‘Twelfth Night’ serves as Emma Rice’s farewell to the Globe; it is clear that she was never going to leave quietly. Her ‘Season of Love’ began with Daniel Kramer’s controversial ‘Romeo and Juliet’ involving a gender-flipped Mercutio, an inflatable dinosaur costume and the titular characters meeting during a rendition of the YMCA. This all-singing, all-dancing production features similar irreverence with a lively spirit.
The performance begins on the SS Unity, a 1970s party palace ruled by disco. “We Are Family” blares as lights flash and a synchronised dance display begins. This juxtaposes well with the cast’s later imitation of the motions of waves: back and forth, back and forth. However, this hedonistic opening sets the tone for the whole production. It seems that some depth is lost at sea. The relentless focus on hunting down humour means ‘Twelfth Night’ speeds past moments which could be exploited further. Nevertheless, the production achieves what Rice set out for it: a celebration.
Shakespeare’s text is cut, re-arranged, set to music or even added to by Carl Grose. Little poetry survives. Le Gateau Chocolat, as Feste, seems to do little but sing or stare solemnly at their fellow cast, yet a certain charisma means that this seems fascinating rather than unnecessary. The classic line “if music be the food of love, play on” is repurposed as the hook of a song from the ageing rocker Orsino. Played at inopportune moments, it triggers giggles from the groundlings, but this causes any emotional intensity that the soliloquy originally bears to be lost after mindless repetition.
Grose’s additions reach their maximum potential when employed by Malvolio (Katy Owen) who complains of an allergy to latex with a razor sharp wit. This Malvolio fires off quips with ease and intensity then showcases fearful desperation when incarcerated – a product of Owen’s phenomenal range. The moustached performer, who reminds the audience of an over-zealous PE teacher (with a shrill whistle in tow), is effortlessly fantastic.
Mark Antolin and Toby Jayawardena (as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Sir Toby Belch respectively) make a fiercely funny duo. Their camp antics – Belch teeing off into the groundlings as well as his rendition of “I Will Survive” – push Shakespeare to its limits. Antolin must be praised for his well maintained lisp and ability to make a fool of himself, at times literally throwing himself to the ground to gain a laugh. The comedy of the duo is added to by Maria, played by Carly Bawden, a minx who seems more mistress than maid with her bawdy humour and lewd dance moves.
Music is utilised throughout. The production could even be called ‘Twelfth Night: The Musical’ and it is reminiscent of an evening of cabaret. However, mostly due to the eerily beautiful instrumentals and harmonies, the pieces become memorable rather than tired.
Emma Rice’s vision of a Scottish island creates a vividly colourful atmosphere, but one cannot help but wonder if some darker tones would enhance the action.