A New Take on Twelfth Night

By Dorothy Grace Franklin

Photo:  Marc Brenner

I had the pleasure to see the summer season’s last production of “Twelfth Night” at the Globe. Being a massive literature fan, especially Shakespearean, I was thrilled to hear I would be studying this play for my school course, and I was even more thrilled to hear a production of it was taking place when I was visiting London.

The use of the Globe’s staging was intriguing to say the least. With a deer carcass hung from the ceiling (in reference to the numerous conversations and comparisons between love and hunting), and a commercial-esque broken neon sign lettered with “Welcome to Illyria” – reminiscent of a casino welcome sign – from first glance, the production promises to be a new take, and does it deliver! Modern songs were sprinkled throughout the show, but not necessarily in the way you would think. They were not incorporated in a jukebox musical way, but more in a comedic fashion. 

The play’s main and timeless themes of gender ambiguity and fluidity of sexuality were aided well by the choice of gender-blind casting, relevant for the characters of Sir Toby; played by Nadine Higgin, Malvolio; played by Sophie Russell, Valentine; played by Rachel Hannah Clarke, and Fabian; played by Jacoba Williams. 

Alongside that, this production makes the choice to have Feste’s character actively defy the gender binary, demonstrated again by the gender-blind casting choice of Victoria Elliott, and further shown by his fluid gender presentation with his wardrobe of feminine and masculine outfits. This creative choice is implemented into the events of the show by additional moments of androgyny, such as a scene in which he gets changed to visit the house of Lady Olivia, and openly binds his chest in front of the audience.

This choice amplifies the parallels written by the Bard himself between Feste and Viola, as these both are characters of wit playing a role in their lives of someone below their statue (for Feste, the role of a fool when he is wise, and for Viola, the role of a servant when she is a noble). On top of that, in this production it is not only Viola who is defying the gendered stereotypes and cultural norms of her situations, but Feste as well.

One of my favourite elements of this production was the unique wardrobe. The creative costuming choices exist in a limbo between classical and contemporary, and by the final scene, each character dons a monochrome outfit, another bold design choice which I applaud. With Malvolio adorning yellow, the twins in green, Sir Toby wearing all brown, Feste in white, Sir Andrew in pink, Maria in purple, and Olivia in red, the end result is a colour theorist’s dream, as each of the colours represents a trait of said character (for example, Olivia’s change from her black mourning outfit to a bold red outfit signifies the sudden love that has entered her life in the form of Cesario, and later Sebastian). This allowed me to further connect with the characters, and understand the creative team’s individual intentions.

Another way in which my perception of these beloved characters changed after this viewing was via Michelle Terry’s characterisation of Viola and her male disguise Cesario. Her comedic timing revealed itself in lines I have not seen performed funny before, molding a whole new layer of comedy into an already hilarious show. This sentiment goes for Ciarán O’Brien as well, who created a whole new take on Sebastian. A character which I always have seen played as sensitive, serious, caring and empathetic, but overarchingly ditsy, was played as self-absorbed, entitled, yet still ditsy. I found this take hilarious and refreshing, compared to other productions I have seen of this show.

Overall, I found this production blew a breath of fresh air into one of my all-time favourite scripts. To see the last production of this run was lovely, as seeing the cast pour their heart into their very last performance and into a closing audience-appreciation speech at the end made it so much more memorable.


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