Jean Chan’s design litters the set with fading trinkets of Americana, playing into the idea that Illyria is a society in limbo, left unkempt since its loss. Hanging askew above the stage is a retro sign reading ‘Welcome to Illyria’. Beneath it are broken segments of a spray-painted corrugated iron wall, an out-of-action jukebox and a motionless plastic tiger. (There is also a seemingly real hanging deer, which sits at odds with the rest of this image, but looks impressive all the same.) To the left, a rusty car crashes into the stage. Together, it speaks of the kingdom being a pleasure palace beyond its heyday.
Victoria Elliott as Feste. Photo: Marc Brenner
If Chan’s set evokes Vegas, her costumes ensure the production remains timeless and placeless. Viola (the Globe’s artistic director Michelle Terry) and brother Sebastian (Ciarán O'Brien) arrive looking like they’ve wandered straight out of an Elizabethan court, while Nadine Higgin’s Sir Toby Belch swaggers on in weathered leathers as if he’s come from the set of a Western. George Fouracres’s Andrew Aguecheek muddles the picture further, dancing on stage in a preppy pastel-hued suit.
Costumes are clever conduits for the production’s humour and wider ideas, too. Sophie Russell’s Malvolio appears post trickery in a yellow cross-gartered unitard to guffaws from those on stage and in the auditorium.
Those switching between genders carry out their costume changes on stage, demystifying disguises and normalising cross-dressing. Feste, portrayed by the brilliant Victoria Elliot, is a glamorous cabaret singer when not entertaining those in the court of Olivia. Elliot disrobes on stage, swapping wig, glittery dress and heels for a street-style tracksuit, and adopting bouncy tomboy-esque movements to match her new appearance – a marked point on how versatile a person can be.
Michelle Terry as Viola. Photo:: Marc Brenner
James Fortune’s score, a fusion of country, pop and folk, enhances the wistful longing that characterises the earlier scenes of the production. Elliot and Higgin – both exquisite singers – duet in harmony on a medley of love songs, without losing a grain of Feste and Sir Toby’s humour. Bryan Dick’s Orsino slow-dances with Terry’s Cesario to Dirty Old Town in a brilliantly directed scene which makes the disguised Viola falling for her master all the more believable.
In a cast of strong performers, Elliot, Higgin and Terry deliver standout performances in their gender-fluid roles, and are mesmerising to watch. Elliot’s Feste and Higgin's Sir Toby gel deliciously as a comedy duo, riffing off one another like mischievous conspirators helming a scandalous night out.
Nadine Higgin as Sir Toby Belch and George Fouracres as Aguecheek. Photo: Marc Brenner
Joining them is Shona Babayemi as an unusually tough Olivia, who comes into her own in the final throes, hollering and throwing herself onto Sebastian, who O’Brien sullies as comically arrogant and obnoxious.
As hearts heal, we see Illyria mended to its former glory; the corrugated panels are cleared and the sign swings back to centre stage, its lights flashing once more. Back in the real world, the Globe’s auditorium has undergone a similar rejuvenation, with the standing groundlings reinstated and the theatre operating at near full capacity.
There’s still no interval, mind. Instead, the theatre has adopted a relaxed approach to performances, with audience members allowed to come and go throughout the show for loo breaks or to pick up drinks and snacks from the bar. It’s fitting for a bawdy Twelfth Night that sees the chief mischief-makers hurl glugs of beer into the audience on several occasions. It’s very Elizabethan and jolly good fun.
|Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s Globe review
|The Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London, SE1 9DT | MAP
10 Aug 21 – 30 Oct 21, Performances at 7pm with additional 2pm matinees
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