The Globe auditorium is heaving with teenage excitement. Hundreds of young people don’t need to be told how Jacobean groundlings behaved, They do it instinctively and it creates the most vibrant atmosphere you’re likely to experience anywhere for a Shakespeare play. This is hot stuff and the fact that it’s mid-March and pretty chilly makes no difference at all. Excitement is as good as sunshine. The audience is part of the production in every sense.
This Twelfth Night, hard on the heels of last year’s Othello and 2014’s The Merchant of Venice is part of the Globe’s Deutsche Bank Playing Shakespeare project which has been running since 2007 and the sponsorship has just been renewed for a further three years. Each year a full-scale Shakespeare play (abridged to about 90 minutes) is created specifically for young people. There are 20,000 free tickets for state secondary schools in London and Birmingham and since 2007, over 70% of London schools have taken part. Many schools access workshops beforehand and there are free online resources for everyone.
After a noisy singalong start and a great deal of audience psyching up by the cast the action kicks in, starting with the storm as so many productions of Twelfth Night now do. And there’s silence apart from the cast rolling in every direction around a huge shipping container to represent the shipwreck. Then it’s “What country, friends in this?” and we’re off with the audience listening hard and bursting into roars of horrified delight whenever characters kiss or make a pass at each other.
Natasha Magigi gives us a lovely larger-than-life Maria flirting with Sir Toby, tricking Malvolio and looking terrific. Tom Davey’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek – a gift of a part like so many of the roles in this play – is yellow-haired, lanky and absurd. Dickon Tyrrell eventually finds real sober gravitas in Sir Toby after all the preceding drunken mayhem and Alex Mugnaioni’s Malvolio is both funny and poignant. Mugnaioni, a graduate of Rose Bruford College’s actor musician degree, also pops up to the gallery to join on brass instruments the (excellent) three piece band in the gallery from time to time. This is a pretty musical account of Twelfth Night, set loosely in the flamboyant seventies. Orsino (Montgomery Sutton) makes his first entrance with a wittily flamboyant glittery band, for example. Think Elvis combined with Elton John and Liberace.
Akiya Henry’s pert, knowing but quite child-like Olivia is good value and Molly Logan plays Viola as a modern feminist girl, androgynous in a woolly hat so that she really does resemble Jack Wilkinson’s Sebastian when he finally emerges.
Twelfth Night fails if it’s allowed to degenerate into a mere comic romp and director Bill Buckhurst (also responsible for the shortened text) understands that very well. As well as the hilarity he and the cast also adeptly bring out the silvery sadness which the play, with its ambiguous sexuality and cruelty, requires.