‘O time, thou must untangle this, not I. It is too hard a knot for me t’untie.’ I have so many questions about the Globe’s current production of Twelfth Night, writes Katie Kelly.
Why was there a dead deer hanging above a bucket of blood throughout? What was the reasoning behind setting it in a strange deadbeat 1950s town? What was the meaning of the carousel tiger?
But before that, let me do the air steward safety announcements. Those returning to the theatre will reasonably have questions about Covid risk. The Globe have done a fairly good job here. Entrance times are staggered, seating distanced, and the open-air nature of the venue is a huge benefit. The decision to do away with an interval and not give out programmes didn’t pass my cost/benefit analysis. The Globe isn’t the most comfortable venue in London and a half time stretch and top up at the bar were missed. The lack of programme left one without any explanation for the directorial style choices above.
It is only fair to confess that I am not an avid fan of Shakespeare. Every so often I see a production that almost makes a convert of me. One where the acting is so brilliant that the language barriers melt away. This isn’t quite it. There were some very strong performances. Credit to Shona Babeyemi playing Olivia, Nadi Kemp-Sayfi as Maria, and Nadine Higgin as Sir Toby Belch, for the moments when I stopped straining to understand.
One of Shakespeare’s strengths is the way his writing continues to resonate and speak to age after age. This gender fluid comedy is no exception. Over the past 18 months we have all shared the main protagonist’s experience of being washed up unexpectedly by a storm into an unfamiliar landscape. We are also all in need of a good laugh, and this play leant heavily on its comic potential. A scene where Sir Toby Belch, Lord Andrew Aguecheek and Feste the fool, are berated for their late-night noisy revelry by Malvolio, in full headmaster/mistress mode, is worth the ticket price on its own. Anyone who has ever tried to keep a straight face whilst slightly the worse for wear will be delighted.
What isn’t so strong is the love story. At the heart of the play are the cross wired lovers, Orsino loves Olivia, Olivia loves Cesario and then Sebastian, his twin Viola loves Orsino, Sir Andrew and Malvolio love Olivia and not even one of these pairings is convincing, though the prize for implausibility goes to Sebastian who was played for laughs to a degree that made him rather unappealing.
If you are fluent in Shakespearean or a Twelfth Night connoisseur, then this might be a great night out. There is certainly a lot of humour and as ever at the Globe, the music was a highlight. The audience threw themselves into clapping and stamping along to various ‘Americana style’ numbers. Great fun was had. “If music be the food of love, play on.”
Shakespeare’s Globe, Bankside, SE1 9DT until 30th October. Times: 7pm; matinees: 2pm. Admission: £5 – £59.
Photos: Marc Brenner