Emma Rice has chosen well for her last show as director of the Globe, with a cross-dressing comedy that updates the Bard for our gender-fluid times. If you don’t think Shakespeare and Sister Sledge mix, then be warned – Rice’s energy, sensitivity and sense of irreverence are bountiful. The disco lights are on and it’s time to celebrate her reign at The Globe.
Let’s not forget that organising a good party is hard work and can call for tough decisions. There are moments of forced jollity – musical chairs proves messy – and a close reading of the text isn’t invited. But the passion in Twelfth Night is frenzied and Rice’s insight is to allow this. Nasty edges have poignancy, fate is presented as a choreographed natural phenomenon (cleverly mocked as a touch of “community theatre”) and the laughs are manic.
The twins, Sebastian and Viola, whose adventures we follow, are used to anchor the show. In these roles Anita-Joy Uwajeh and John Pfumojena impress, respectively showing a touching vulnerability and sounding particular gorgeous. The confused suitors who fall for the ship-wrecked siblings are played by Annette McLaughlin, who makes for a joyous Olivia, and Joshua Lacey, whose river-dancing-mullet-sporting-lothario Duke is the funniest I’ve seen.
The trio of pranksters in Olivia’s house continue the strong comedy. Sir Toby, Fabian and Maria, played by Tony Jayawardena, Nandi Bhebhe and the super-talented Carly Bawden (another strong voice) really go for it. The revelation is Marc Antolin as Aguecheek, transforming the role with physical comedy, ad-libs and fluorescent Y-fronts. And a lisp… sorry, but lisps are funny.
What the production takes seriously is drag, spoiling us with cabaret star Le Gateau Chocolat, whose Feste steers the tempestuous proceedings like a glittering, magical MC. It’s impossible to steal a show from six feet of sequins, but Katy Owen’s Malvolio holds his/her moustachioed own. Funny again (well, most jokes are better with a Welsh accent), Owen tackles bullying intelligently, tempting us to join in, then allowing the character to retain some dignity. Role-play can be dangerous.
All good parties depend on their soundtrack. Rice’s secret weapon is Ian Ross, whose compositions dominate the show: driving plots, aiding comedy, interacting with the text – check them out online. Using so many lines as lyrics enforces how productive treating the text loosely can be. It annoys purists when Shakespeare is tampered with, but Rice does so intelligently, aided by additional lyrics and lines from Carl Grose. The revisions sustain her imaginative interpretation, making the play both accessible and stimulating and her the sadly departing hostess with the mostess.
Until 5 August 2017
Photos by Hugo Glendinning