Shakespeare’s Globe, London – until 5 August 2017
“I would you were as I would have you be.”
Emma Rice‘s Summer of Love got off to a slightly sticky start at the Globe with a mystifying take on Romeo and Juliet from Daniel Kramer and as we move onto Twelfth Night, which she is directing herself, there’s a similarly uncompromising attitude in place. For the production reminded me nothing so much as a camp episode of Monarch of the Glen (sadly not Monarch of the Glum) and whilst it is often fun to watch, it’s not always the most effective treatment.
Rice’s iconoclastic approach is there from the get-go – a prologue set onboard the SS Unity before its shipwreck sees the company dancing merrily to Sister Sledge. And once in this decidedly Celtic Illyria, Orsino has a Lionel Richie mullet, Andrew Aguecheek is a would-be b-boy, serenades are played on cassette decks…why we’re in 1979, as good a time as any to explore cross-dressing hijinks of gender exploration.
Too often though, the play jibes against the interpretation or rather, it doesn’t seem to gain anything from the setting, especially when wafts of contemporary dance pop up out of nowhere. The text has been bluntly cut and laughs are generally externally imposed – Toby Belch quoting Gloria Gaynor for instance, or all the Scottish country dancing – and the language left neglected, lines like Aguecheek’s ‘I was adored once too’ scarcely milked for comedy or pathos, the emotion of the final reunion is marred by incidental music and staging that pulls away any intimacy.
There are bright spots – Carly Bawden makes for a wonderfully determined Maria and her singing is full of character, Joshua Lacey’s archetypal 80s hunk of an Orsino is fun, and Tony Jayawardena and Marc Antolin connect well as Belch and Aguecheek, both delivering strong physical performances. But the sexuality of the piece is absent, Anita-Joy Uwajeh’s Cesario just feels too timid, neither convincing of love for Orsino or in rebuffing Annette McLaughlin’s muted Olivia.
Perhaps I was spoiled by seeing the Royal Exchange’s superb version of the play last week which found all sorts of sexy and strange, raucous and romantic magic. Here, even the introduction of cabaret star Le Gateau Chocolat as Feste doesn’t explode with all the fabulousness it should, the character barely incorporated to the action of the play at all. Not even Katy Owen’s spirited take on Malvolio is safe, a misjudged attempt at real depth in the final seconds snatched away by an incoming jig. It is an undoubtedly bold production but also an uncomfortable fit; perhaps then the fitting epitaph for Rice’s artistic directorship.