Tim Carroll’s Twelfth Night Review

December 9, 2012 12:00 pm

Stephen Fry once described the works of Shakespeare as being amongst the greatest achievements of humanity, and what better way for him to make his long awaited return to the stage than in the form of one of the Bard’s greatest characters: Malvolio. Fry was, of course, the star of the show as he played the gullible, irritating and unfortunate character to perfection, but it was the play as a whole which was most impressive. Director Tim Carroll’s all-male, period-dress revival is a wonder to witness; even before the play begins the actors are getting themselves into costume on stage and even casually wandering around and chatting to members of the audience. A highly talented group of musicians play above the stage in full Jacobean clothing, creating the atmosphere for the play through an array of fascinating instruments.

Having moved from The Globe to The Apollo due to such high demand, it is hard to imagine Twelfth Night being performed in a more impressive manner. Carroll has constructed the play as it would have been performed in the days of Shakespeare and has done so beautifully; I honestly doubt I will watch a Shakespeare play which is more absorbing and humorous. It is not just Fry who shines through either but the whole cast as Shakespeare’s sexual fluidity runs rampant in particularly homoerotic scenes between the Duke Orsino (Liam Brennan) and the seemingly androgynous Viola (Johnny Flynn). Another high point of the play is that Sebastian (Samuel Barnett) and Viola make incredibly convincing twins through their identical costumes, allowing for the gender confusion to be fully believable, and of course, hilarious. Mark Rylance enters as the character of Olivia with delicate elegance as it appears that castors are causing him to glide across the stage. Although he could of course not make his character aesthetically pleasing he instead exerts presence through a tremulous, almost haunting voice and a razor sharp wit.

Another surprising point to the play is how the character of Maria (Paul Chahidi) is interpreted. Often depicted as a small part and something of a tag along to Andrew Aguecheek (Roger Lloyd Pack) and Sir Toby Belch (Colin Hurley), her character shines through and becomes the catalyst of the mischief which takes place throughout the sub plot of the play. In fact, the sub plot is by far the most entertaining portion as the unfortunate vicissitudes which are bestowed upon Malvolio easily achieve the highest levels of laughter. I imagine that many members of the audience were convinced to attend this play at the thought of Stephen Fry playing one of Shakespeare’s most beloved scenes when Malvolio is fooled into wearing the ridiculous yellow stockings. The laughter becomes even more enthusiastic when Fry gives a slight pelvic movement, stating to Olivia that ‘Some have greatness thrust upon them.’

Each member of the cast plays their role with such supreme precision that you are drawn in and could be forgiven for believing you have travelled back in time to sixteenth century London. Feste (Peter Hamilton Dyer) casts the final spell over the audience with a beautifully melancholy song which, once ended, allows reality to re-enter the London theatre house. Shakespeare at its finest.

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