(The pit at the base of the stage at the Globe Theatre)
This is one of the productions that showed me what the Globe is for. I'm an unashamed fan of this theatre, which took a decade or so to overcome unjustified sneering from much of the profession. It's been the best thing to happen in Shakespearean theatre and possibly all English theatre in the last two decades. With zero public subsidy it has taken extraordinary risks. Both Rylance and Dromgoole have brought a streak of inventive madness to the project. I’ve never had the pleasure to attend a live performance of Sam Wanamaker’s theatre. While I don’t do that, sometimes I have the chance to watch a play from the Globe, either on TV or on DVD. On April the 23rd, being the date what it was and being in a hotel room, I was frantically zapping all available TV channels trying find some stuff on Shakespeare on TV, and I stumbled upon this Rylance’s production (on RTP2, the state channel, of all places…).
Unfortunately, when I caught the play it was already on. At the end of it, I just said to myself: “I must get my hands on this!” I went to sleep thinking about the play. I think I even dreamed about it. Comparing this production with the RSC (King Lear) I saw last weekend, I much prefer this one. Mark Rylance was simply beyond genius, to put it mildly (his repeated the move-without-moving-feet trick was priceless). This production felt as if it rebalanced the play. It was one of those wonderful productions where I hear lines I've heard a million times before and suddenly realise why they are funny.
Stephen Fry was good and was probably the most sympathetic Malvolio I've ever seen. The scene where he approaches Olivia was just heartbreaking. I’ve been a Fry’s fan for years. I think he's simply quite funny. He makes me laugh. And his wit is usually erudite and sometimes quite clever (his exposition on language in Fry & Laurie remains one of my favourite clips when I have to tell someone about the mixture of foppish pretentiousness and genuine insight that one sometimes finds amongst Oxbridge types). Peter Hamilton Dyer was simply magnificent as Feste. As he sang “The Wind and The Rain”, leaning out to cup his hand in the downpour... The roar as he sang: But that's all one, our play is done, And we'll strive to please you every day had to be heard to be believed. For those limited types moaning about it being all male, it adds something very interesting to watch something that is not only constrained by the availability of costume and gender that Shakespeare was originally constrained by, but to see what fun he has with Viola: a man, pretending to be a woman, pretending to be a man. When Rylance ran the place he put on two seasons with all-male *and* all-female companies. I’ve seen quite a few Twelfth Night versions (e.g. Branagh’s, also one of my favourites), but I’d never appreciated until I saw Rylance’s production the sheer depth of comic possibility in that role. I think the fact that it's a man playing it definitely helps: Olivia is goofy, but normally she's just played as being a bit woeful and bothersome. Rylance is simply, so far, my definite Olivia. All in all, absolutely magnificent.
NB: Pictures taken by me from the film.