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A CurtainUp London London Review
Twelfth Night

If this were played upon a stage now I could condemn it as an improbable fiction. — Fabio
Twelfth Night
Mark Rylance as Olivia and Stephen Fry as Malvolio (Photo: Simon Annand)
The Globe's "original practices" production of Twelfth Night gets a magnificent transfer to The Apollo in Shaftesbury Avenue. With Mark Rylance playing Olivia and well known personality Stephen Fry as Malvolio, it is a box office success and critic proof before it opens. Not that it needs to be critic proof because it is a spectacular production! It is as unlike as any other Twelfth Night you have seen because this play does not centre on Viola (Johnny Flynn) but on Rylance's mesmerising Olivia.

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.

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Twelfth Night
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tim Carroll

Starring: Mark Rylance, Stephen Fry, Liam Brennan, Roger Lloyd Pack, Johnny Flynn, Samuel Barnett, Paul Chahidi
With: Ben Thompson, Jethro Skinner, Colin Hurley, Peter Hamilton Dyer, John Paul Connolly, James Garnon, Dominic Brewer, Martin Carroll, John Paul Connolly, Ian Drysdale
Designed by Jenny Tiramani
Lighting: David Plater
Choreographer: Siân Williams
Music and Arrangements: Claire van Kampen
Running time: Three hours with one interval
Box Office: 0844 579 1971
Booking to 9th February 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 17th November 2012 performance at the Apollo Theatre, 31 Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 7ES (Tube: Leicester Square)

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