Twelfth Night, Apollo Theatre, November 2012

In Shakespeare’s day a ‘Lord of Misrule’ would call for entertainment and songs on Twelfe Night, a tradition going back to the medieval Feast of Fools and even the Roman Saturnalia. His play celebrates this by making a fool of the miserable Malvolio, hilariously played here by Stephen Fry, with Sir Toby Belch and others representing the spirit of festive enjoyment.

Played with an all male cast, as in Shakespeare’s original, it was hugely illuminating and fun, particularly with the confusion of identities between Viola/Cesario and her twin brother Sebastian, whom she thought lost to a shipwreck. This production by Tim Carroll has transferred from the Globe where it was impossible to get tickets, and the seats on either side of the stage representing the Globe audience, along with musicians above the set, help to recreate the atmosphere of Shakespeare’s own theatre. As in that venue the performers danced together on stage at the end, rounding off a super evening’s entertainment. Delightful designs by Jenny Tiramani, well lit by David Plater, and the music by Claire van Kampen was ideal, with spontaneous applause from the audience after the musicians’ crescendo at the start of part two.

You won’t find a better cast for this huge bundle of fun. Peter Hamilton Dyer was a wily and bright-eyed jester, and Mark Rylance a cleverly subdued and pretty Olivia, very different from the bullish Orsino of Liam Brennan, who doesn’t seem to realise he fancies his servant Cesario, really Viola, beautifully played by Johnny Flynn as a girl disguised as a man. Here is the theatrical joy of an all-male cast, and Olivia’s servant Maria was gloriously played as a wittily assertive woman by Paul Chahidi. But then there are the real men, or people who think they’re real men, like the idiotic Sir Andrew Aguecheek hilariously portrayed by Roger Lloyd Pack, with Colin Hurley as Olivia’s rowdy cousin Sir Toby Belch. The two of them, along with James Garnon as Fabian, made a fine trio of jokers, listening in the tree house while Malvolio reads that mischievous letter.

At this point Stephen Fry was an utter delight, and the audience roared with applause as he hopped off after reading the letter, returning for the postscript. In the second part, thinking he’s on a winner and persistently smiling at Olivia, he came over as a sympathetic character, easily misled into believing he could raise his status. Of such errors is life made and entertainment provided, as Shakespeare knew so well. An iconic reading of the role in a wonderful production — get tickets if you can.

Performances continue until February 9, 2013 — for details click here.

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