Friday, 09 June 2017

Twelfth Night

A departing director goes too far as a Shakespeare play loses its identity and spreads confusion instead

Written by Ian Shuttleworth
Last year, the theatre world was rocked when the board of Shakespeare’s Globe announced their new artistic director, Emma Rice, would serve only two years. Their argument was that, by introducing full stage lighting and sound amplification, Rice was ignoring the reasons behind the Globe’s construction, namely to try to approximate the performance conditions of old Will’s time; she was basically turning it into any other venue, only without a roof. ian

The whole affair was handled embarrassingly, but it hasn’t stopped. In her second and last season at the Globe, Rice seems to reckon she has nothing to lose and is going for broke. One reviewer has already called her Twelfth Night the theatrical equivalent of a scorched-earth policy.

It’s not the lighting. It’s not the sound. It’s not even about treating the play as a musical – Twelfth Night has always had several songs in it, although admittedly none of them was We Are Family. No, it’s that to make room for the singing, the dancing, the new gags replacing old gags that didn’t need replacing, the new gags in their own right and so on, what she’s got rid of every time is Shakespeare.

As a result, vast numbers of the casual visitors that form such a part of the Globe’s market will now leave under the misconception that this play is all about the jokes and capers when, in fact, it’s one of Shakespeare’s darkest comedies. They’ll think he had some modish ideas about gender-bending, what with Viola disguising herself as a man, rather than more complex notions of identity in general, and appearance versus reality. Most seriously, they’ll imagine Feste is a bloke in a sequinned frock – bearded drag artist Le Gateau Chocolat – rather than one of the greatest fool- characters in drama who, here, has 90 per cent of his lines cut, including pretty much all the stuff that makes the play so ambivalent, and most of the rest given to somebody else.

It’s not that different equals bad. I’ve seen a production of Much Ado About Nothing that included not only gender-bending but King Kong, Nosferatu, a Hawaiian luau and Benedick in a tiger costume, and that opened with Leonard Cohen’s everybody knows, and it still got to more of the themes and spirit of the play than Rice’s Twelfth Night. Remember those commercials for Terry’s Chocolate Orange where Dawn French would declare: ‘it’s not Terry’s – it’s mine!’? Well, Emma Rice seems to feel that way about the Globe. She is – let me be clear – terrific at what she does; this isn’t the place for it. Here, her gung-ho approach to her original material ends up spreading ignorance, the exact opposite of the Globe’s purpose.

In rep until 5 August at Shakespeare’s Globe, London SE1: 020-7401 9909, 

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