Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Review Twelfth Night [Preview]

Twelfth Night
by William Shakespeare

All Aboard The Love Boat!

After Emma Rice's triumphant exotic production of  A Midsummer Night's Dream, she now tackles  Shakespeare's later comedy Twelfth Night, a tale of literal shipwreck and shipwrecked identities. In this case, plus hornpipes, kilts, arran sweaters and golf clubs.

The Shakespearean mash up of the Balkans and England in the Kingdom of Illyria is transferred, Ealing Comedy style, hook, line, sinker, cakes and ale to its very own fantasy Scottish island  1970s' mash up with disco party cruise ship and lifebelts proclaiming the SS Unity Love.

There's also a further touch of the Ealing Comedies in this production. The poshies, the Duke Orsino (Joshua Lacey)  - think Ian Botham complete with mullet hairstyle,  and the Countess Olivia (Annette McLaughlin)  who starts off in  Jackie Kennedy-style with a veiled pill box hat, speak English English.

Sebastian (John Pfumojena, full of soul) and Viola (charmingly wide-eyed boyish Anita Joy-Uwajeh)  make a fetching washed-ashore pair of neatly-turned out, easily mistaken twins in their cruise ship white uniform, with and without their gold-buttoned jackets. 

Meanwhile most of  the lower orders  - morally so in the case of Olivia's uncle kilted, knee socked golfing Sir Toby Belch (a splendid pot-bellied Tony Jayawardena) - all have a Scottish burr.  Maria (Carly Bawden) is a scheming ladette maid with lusty vocals while Fabian (Nandi Bebhe) is a well-defined factotum in Downton Abbey tails.

Feste (Le Gateau Chocolat) is a bearded drag queen master of ceremonies rather than a jester. Clad in a gold lamé Demis Roussos robe, black patent  platforms and fishnets and a vibrant shade of turquoise eye shadow on his lids, his operatic bass tones resonate out from this showboat.

Lez Brotherston's initially deceptively simple set tips, slips and slides with the tide into a three tiered set with a gangway leading down to the households under, eventually, a huge moon.

The space below alternates as a 70s' boxing ring where snack munching Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Marc Antolin) swaps Argyle sweater for silken boxer shorts and gown, the two households and  a ship's hold which becomes a prison for Malvolio (Katy Owen). 

Yep, the director Rice's trademark lighting (Malcolm Rippeth) is there and maybe sometimes this Twelfth Night seems a little too self-knowing, occasionally limiting the audience's delirium. And exactly where the on and off shore households of Orsino and Olivia begin and end, we weren't quite sure.

But really it doesn't matter. Just as red-haired Kiplingesque Malvolio slips from Scotch to another UK accent with a touch of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. But Owen's frail androgynous figure importantly does also manage to channel the comedy and the pathos.

In between, there's plenty of fine verse speaking and singing of the famous lines including music being the food of love.  And talking about music, there's original material by composer Ian Ross with additional text and lyrics by Carl Grose with more than a sprinkling of disco hits (it would be churlish to give them away!) with sweet use of blanched morse code flags.

With the descent into and ascent from misrule, there's plenty of visual and verbal humour  (a Bonnie Prince Charlie row boat and an ingenious bit of audience interaction comes to mind) to please the Globe's international audience. We saw an early preview but the show was already in pretty good nick and will doubtless sharpen up.

It's all done in a distinctly less hierarchical fashion than in many a production and nicely ties up echoes of other Shakespeare plays.

Above all, Rice lives up to her promise in the programme to let loose the farce structure of the play while keeping some of the more disturbingly cruel elements and it's a green light for a festivity lovingly crafted with flares.  

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