In her brief tenure at Shakespeare’s Globe, Emma Rice has lit a fuse under the theatre’s original mission to devote itself to historical recreation and original practice.
Instead, she has harnessed the venue’s populist appeal with vigour, if not necessarily enough rigour. There are two programme credits that speak loudest to the changes she’s wrought to Twelfth Night, her final Shakespeare production here before she departs at the end of this season. They are Carl Grose, credited for additional text and lyrics; and Malcolm Rippeth for lighting.
Grose has interpolated modern references into the text and Rice has allowed a riot of electronic lighting to take over the stage. Whereas a uniform shared lighting state was previously a non-negotiable part of the Globe’s identity, Rice has concentrated instead on ensuring the audience has a shared experience.
Shakespeare’s works need not be treated as sacred texts – especially not the comedies – but nor are they pantomimes, malleable to every intervention that a director wishes to bring to them.
Watching this version of Twelfth Night, with its giddy, strutting irreverence, it’s hard not to think that Rice is sometimes intent on provoking the Globe board that rejected her.
At the same time, I watched much of the show with a broad smile on my face, both for its audacity and downright cheek. After this season’s heavily criticised opening production of Romeo and Juliet in which director Daniel Kramer had the guests at the Capulet’s ball dancing to the Village People’s YMCA, here we get Sister Sledge’s We Are Family at the top of the show. And the show proceeds to take its cue from Duke Orsino’s early declaration “If music be the food of love, play on”, by threatening to turn what follows into Twelfth Night the Musical.
This is underlined by the glittering presence of cabaret star Le Gateau Chocolat as Feste, who sports a sparkling gold kaftan and a voice of pure silky bass to cast a seductive glow over the production.
Comedy gold is provided in spades by the irresistible creations of Tony Jayawardena as a tartan kilted Sir Toby Belch, Marc Antolin as a desperately cowardly Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Katy Owen as a pint-sized Malvolio. Meanwhile, Annette McLaughlin and Joshua Lacey are more reflectively thoughtful as a striking Olivia and buff Orsino respectively.
Purists are going to frown, no doubt; but the audience lapped it up. They are not being shortchanged.