Review: Twelfth Night at the Globe Theatre, London ★★★★☆

It is a warm, crisp and sunny August evening in London, the groundlings have returned to the Globe, and Illyria has been transformed into rundown American desert city with the bright lights of its neon welcome sign dimmed and no longer blinking. The set is decked in fairground kitsch, a vinyl jukebox and a broken-down pickup truck by designer Jean Chan.
The cast of Twelfth Night. Photo: Marc Brenner

'If music be the food of love, play on' is a motto this production of Twelfth Night takes to heart. Director Sean Holmes uses music by James Fortune to ground the play in its American setting, with the band playing a country waltz as Michelle Terry's shipwrecked Elizabethan-styled Viola meets the cowboy-fashioned Duke Orsino (Bryan Dick). Viola and Sebastian's (Ciarán O'Brien) Elizabethan dress setting them in contrast with the rest of the cast and highlighting their alien presence in Illyria.

The music transports us, moving from slow waltzes into upbeat moments of contagious joy, filled with three part harmonies from the drunken rabble of Sir Toby Belch (Nadine Higgin), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (George Fouracres) and Feste (Victoria Elliott), as they cavort outside Olivia's house prior to their plot against Malvolio (Sophie Russell). Close your eyes for a second and this could be the crescendo of a West End musical number.

Michelle Terry as Viola: Photo: Marc Brenner

There are fine comedic performances from George Fouracres as a hilariously, partially-indecipherable drunken Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Sophie Russell as a Malvolio set halfway between a bad Elvis impersonator and a failed 80's pop star - quiff included, and Ciarán O'Brien as a cane-weilding, strutting Sebastian who lacks any form of self-awareness.

The comedy roles find perfect foils in the serious and centered performances of Shona Babayemi as Olivia and Bryan Dick as Orsino. Terry sits somewhere between, astutely walking the tightrope between the comedic and the serious, as Viola seeks to navigate the tricky love triangle between her male disguise, Duke Orsino and Olivia.

The play does flag a little in the middle - perhaps a consequence of the decision to run the 2 hour 40 minute production without an interval, though the open door policy allows you to visit the toilets as you see fit (or the bar, as many punters seemed to do). There are moments too when the cast's projection of Shakespeare's language falters or the music drowns out the lyrics. But these are small faults in a production that is full of music and delight - play on!

Rating: ★★★★☆

Twelfth Night plays at Shakespeare's Globe until 30 October with tickets on sale now.


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