and this Globe production tops all that off with a couple of 'National treasure' cherries on top too.
Firstly, theatrical institution Mark Rylance once again proves his value as one of the very best stage actors in the business. Reprising his role as the Countess Olivia in this all-male production, for which he received an Olivier award nomination in 2002, Rylance commands attention from the moment of his first entrance. Gliding as though on casters, even his movement around the stage is full of comedy value. What Rylance's performance achieves above the rest of the exemplary cast is the intricate detail in his characterisation. Every giggle, blush, flutter of the eyelashes and position of the hand is carefully and expertly considered, and yet delivered entirely naturally. His masculinity melts away into the embodiment of the Countess herself, and the result is a hilariously flirtatious aristocrat with a teenage-style crush on her wooer. A magnificent performance I could watch again and again.
If that wasn't enough, Twitter grand master and Quite Interesting patriarch Stephen Fry takes on the mournful Malvolio. A straight-faced bully of a manservant, Malvolio receives his arguably excessive comeuppance in the form of a silly prank that is taken too far, which is where the character truly comes into his own. Fry is hilarious in the iconic letter scene, and has the audience entirely on side as he protests the injustice he has suffered in the final denouement. A welcome return to the stage for the nation's favourite brainbox.
Performances across the entire ensemble do not disappoint, with Paul Chahidi's busty Maria joyously revengeful and subtly seductive against Colin Hurley's constantly drunken Sir Toby Belch. Roger Lloyd Pack triumphs as the bumblingly naive Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Johnny Flynn gives an earnest interpretation as the source of the confusion, Viola disguised as Cesario, with some hilariously deadpan expressions in various love scenes with both the excitable Olivia and baffled Duke Orsino, who is assertively portrayed by Liam Brennan. Viola's uncannily alike brother Sebastian, played by a consummate Samuel Barnett, joins in the commotion in time for the happy ending.
Continuing the Globe's theme of "original practises" costumes are sumptuously traditional, with programme credits to a team of three for Hats alone, as well as one with the sole responsibility for Stockings. The set is traditionally bare, with the set piece brought on for the box hedge making wonderful use of Roger Lloyd Pack's height.
A high profile cast has generated a buzz around this production even among those who may not have otherwise frequented the Globe - which can only be a good thing - and has sparked the unusual move of a limited West End transfer for Twelfth Night alongside it's sister show Richard III, also starring Rylance. The near sell-out audiences at the Apollo are in for a treat.