Laughs that will last a dozen nights

After a triumphant Midsummer Night’s Dream, it is no surprise that the same cast delivers plenty of laughs in the Globe’s Twelfth Night, writes Christopher Walker.

There are some outstanding performances, and if rollicking comedy is what you seek, you will be glued to your seat.

Provided you remember to bring a cushion for the hard Elizabethan bench!

Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night as the grand finale of Elizabeth I’s Christmas celebrations at Whitehall in 1601.

An Italian diplomat, Duke Orsino, was staying, so one of the main characters is named after him.

Indeed, many characters have Italian names which makes me wonder who else came with him.

Traditionally, such Elizabethan festivities had a carnival atmosphere presided over by a Lord of Misrule.

The traditional order of things was inverted. Masters playing servants, boys playing girls et cetera.

Of course, the company at the Globe need no encouragement to swap genders, and many of the roles in this production are taken by women.

The plot concerns Viola (played by a rather subdued Michelle Terry) and her identical twin Sebastian (Ciaran O’Brien with a posh accent) who are ship-wrecked on the shores of Illyria.

Laughs that will last a dozen nights

Viola believes her brother dead, and disguises herself as a boy, entering the service of the Duke Orsino (Bryan Dick), whom she soon falls in love with.

This is of little use as Orsino himself has fallen for a wealthy countess, Olivia.

Shona Babayemi is a commanding stage presence enhanced by her fabulous costumes by Jean Chan.

The Lord of Misrule title is often disputed by two of the comic characters in the play, Sir Toby Belch and Feste the Fool, and there is no exception in this production.

Sir Toby is the original “drunken uncle” – in this case Olivia’s.

Bizarrely, given the setting and all the Italian characters, Shakespeare somehow allowed this English country Knight to wander in.

He boast of “cakes and ale”… in the Adriatic sunshine.

True to this incongruity, Nadine Higgin plays him as a beer-can-popping stooge, in what appears to be an Australian bush hat. Somehow, thanks to Nadine’s comic genius, this all works.

Equally brilliant is Victoria Elliot’s Feste – the court jester.

A very narky Geordie in a baseball cap, Victoria is a million miles from her Queen Titania.

Together with the very funny George Fouracres as Aiguecheek, these three pranksters cause appropriate mayhem.

Laughs that will last a dozen nights

The audience love it, and occasionally get soaked. As usual, avoid getting too close to the stage at the Globe unless you fancy a little “misrule” yourself.

Set against these party animals is Malvolio – the Lady Olivia’s killjoy steward.

Having triumphed as Bottom in Midsummer Night’s Dream, it is no surprise that the talented Sophie Russell, a comic genius, gets her teeth into Malvolio. And there is a lot to this role.

The director Sean Holmes has understandably decided to put a firm emphasis on the comedy in the play.

Though perhaps this is at the expense of some of the larger themes involved.

Some historians see Malvolio as the embodiment of the rising Puritanism that was beginning in England at the time, and would eventually sweep this country into civil War.

His cry at the end of the play “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you,” a foreboding of the carnage to come.

During the dark period of Puritan rule, all London’s theatres were closed, and Christmas banned.

After the Restoration, Twelfth Night was one of the first plays to be put on.

The audience needed to laugh then, as it does now.

For tickets go to https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/whats-on/twelfth-night-2021/

The cast of Twelfth Night Pictures: Marc Brenner

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