Emma Rice, the outgoing artistic director of the Globe Theatre, is no stranger to pushing boundaries and courting the controversy that comes with creativity – and Twelfth Night is no different.
However, even the impressively bold Rice could not have predicted the level of hostility from within and without the Globe which accompanied her tenure. Her crime was to bring lighting, sound effects, and mischief to space whose USP is tradition and authenticity. Therefore, her Summer of Love Season is her last. She has brought a new and diverse audience to the Globe, but the Elizabethan replica is set to return to what it probably does best – high quality traditional Shakespeare and Rice will no doubt continue to dazzle in more appropriate places. But what of her swansong Shakespearian production? Is it a winner of a Twelfth Night? Or is in more in line with Shakepeare’s subtitle: What You Will?
The music was relentless, sometimes distracting, and lessened the power of the play
Twelfth Night is a bittersweet masterpiece, Shakespeare’s most mature comedy which skillfully combines the farce of mistaken identity, the madness and folly of love, and the cruelty of betrayal and abandonment. The plot revolves around the separated, shipwrecked twins Viola and Sebastian being washed up in Illyria and creating a love rectangle (so to speak) with local dignitaries Olivia and Orsino. Alongside this runs the sub plot of Sir Toby Belch, Maria, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek’s drunken riotousness and their significant set up of the arrogant Malvolio for a spectacular fall.
It’s unfortunate for Rice that her last Shakespearian production comes hard on the heels of the recent National Theatre production that broke new ground featuring a female Malvolio, Feste, and Fabian. Rice has secured Kneehigh’s Ian Ross to compose the music which ranges from punk to salsa via the powerful voice of drag performer Le Gateau Chocolat as Feste. Rice seems to have taken Orsino’s opening line, ‘If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it’ literally. The music was relentless, sometimes distracting, and lessened the power of the play. At times, I felt like I was watching a pantomime. However, it should be said that the additional music and the charisma of the performers provided much of the fun of the production and many of the audience were clearly enjoying it.
the venue and the production were always going to be incompatible
Amidst the musical mayhem, several performances stood out. Anita-Joy Uwajeh was a bold and thoughtful Viola, whilst Marc Antolin and Tony Jayawardena made a hilarious and quirky double-act of Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Sir Toby Belch. However, for me the strongest performance was Katy Owen as Malvolio. Owen’s portrayal of Malvolio highlighted his insecurity throughout, adopting a nervous mannerism with her hand contrasting with the character’s perceived arrogance.
For me, the set of a ship’s stairway, life belt, and various trollies jars massively with the historic backdrop of the globe. In the same vein, the meaning of the play was often lost in the imposed relentless dance and song. This production could have worked more effectively in a studio space or a venue more fitting to the style of the production and although I respect Rice’s creative freedom, I feel the venue and the production were always going to be incompatible. If you want to appreciate Twelfth Night and the genius of Shakespeare, this may not be the production for you. However, if you want to enjoy a high-energy, entertaining, and stimulating production then definitely give it a go.
Twelfth Night is playing at Shakespeare’s Globe until 5th August, details and booking information here.
Image: Hugo Glendinning