The sad story of Emma Rice's premature departure as Globe Artistic Director needs no further rehashing from me (besides, I already indulged in some in my review of her predecessor Dominic Dromgoole's recently-published Hamlet: Globe to Globe). So let's just get straight down to a few remarks about Rice's production of Twelfth Night, the second foray in the theatre's "Summer of Love" season, following Daniel Kramer's decidedly unloved take on Romeo and Juliet.
The moniker seems an apt one for this final season, because Rice is such a loving director, with a generosity of spirit that shines through even in her weaker work. She approaches Shakespeare exactly as you approach a lover: with tenderness, curiosity and wonder jostling close to irreverence, impatience and cheek. She and her companies cut speeches, incorporate new dialogue, add or extend songs. (Credit for most of these changes goes, this time, to the excellent Carl Grose, Rice's collaborator on various Kneehigh shows, and the unforgettable Oedipussy.) Rice draws from a grab-bag of cultural influences: pop and punk, music hall and cabaret, film and sitcom. Her bracing inclusivity - her refusal to see a division between high art and low - makes her, in my opinion, a true Shakespearean.
Her Twelfth Night has all of that, in spades. The production approaches the play through a 1970s prism in its design and its aesthetic, allowing for disco flourishes and the wry, naughty inclusion of some good ol' sitcom stereotypes (including Marc Antolin's lisping, camp Andrew Aguecheek and Kandaka Moore and Theo St. Claire's brilliant West Indian evangelicals).
Still, proceedings start at too high and forced a pitch, with a "We Are Family" rendition aboard the "SS Unity", led by the great alt cabaret drag sensation Le Gateau Chocolat, who serves, following the shipwreck that divides Anita-Joy Uwajeh's Viola and John Pfumojena's Sebastian, as a ghostly Feste: ludic and melancholic in equal measure. (Gateau's function here is a little like that of Meow Meow's Maitress in Rice's undervalued The Umbrellas of Cherbourg of 2011.)
|Le Gateau Chocolat and Joshua Lacey in Twelfth Night. (Photo: Hugo Glendinning)|
Indeed, as often with Rice, irritation and rapture, clunkiness and illumination, are exhilaratingly close in this Twelfth Night. As in her terrific A Midsummer Night's Dream last year, the lunacy of love is a major theme, expressed with all the mania one could desire. Katy Owen's show-stopping Malvolio moves from brisk, whistle-blowing priss to a horny honeybee rubbing against a pillar and jumping on Annette McLaughlin's statuesque (and very funny) Olivia. Carly Bawden's Maria is a gleaming-eyed minx, as seductive as she's steely. Joshua Lacey's Orsino has Michael Flately's moves and his self-satisfaction, his messages conveyed to Olivia via tape-recorder.
Amid the mayhem, the notion of splits and divisions - not only from loved ones but also from the various aspects of the self - comes through with fresh poignancy, as "the whirligig of time brings in its revenges", subjecting characters to good or bad fortune. And for all her giddy, sometimes over-insistent flourishes, one can't accuse Rice of neglecting the company's verse-speaking, which is exceptionally clear throughout.
Moments of pure, surprising theatrical magic radiate. A boat carries Pieter Lawman's lovelorn Antonio through the crowd. A shower of glitter accompanies Olivia's "Most wonderful!" In a final heart-grabbing gesture, Gateau's Feste takes Malvolio's hand. Rice breathes theatre, gives us excess of it, and her production can make the viewer deliriously happy.
Twelfth Night is at the Globe until 5th August. Further information here.