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A CurtainUp London Review
Get there half an hour early so you may see the preparations for the play. Actors are costumed and bewigged onstage, their faces painted with (I hope) a modern substitute for white lead. You will see Rylance exercise his shoulder muscles while being laced into his pink corset and hooped underskirt that he will wear under Olivia's sumptuous encrusted black dress of mourning. Fry parades in muslin shirt and black hose which come up to mid thigh.
Inside the proscenium arch of the Apollo there is a wooden galleried set with four boxes for the audience on two levels. The whole set is lit beautifully with natural candlelight and the effect is magical.
"Original practices" has an all male cast taking all the roles, both male and female. You have a boy playing a girl, Viola, who pretends to be a male page, Cesario, and who is the object of affection of Olivia, another boy dressed as a woman. Keep up!
Rylance is a sight for sore eyes, his voice has a delicate female timbre and he uses tiny steps under the wide skirt to make it look as if he is on wheels. Actors say, don't they, the key to getting a role right is the shoes and the walk?
Paul Chahidi who takes the other female role of Maria similarly glides across the stage like one of those wind-up Jesus toys. I know that I saw Rylance in this role at The Globe ten years ago and my overriding memory is of the little Japanese walk his Olivia uses. Rylance knows how to work the crowd, "Take the fool away,"says Olivia so sweetly and plainly. He flirts with Cesario and then looks at the audience, embarrassed by his attraction to him/her/him. When Olivia gives a jewel to Sebastian and says "Wear this jewel for me," Olivia feigns great surprise when she says, "OH it is my picture."
Liam Brennan and Peter Hamilton Dyer were in the 2002 production and are recreating their roles here. I liked Liam Brennan's rather feisty Orsino who overturns the loveseat he and Viola are sitting on, puzzled by his attraction to the boy. Johnny Flynn tries as a green girl, looking to the audience nervously when Olivia declares her affection for him.
The Toby Belch (Colin Hurley) scenes are dominated by Paul Chahidi's housekeeper Maria who looks shame faced when she realises the social faux pas she has made in getting Sir Toby to marry her. Stephen Fry's Malvolio has a deep and ponderous voice as he pompously pontificates but it is not the acting tour de force the public may expect. This mild Malvolio intereferes with the plot as Maria devises the revenge on him for his excessive behaviour. In the shrubbery scene, three hide in a carved out circular bush to good comic effect with Aguecheek's maypole head protruding from the top of the bush. However Fry as Malvolio smiling is very sinister and very, very funny and his pelvic thrust at Olivia has her belting him with a cushion. Roger Lloyd Pack is exactly the right shape for Aguecheek but doesn't inject any pathos into the role.
The effect of the original practices production is to never suspend disbelief. The artificiality makes us conscious that we are always watching Rylance never Olivia. We don't believe in the love story of Viola and Orsino and this changes the momentum of the play. The original music is charming.
But these are minor role niggles for what is a five star performance from Mark Rylance and as joyous and comic a production of Twelfth Night as you can hope to see. The period dance at the end is expertly executed and is the traditional way to close a magnificent Globe performance.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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