Shakespeare’s Globe on Tour: Twelfth Night
Brighton Open Air Theatre, 12 July 2018
A rosy glow in the summer air; an expectant thrum from the excited and tightly packed audience perched on timber-and-astroturf tiered seating; and the smell of a hundred picnic dinners. We must be at Brighton Open Air Theatre, waiting for the world-reknowned Globe Touring Ensemble’s performance of – what? We don’t know! In a clever new twist on the usual summer outdoor Shakespeare-viewing, the company have this year brought an old tradition back to life – that of letting each regional audience choose the play on the night, from a choice of three. This is done very scientifically, by whichever garners the loudest cheers. Our options tonight are three of the Bard’s darkest (and two of his most challenging) comedies – The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, and Twelfth Night. Given the date, of course, it was never going to be anything but the latter.
Under Brendan O’Hea’s shrewd direction a small cast of eight play all the characters (and have learnt all the parts for the three plays) and then have only seconds to get into character and begin the chosen play. It is quite a feat and they carry it off seamlessly. In fact the acting is (quite literally) fabulous – the cast weaving a spell of song, music (each player seemed to be an accomplished musician and singer as well as actor) and character – often changing rapidly from one scene, and one character, to the next with minimal disruption or use of props and costume, yet smoothly and with expert delineation. Luke Brady as the singing and guitar-playing fool is particularly lovely to listen to, as are the close harmony songs by the whole company.
The show begins with love-lorn Duke Orsino, played (with a nod to the zeitgeist of Shakespeare roles played by members of the opposite sex, as well as to the play’s gender-bending themes) by flame-haired local lass Rhianna McGreevy. S(he) enlists the help of shipwrecked Viola, played with guileless charm by Steffan Cennyd, disguised as a boy and mourning her presumed twin brother, to woo Olivia (Cynthia Emeagi). Olivia of course falls for Viola, who in turn is enamoured of the Duke; meanwhile the side-splittingly comedic pair of drunken Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (the latter also in love with Olivia), and manservant Malvolio (ditto) complete the tangled web of desire. Sarah Finigan and Russell Layton, who play Aguecheek and Belch, are an absolute delight as the sozzled pair of friends who scheme to trick Malvolio into making a (hilariously pathetic) fool of himself, fishnet stockings and obscene yellow codpiece and all, in front of his mistress. The company don’t shy away from the raunchy subtext of the play and there’s plenty of innuendo to make my twelve year old son squirm.
These scenes bring levity and naughty cheek to a play which stretches the bounds of possibility to the point where it might become tiresome, and help one forgive the tortured plot lines. HOW, I can’t help wondering, do none of them realise they’ve bee tricked, or who – or what – they’re in love with? And how, when everything is revealed, do they simply switch allegiances, including Olivia happily accepting she’s married the wrong twin? As the boy observed, it’s SHAKESPEARE, and that’s enough. Utterly charmed by the whole production, his verdict – it was “amazing”. I quite wish I could go and see the other shows to see how these clearly adept actors handle their other roles – but sadly the run here at BOAT is sold out. The company is of course on tour – further details here http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/whats-on-2018/shakespeares-globe-on-tour
And there are other wonderful Shakespeare plays coming up at BOAT over the summer – check them out here : http://www.brightonopenairtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/