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Twelfth Night First Night Four Full Stars

September 23, 2012

Atmospheric setting at the Globe. And it stayed dry!

Last night we abandoned Australian rels to go to the first night of Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry in Twelfth Night at the Globe theatre. It marked Stephen Fry’s return to the stage after running away with stage fright (or was it after a bad review?) 17 years ago. So I expect he was nervous.

The Globe is just a magnificent setting and it was packed to the gunnells. And it was great. Played full on for laughs and they got them. An all male cast excelled as women dressed as men dressed as women. Yes, Twelfth Night is the one with the twins who each think the other has drowned at sea, so the girl becomes the male valet to the King and has to court Olivia for him. Olivia, in mourning for her brother, refuses to acccept his advances, but falls for the girl/boy messenger. Meanwhile Malvolio, Olivia’s servant is hopelessly in love with her, and the girl/boy valet in love with her boss…….. You get the idea. Oh what a tangled web we weave. When we also intoduce a drunken cousin, his friend who also tries to woo Olivia, Olivia’s maidservant and a fool, the longlost twin brother and his manservant we have near farce.

Yet again Rylance alone  is worth the price of the ticket. He plays Olivia and the stage lights up when he is on. He is absolutely fucking awsome. Dressed head to toe in a corseted black dress, with a high neck ruff and a black veil so we cannot see his face. Yet STILL he can convey every inuendo, every slight winsomeness, every beat of melancholy. He physically embodies the character as if he is transformed in to her. He glides across the stage as if on wheels. He plays with the language with such ease and accomplishment – tripping over words, stumbling as if they are just being formed in his head. One forgets entirely this is Shakespeare. This is sheer fun and enjoyment.

His maid (reminiscent of ‘Nursie’ in Blackadder) was also completely on the money – with marvellous expression and intonation. And perfect comedy timing. The final ‘woman’ – Viola – too was a complete victory – (s)he was played expertly and you could watch her falling in love with her boss and really believe it was happening.

But what about Stephen Fry? Well he was good. But not brilliant .Too much like Stephen Fry. Who I love. And I’m not meant to love Malvolio initially.  He was not unlikeable enough at first and then not quite smarmy and smiley enough after the trick is played on him. I think he needs to push it to the edge more and be more extreme in his portrayal, but this was his first night and I think he’ll warm in to it. The one that perhaps let them down was the jester – which is actually a big part and his diction wasn’t clear enough for me so I missed things particularly in the first half.

But if you get chance to see it do go – it’s Shakespeare as it should be.

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8 Responses to “Twelfth Night First Night Four Full Stars”

  1. fictavia Says:

    “He is absolutely fucking awesome.” Yes, this is my exact response to Rylance too! I haven’t been lucky enough to get tickets, but his Richard III was so amazing – somehow both grotesque and completely attractive, and heartwrenching towards his end. Rylance is magic as far as I’m concerned.

    I really enjoyed reading your review, thank you for posting.


    • Thank you so much fictavia – we are kindred spirits it seems! We’ve been lucky enough to see Rylance a number of times in various things and agree with you about his Richard III. I would book anything with him in – he is so worth it x

  2. Mizo Says:

    I am wondering why Malvolio should be more unlikeable. That is surely just an interpretation of the play, not an axiom. What Fry managed to do, unlike so many actors, who sell Malvolio on the cheap, really does make his case that, if it were not for his careful and strict stewardship, Olivia’s household, which already borders on anarchy, would descend into complete chaos. If Malvolio merely sets out to prove what a pompous twit he is, we have very watery drama, in my book. Likewise, is there any good reason why we should be on the “side” of the pranksters and cheer on their gulling of Malvolio? This show brings out their petty cruelty much better than one usually sees. For me, Fry’s is a wonderfully vulnerable portrayal, and, thank God, panto-free.

    • sarahspoutsoff Says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Mizo, and yes, I can see what you are saying. I don’t pretend for a moment to be a Shakespeare buff, but I suppose for me on that, the first night, I didn’t feel there was enough contrast between his pre-prank and post-prank performance. I felt he was holding back and wanting to be liked by the audience. But of course the pranksters themselves are unpleasant and unlikeable for doing what they do, but it was less understandable because he wasn’t odious and obnoxious – he was just “Stephen Fry” – who I like! But I see what you are saying and it has given me food for thought – so thanks.

      • Mizo Says:

        Interesting stuff. Malvolio is odious and obnoxious to the pranksters because he stops their late night carousing, or, in the case of the Fool, tries to get rid of him for being a sponger, which he clearly is, so one can argue that M is in the right. As for contrast, I think there is plenty, but it it is more a contrast between M’s glee at the prospect of being ‘Count” Malvolio the husband of Olivia and his crestfall when he discovers it is all a hoax. Too much “Stephen Fry”? Well, he is famous, and it must be hard to escape that. But I find that the more he is himself, the stronger his Malvolio is – but then, I am not into character at all 😉


      • thanks Mizo – you make a good case but at the end of the day in this particular performance I found it lacking something. And although you might argue he is ‘right’he is such a killjoy and spoilsport surely one isn’t meant to like him? 🙂 Perhaps I am too hedonsistic to side with his authority, but it is the way I have always seen it – that the audience are not meant to like Malvolio for being Mr Sensible, but to side with the pranksters for taking the piss out of someone so stuffy and so hellbent on making sure no one else has a good time either. And they are right to do so, because at the slightest chance of having Olivia he abandons all his usual sobriety and makes a fool of himself. But next time i see it -I will look at it with your eyes

  3. michael Says:

    I held off on reading this until after I’d been – you nailed it!

    Complete agree about Rylance, just absolutely fantastic. Really wish I’d been able to see him in Jerusalem now.


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