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‘Twelfth Night’ review

  • Theatre, Shakespeare
Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s Globe, 2021
Photo by Marc BrennerMichelle Terry (Viola)

Time Out says

Sean Holmes directs his boss Michelle Terry in a warm, music-filled production of Shakespeare’s comedy

Sean Holmes’s new production of ‘Twelfth Night’ for the Globe is a veritable love letter to the myriad oddball minor characters in Shakespeare’s great comedy. 

Most specifically we’re talking about the eccentrics who populate the household of Shona Babayemi’s pining noblewomen Olivia: Nadine Higgin’s delightfully slobbish Toby Belch, George Fouracres’s amusing faux-Italian lounge singer Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Nadi Kemp-Sayfi, excellent as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Maria, winsomely leading the scheming against Sophie Russell’s grump Malvolio.

This gang’s oddball bickering dominates the show, their roles expanded via delicate, melancholic songs that drift unhurriedly through the night air. I don’t think anyone would describe Belch and co as obscure, but done right they’re probably Shakespeare’s funniest set of characters and it’s a delight to spend more time with them here. Why not let them have the lion’s share of the stage time? 

The obvious answer is that it somewhat detracts from the ‘main’ plot. I don’t think any of heroine Viola’s lines have been cut. But the play’s nominal protagonist – played by Globe boss Michelle Terry – feels squeezed in a production that has shed 15 minutes since its first preview (it’s still a bladder-challenging two-and-a-half-hours – fortunately, the Globe being the Globe, you can pop to the loo, no worries).  

Terry puts in a fine performance as a woman totally freaking out at the fact that she’s been washed up, shipwrecked, in the kingdom of Ilyria, where she must masquerade as a boy, find her twin brother Sebastian, and avoid the amorous attentions of the local nobility. But her time on stage feels naggingly fleeting, perhaps due to an underpowered Orsino and Olivia (the nobles Viola spends her time shuttling between) and the play ends up feeling charming but a bit rudderless. It’s a shame because Terry’s hangdog Viola really is great and Ciarán O’Brien’s vain, narcissistic Sebastian is an absolute hoot.

Jean Chan’s Americana-themed set is a thing of delight, cramming the stage with the dusty-bright detritus of twentieth-century capitalism: neon lights, a large fibreglass tiger. But it’s frustrating that the theme is purely aesthetic: the accents are British, the songs European in form; it’s a bit half-hearted.

I’m sounding critical here: this is an eminently likeable production of ‘Twelfth Night’ that plays nicely into the comic side of things and has a warm and palpable love for its characters. It’s just that it leaves a few wistful clues as to how it might have been something greater.

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski


£5-£59. Runs 2hr 30min (no interval)
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