Viola has been shipwrecked in a violent storm off the coast of Illyria; in the process she has lost her twin brother, Sebastian. She disguises herself as a boy and assumes the name Cesario for protection. Thus disguised, Viola becomes a page in the service of Orsino, the Duke. It seems that Orsino is having little luck courting Olivia, who is in mourning for the death of her brother. As Orsino's proxy, Viola is sent to Olivia with love letters. Viola refuses to budge until she is let in to see Olivia; Olivia, intrigued by the impudent young "boy," contrives to get "Cesario" to return by sending her steward, Malvolio, after her with one of Olivia's rings. Viola realizes to her dismay that Olivia has fallen for her Cesario rather than Duke Orsino—further complicated by the fact that Viola has had stirrings herself for Orsino.
Sebastian (Viola's twin, presumed dead) comes ashore in Illyria thinking that Viola has drowned in the shipwreck. A man named Antonio rescued him from the surf, and continues to aid him—at some risk to himself, as Antonio fought against the Duke at one time. Meanwhile, in Olivia's house, Sir Toby Belch (her uncle) has hoodwinked a foppish Sir Andrew Aguecheek into supporting him by convincing him that he could be a suitor to Olivia. There is a running feud between Malvolio , the House Steward, and Belch; with the help of Maria, Olivia's maid, and Feste, a clown, Belch plots to make a buffoon of the steward. Maria writes a love letter to Malvolio that will make him think Olivia has fallen for him. Malvolio falls entirely for the sport, which eventually leads to his confinement as a madman.
All the while, Belch is egging Sir Andrew into a duel with Viola's "Cesario" character as she departs from Olivia; Olivia is now entirely smitten with Cesario, even though Viola continues to press Orsino's cause. As Viola and Sir Andrew prepare for a duel that neither one wants, Antonio happens upon the scene. Believing Viola to be Sebastian, he intervenes and is arrested. Viola, of course, does not recognize Antonio. Later, Belch and Sir Andrew encounter Sebastian, who doesn't back down from Aguecheek when challenged and resoundingly beats him. Olivia intervenes in the matter, and - mistaking Sebastian for Viola/Cesario - presses her suit for him. A bemused Sebastian agrees to marry her. Antonio is brought before the Duke for questioning, and Viola relates the events of the duel. Antonio tells everyone how hedragged "this man" from the surf, saving his life. Then Olivia enters, searching for her new husband—who she thinks is Viola (as Cesario).
Adding to this confusion, Belch and Aguecheek enter claiming that Viola/Cesario has violently assaulted them. In the midst of Viola's denials, Sebastian appears. The brother and sister recognize one another and are reunited; Sebastian helps to clear the confusion as to who fought who and who married who. At the end, Orsino and Viola pledge their love, Olivia and Sebastian will remain satisfactorily wed, and Olivia rebukes Belch and Maria for their abuse of Malvolio, who vows his revenge upon the whole lot. Belch agrees to wed Maria to make up for getting her in trouble, and all—except the disgruntled Malvolio—will (apparently) live happily ever after
Sebastian – Sam Barnett
Orsino – Liam Brennan
Maria – Paul Chahidi
Antonio – John Paul Connelly
Viola – Johnny Flynn
Malvolio – Stephen Fry
Fabian – James Garnon
Feste – Peter Hamilton Dyer
Sir Toby Belch – Colin Hurley
Andrew Aguecheek – Roger Lloyd Pack
Olivia – Mark Rylance
Director – Tim Carrol
Designer – Jeremy Tiramani
Choreographer – Sian Williams
Disclaimer: half this review was written before I went down with the flu. Not man-flu, you understand, but real “Oh my god I feel like I’m dying” flu, and which has laid me low ever since. In fact, at one point I coughed so long and so hard that it caused a problem that I soon have to go into hospital for. So there. So my apologies for the delay, and if some of the details of the performance are a bit sketchy in my memory by now. I’ve seen two more shows since then, and hopefully reviews of these will be winging their way to you soon. So…….
I wasn’t really sure I wanted to see this production. For at start, it was at the Globe, and I have issues with the Globe (mainly because I usually end up sitting behind a pillar so I can’t see, the acoustics can be terrible so I can’t hear, and the seats are hard and have no back so I can’t get comfortable and my bum hurts after about an hour). And it was raining. And I was coming down with a cold. And Stephen Fry was in it (I hate Stephen Fry). And Roger Lloyd Pack was in it (I loathe Roger Lloyd Pack). And although Twelfth Night is my fave Shakespeare play, I’ve seen it murdered many times, so I’m generally wary about seeing it again, just in case. Nothing is as unsatisfying as a bad Twelfth Night – unless it’s a cheese sandwich made with really cheap, miserable, white sliced bread. So, if anyone had cut open a fowl and examined the entrails, the omens probably wouldn’t have been that great for this outing.
The omens were wrong! I liked it! It was funny! I even laughed a couple of times, despite my aching back, snotty nose and numb bum. I even liked Stephen Fry in it! Of course, this wouldn’t be a review written by me if I couldn’t find fault somewhere, and I loathed Roger Lloyd Pack even more than usual, and there were a couple of things I didn’t like about the production but hey, in the main, that dead chicken was wrong! (Maybe I paid too much attention to its gizzard when I should have been examining the contents of its crop). Huzzah! OK, I was still sitting behind a pillar for the first half, so was ducking and weaving like a flamingo doing a mating dance, fully aware that David Attenborough is pointing a camera at it and thinking that here is its chance to get an audition for Strictly, so perhaps I had best cash in a savings policy and buy a really expensive seat next time – but hey, at least I wasn’t getting pissed on by the torrential rain like the Groundlings (the Globe Stewards, most of whom left the SS in disgust because it was too liberal for them) won’t let you put up an umbrella and one does tend to look a bit of a tit with a plastic bag on one’s head. And being a Groundling makes your feet hurt).
I did like the fact that you could hear Every. Last. Bloody. Syllable. of Liam Brennan’s Count Orsino. Perhaps not the greatest actor ever to have trodden the boards at the Globe, and perhaps not exactly the most lovelorn Orsino I’ve ever seen, but at least you could hear him. Perfect projection, even when right at the opposite side of the stage and facing away from me. But perhaps not the most flattering costume silk puffy trunks and glittery pumps are really not a good look, particularly when the actor sporting them has made no effort to give himself a period haircut or wear a wig. I didn’t initially take very kindly to the fact that Viola was being played by a man using a kind of throaty, irritating treble but I got used to it after a while. What really hacked me off was that there was no indication of there having been a shipwreck which would explain her presence on the coast of Illyria. In fact, if you weren’t familiar with the play, you could have been left mightily confused as to what she was doing there. Neither did Viola look like she had been thrown up on the beach by the waves – I was almost tempted to shout out “You don’t look very wet, love”. And I didn’t really like the way Mark Rylance played Olivia either, not for a long time. Rylance plays Olivia like one of those dolls children used to make out of wooden spoons, with a bit of circular material tied underneath the bowl for a dress, moving about the stage as if on wheels in the fashion of one Mrs. Honeyman of Camberwick Green. It got a laugh the first time he did it, but what is funny once and vaguely amusing twice is boring by the 17th time you see it. The kabuki make-up didn’t really help, and I really resented Olivia being played as an out-and-out comedy character, muttering darkly that it went against the spirit of the play. But I warmed to it and grudgingly admit that Twelfth Night is supposed to be a comedy after all, even though I still think Olivia is one of the few “real” people in the entire play and it cheapens the part to try and scene-steal by over-acting at every possible opportunity.
Paul Chahidi’s Maria was a revelation. On paper, a very minor character, with nothing much to say and very little to really do. But Chahidi plays her like a real person – stately and dignified, aware of her position but human enough to show the occasional spark of mischief. Peter Hamilton Dyer’s Feste was another revelation – if you’ve read this blog for a while you will know exactly what I think about Shakespeare’s fools, particularly the ones that do little but ponce around the stage being verbose – and usually as funny as haemorrhoids. But this Feste is played completely straight – to such an extent that the verbiage becomes a shield, used as protection against all the lunacy happening around him. In fact, the audience is left in no doubt that Feste is probably the one sane person left in Illyria. I can’t comment on Colin Hurley’s performance as Sir Toby because, to be perfectly honest, I cannot remember a single thing about it – not even what he looked like – from which, dear Reader, you must deduce that it’s a fairly underwhelming performance.
I hate Roger Lloyd Pack. Loathe him. Sorry, but I do. The man has about as much talent for comedy as a plate of rice pudding and what is worse cannot project his lines to save his life. Oh, he starts them OK, but halfway through his timbre gives out and the words just disappear into thin air like the morning mist. His Sir Andrew was possibly the dreariest and uninspired I have ever seen, and lines which should be funny or endearing are just thrown away for absolutely nothing. I hate Stephen Fry equally, but I was intrigued by the lack of histrionic over-acting that I expected, and eventually quite impressed by it. I was actually, genuinely sorry for this Malvolio when the revenge plot against him begins to take on a dark and vicious turn (another revelation – the prison scene is usually presented as Malvolio’s comeuppance, something deserved because he has been pompous, something for us to laugh at. But here I was left wondering whether things had gone too far, and if it was the three aggrieved plotters had become more vicious than was necessary – while bringing a candle for Malvolio’s prison beneath the stage Maria spitefully flicks a gob of hot wax down onto his head. It gets a laugh – it’s a clever directorial detail – but it made me wonder about such casual cruelty).
There were some other very nice directorial touches too – we get to see some of Malvolio’s stewarding duties as he sits next to Olivia and selects bills and invoices from a folder for her to sign during their first scene. Olivia’s increasingly risible attempts at “casual flirting” show a spot-on interpretation of the text (the gardening scene is particularly funny) and there is a horrible, awkward subtext of the fear of being thought homosexual in the scene where Orsino begins to feel attraction for “Cesario” which I have never seen done so well. And it’s the first time that the weather has played such an integral role in the play – far from being sun-drenched Arcadia, Illyria is more likely to be rain-drenched England than ever before. The poor groundlings groaned and applauded in equal measure Feste’s final lines “and the rain it raineth every day”.
So, why have you not heard more about this production in the press? Its all explained here:
- for some unknown reason, the Globe have decreed that there were to be no press reviews for the entire run, until the production re-opens in the West End later this month, presumably hoping that a blanket moratorium on reviews would whip up interest for the West End run. The cynic in me feels that perhaps they were unsure of what the critical reaction might be and were playing safe accordingly, not least because Mr. Fry apparently walked out of a production after a bad first night review, never to return. To me this is unsporting on many levels. But, of course, the bloggers have had their revenge on the whole pack of you, and, as the Telegraph review points out, not even the Globe can prevent paying punters from putting their thoughts online (if they happen to be a writer for a national newspaper during the day, that is the Globe’s tough luck).