Globe Theatre Production
Apollo Theatre, London
Sunday 4th November 2012, 3 pm
Directed by Tim Carroll
It was difficult to decide on a short tag for this … Twelfth Night- Globe? Twelfth Night – Apollo? Twelfth Night – Rylance? The production transferred from The Globe to the Apollo in Shaftesbury Avenue, in repertory with Richard III, and it’s Mark Rylance’s image as Olivia that beams down from the theatre hoarding.
The publicity shots: Mark Rylance as Richard III and as Olivia
The day before seeing this, I found a pile of pristine Punch magazines from the 1950s in a charity shop. The first one I picked up reviewed Twelfth Night with Michael Hordern as Malvolio and Richard Burton as Sir Toby Belch. January 1954 at the Old Vic, with Claire Bloom as Viola. Phew! Though according to the reviewer Richard Burton transforms Sir Toby into a “brisk old man, a Chelsea pensioner with a glum taste for practical jokes.’ Oh, dear. The career prospects of Mr Burton must have looked poor indeed. Must try harder. I worked with an actor who’d played opposite Burton often in the early 1950s, and he told me Burton used to drink so much at lunch that he liked wearing armour so he could pee on stage in matinees without people knowing. Though the cast and dressers did. Actually in 1954, Burton was only twenty-nine so playing “a brisk old man” must have been impressive. The 1954 review says it’s the first non-drinking Sir Toby they had seen, so the Old Vic knew his reputation.
Punch, January 13th 1954 reviews the Old Vic
We’re into star name territory with this 2012 production too, with Mark Rylance as Olivia and Stephen Fry as Malvolio. Rylance is in an enviable position. Regular theatre goers would regard him as the brightest star in the theatrical firmament, but having avoided all but limited TV and film, I doubt that he gets harrassed for autographs in Tesco. Not only that but if you compare the burly Byron in Jerusalem with the petite Olivia in Twelfth Night, he’s also unrecognisable from role to role.
Notice the shift in emphasis… in classic productions, Sir Toby and Malvolio used to be the main featured roles. In fact, both the most recent versions I’ve seen (Donmar West End and RSC 2012) have left me with the feeling that Olivia walked away as the most interesting role in the play, and Rylance must know this … he played Olivia in 2002 at The Globe. In 2012 they add Roger Lloyd Pack as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, which is Eric to Sir Toby’s Ernie … Sir Toby sets up the scenes for Sir Andrew, who is inevitably the funnier one. It’s in the script. Roger Lloyd Pack has a long list of theatrical credits, but that slight audience ‘ah!’ as he appears is due to Only Fools and Horses and Vicar of Dibley.
This is a strict discipline authentic production. It started at The Globe, and when they moved it to a West End stage, they reproduced an Inns of Court / Whitehall indoor theatre setting (based on Wadham College, Oxford). That’s probably more authentic, if as legend has it the play was first produced on Twelfth Night, it would certainly have been in an indoor theatre. As The Apollo run is four times as long as The Globe run, this really is the “main set” and, The Globe says, the reason why it decided to hold off press reviews from The Globe run.
As in Shakespeare’s time, this is an all-male production. They also went obsessive on every detail … the programme proudly informs us that 10 to 20 people worked on each costume, only authentic fabrics are used (knitted silk stockings!) and that the cast all wear authentic Elizabethan under garments. No Velcro or zips they proclaim. I’m not sure how a hidden pair of M&S boxers would affect your performance (though they have become more uncomfortable), or whether you can tell genuine silk from easyclean polyester under lights. They even press the costumes with hot irons, and I assume they mean old-fashioned ones not the tell-tale slickness of the electric steam Morphy Richards.
There is authentic music with sackbuts, lute, cittern, recorders, pipes, tabor, cornetto (the first ever use of authentic Elizabethan instruments in the West End theatre), and dozens of candles lit above the stage. There is no lighting plot, even to the point where all the house lights stay on right the way through. There is no recorded sound. As you come in, the cast are being costumed and made up on stage. There is no dramatic lights down or curtains up. The play has its authentic instruments overture, then another musical piece while props are moved, then it gradually lurches into the action.
This extreme attention to period detail is novel to me. I had always avoided The Globe where Rylance was artistic director for ten years, because the thought of standing and open air have never appealed. I can’t get past my old drama lecturer’s description of open-air Shakespeare as ‘whimsy-cult in the wet’ or the experience of straining to hear lines against the howling wind in the Minack Theatre on its clifftop in Cornwall, let alone the mosquitos swarming over the actors in Brownsea Island open-air Shakespeare … I tried to get tickets for these two Apollo transfers at The Globe though and failed. I know people who say The Globe is the greatest theatrical experience of all, but I’m the one who complains that the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford is uncomfortable in comparison to the National Theatre on the South Bank. (2015 note: I have since become a total Globe convert!)
The comparison with the RSC and National Theatre is inevitable. They’re into BIG concept productions. They differ in that the National has Names (capital N) like Lenny Henry in Comedy of Errors. The RSC has Concepts (capital C) like Twelfth Night set in a hotel after a flood, with Viola swimming up through water to arrive in Illyria. This Globe / Apollo production is stripped to its essentials, and also it is stripped of all the RSC and NT pretensions. This is Shakespeare in Shakespearean costume. At last, you might say. And so do I.
Comparisons? You try to avoid them as every production has its merits, but against the RSC earlier this year, this one is better in every single role on the stage.
Maria (I assume all photos are from The Globe, not the Apollo)
Authenticity required the all-male cast. Every expert on Shakespeare can tell me, or prove, that women didn’t appear on the Elizabethan stage, but knowledge cannot break my feeling that there are women’s roles and they should be played by women. So I’ll have to put that aside for the week … we’re seeing the same cast in Richard III a week later. This one works. Viola aka Cesario is excellent, just a higher voice. No fake boobs. Maria is one of the strongest parts in the play, which is the rock upon which the RSC 2012 production foundered with a weak portrayal. This is a superb Maria from Paul Chahidi. The facial expressions and reactive acting are hilarious, and Maria has to be a powerful figure … Sir Toby’s too drunk and Sir Andrew too thick to develop the letter trick against Malvolio.
Mark Rylance as Olivia
Rylance is a very, very different Olivia. She is tremulous, nervy rather than nervous, stuttering at times, likely to do sudden panicky unexpected things. Olivia is white faced … well, Elizabeth I wore white make up, and no doubt the players performing as women had to conceal stubble, not having the quality of razor available today. Rylance has to take tiny, tiny steps (maybe it’s the Elizabethan underwear), and is constantly turning, with his full dress, like a Dalek on wheels, so that every manouevre is back and forth, round and round, like trying to park a large car in a small space. His timing is impeccable, and there are faints, falls and the high point is where Olivia rushes on stage to separate Sir Andrew and Cesario with a nine foot halbard swinging around, but swinging around girlishly. I’ve been convinced since La Bete and Jerusalem that Rylance is our greatest actor, and by taking on such a radically different role, he does it again. (He has also played Cleopatra).
The all-male cast brings out the existing gender issues inherent in the play. We discussed this on the way home. Maria and Viola / Cesario are just played as women. Olivia? There is a definite touch of (knowing) drag about it. The female fluttering and indecision are a male perspective.
Orsino realizes Cesario stirs him strangely
Also, a very funny scene is where Duke Orsino and Cesario are listening to Feste sing a song and they’re sitting on a bench. Orsino starts to realize that he fancies Cesario, but can’t believe it. It’s three homoerotic minutes at a guess without a single line from Orsino or Cesario and extremely funny. So Cesario is a male actor pretending to be a female character (Viola) who is dressed up as a man (Cesario). No wonder Orsino is confused. There’s also Antonio the sea captain’s affection for Sebastian. However you say the lines, and even knowing that love had less sexual weight in 1601, the lines have a definite Sea Captain and cabin boy / midshipman aspect to them (Master Bates! Bring me a fresh cabin boy …).
Sebastian and Viola are in identical costumes with identical hair, and you can always tell which is which, but only just. This is how it should be. When it’s revealed that they’re twins, Olivia says ‘Most wonderful!’ and that’s normally in the Shakesperean sense of creating wonder at such a strange likeness. In this play, Rylance does it with excitement … you can imagine the prospects of troilism running through Olivia’s head, and it gets one of the biggest laughs of the day.
Last time around, I said Feste was a very hard part for modern audiences because the endless puns are irritating rather than funny. Here, dressed as a jester and devoid of the tricks I would naturally give him, we have a perfect Feste, The character has to push a lot of plot and does it smoothly (and he sings well).
Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Fabian eavesdrop on Malvolio
Sir Toby and Sir Andrew work well … a shorter Sir Toby and a lanky Sir Andrew are what you want to see. Lloyd Pack is a great comedy actor. The bit where they listen to Malvolio from a bower is perfect with Sir Andrew stuck because of his ruff and having to walk the bower off stage.
Stephen Fry as Malvolio
Stephen Fry is the surprise big name as Malvolio. He is quite wonderful. Every Shakesperean line falls off his tongue as freshly-minted, totally natural and … well, Stephen Fry. He sounds like himself at all times. That sounds weird praise, but Malvolio sounds like the erudite presenter of QI, or Jeeves, or indeed Mycroft Holmes in the recent two blockbusters. That is one of the hardest tricks to pull off, presenting Malvolio sympathetically (this is one Malvolio you genuinely feel sorry for) while maintaining a powerful sense of the actor’s own personality. In a way he’s even better before he gets lovestruck, though the physicality of the “greatness thrust upon them” line behind a shocked Olivia’s bottom is another unforgettable moment. Yes, he’s a star name, but somehow he returns Malvolio to an appropriate level rather than the “star turn” it often becomes.
Malvolio accosts Olivia
Another point is that when he appears in yellow stockings, cross-gartered, that’s all it is. Yellow stockings instead of black and cross garters above the knee. Recent productions have gone overboard with extreme bondage gear (and Jonathan Slinger’s bare bum at the RSC). Even Patrick Stewart at Chichester did it with a kilt. The restrained Malvolio is fine. He even carries off that very difficult cellar / prison scene respectably. I don’t think any other Malvolio has captured Derek Jacobi’s intensity, especially the intensity of loathing of all of them at the end, but this is a fine Malvolio without having to pull out all the stops in costume.
There was a long, long, standing ovation. It was so long that we walked out at 6.15 (according to the theatre it ended at 6.00!) Matinees at some provincial theatres are restrained, but Sunday in London always seems a special one … no evening show helps, and you usually see some well-known faces in the audience. The Apollo are avoiding press reviews till mid November. The Telegraph ignored them and gave it five stars. Absolutely. It was a prime example of ensemble playing, and we agreed it was the best of the half dozen Twelfth Night’s we’ve seen in the last few years.
The DVD of the Globe open air performance is available generally (from 2014), especially at the Globe, National Theatre and RSC bookshops. We bought it to rewatch. It’s an excellent filmed version of the play.
TWELFTH NIGHT ON THIS BLOG:
Twelfth Night RSC 2012 Jonathan Slinger as Malvolio
Twelfth Night – Apollo 2012 Mark Rylance (Olivia), Stephen Fry (Malvolio)
Twelfth Night- ETT 2014, Brighton Theatre Royal, Hugh Ross (Malvolio)
Twelfth Night, National Theatre 2017, Tamsin Greig (Malvolio)
MARK RYLANCE ON THIS BLOG:
Nice Fish by Mark Rylance and Louis Jenkins
Farinelli & The King, by Claire Van Kampen, Wanamaker Playhouse, 2015
Richard III – Apollo 2012 Mark Rylance as Richard III
Twelfth Night – Apollo 2012 Mark Rylance as Olivia
Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth, West End
La Bête by David Hirson, West End, 2010