Mini-review – Twelfth Night (with Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry) – Apollo Theater

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As this show is a transfer from this fall’s production at the Globe, it seems a bit late to be getting in a review of Twelfth Night – it’s already transferred to the Apollo and opening night has come and gone. But I hadn’t seen it yet … well, okay, I saw a production of it a few years back, and to be honest I’m not much for this play. I don’t like seeing Malvolio abused and the central story is not really compelling. But, well, there was Mark Rylance to consider … he is truly an amazing actor. That said, I wasn’t willing to play groundling to see this show at the Globe, and the Apollo transfer is mostly sold out and unaffordable. But then a friend really wanted to go (he liked another actor in the production), and he didn’t care about the price, and so I went and wheedled the people at the box office for returns and suddenly there I was with a pair of tickets in “row O (extra legroom, amazing)” with ace views … and my friend was stuck at the airport due to a royal cock-up with Iberia and missing the show.

Now, really, I have written more than I have to say in the review. ARGH. It’s because I’ve been sick lately and my energy levels have been crap. I’ve managed to keep seeing shows but it’s basically like I’m propped up with a stick and I fall over afterwards. Bonus: I am fully open to being emotionally receptive to a show. Negative: writing is very, very hard.

The Twelfth Night seems to be the first Shakespeare I’ve ever seen that’s been fully, 100% period, bringing me back to the days when I was poring over my husband’s costume history books while he was in graduate school and I was learning about how sleeves could be tied on and slashed to show the wearer’s wealth. As a bonus to the delicious costuming, the whole thing was accompanied by proper period music. My god, what a treat! Sackbuts, archlutes, and shawms ahoy! And for fun, there were two little split-level buildings on the side of the stage where audience members were packed in eyeball to eyeball with the actors. What fun! If those are the day seats, I’ll warn that the view will be very odd and you will miss some stuff, but the opportunity to have Viola launch herself at you or hold Sir Toby Belch’s bottle of booze is not to be sniffed at.

Despite the high attention to period detail, this felt like a stripped down production, with sets mostly consisting of a table and benches with one rotating shrubbery. The focus is meant to be the play, and it felt a bit like the all-male cast was meant to further keep your attention on the words and less on the stage dressing. However, having a man in the role of Viola (Johnny Flynn, ever so yummy) made the complexity of a character that is a woman pretending to be a man … while _played_ by a man … just a tiny bit more brain bending than it would have been otherwise. One of the very best scenes in this production is where Orsino encourages Viola-disguised-as-Cesario to sympathetically mope about love unrequited … while Viola all but pants with desire. In this case, Orsino (Liam Brennan) most intriguedly checks Viola out, as if to say, “Is there something here I’m not getting?” And we’re of course wanting to shout, “For God’s sake, she’s really a girl! Only … it’s a guy! But she’s still really hot!” And the whole thing about collapsed into Victor/Victoria all over again.

Meanwhile, Rylance was, er, fine as Olivia, moving around like he was wearing rollerskates, absolutely as buried in the role as he was in Rooster, with not a bit of Rylance visible, really, through the black gown and veil. But oddly, amongst these many fine actors, it was Olivia’s maid Maria (Paul Chahidi) I loved the most, charming and hammy and giggle-making. Chahidi was no longer a man in a dress but just a funny, funny actor with a role that let him/her fill the stage with personality. It just was not what I expected, that this lesser character in the side plot would be the one that had me sitting in my (very comfy) seat and just basking in her glow: but so it was. Overall: a well-executed production, but not an unmissable one, though this will be the Maria by which I shall judge all others. And Flynn: well, if I figure out what bar the cast hangs out at after the show, as soon as I’ve shaken off this damned illness I’ll be having a pint there regularly, say around 11 PM.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, November 27th, 2012. It continues through February 9th, 2013.)

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