Shakespeare’s sexually ambiguous, cross-dressing, mistaken identity, shipwrecked separated twins comedy gets an all-male all-star makeover with Mark Rylance, Stephen Fry, Roger Lloyd Pack, Johnny Flynn and Samuel Barnett in this transfer from the Globe.
Mark Rylance’s Olivia, a white faced giddy hybrid of Glenda Jackson’s Elizabeth I and Japanese Kabuki is the finest creation I have seen since his Rooster Byron in Jerusalem. He glides across the strange like one of Michael Bentine’s Potty Time characters. Constantly flustered and eventually fainting from self induced hysteria, Rylance is extraordinary, proving once again that he is surely the worthy recipient of that over-used phrase "the finest actor of his generation”.
Ably supported by Stephen Fry in his return to the London stage after 17 years, toweringly handsome with a full beard, he is of course born to deliver Shakespeare’s delicious prose. His Malvolio is the archetypal middle class social climber, desperate to be accepted by the aristocracy, he is an easy target for the mischievous pranks of Colin Hurley’s permanently sozzled Sir Toby Belch and Roger Lloyd Pack’s lugubrious Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
As the separated twins, Viola & Sebastian, Johnny Flynn and Samuel Barnett both have the melancholic air of an orphaned child, rootless, each pining for the other. Viola’s passion for Liam Brennan’s masculine confused Orsino given the inevitable added frisson of a man cast as a woman playing a man.
Managing to steal virtually every scene he is in, Paul Chahidi’s Maria, sporting an ample cleavage and a barely restrained saucy air, colludes with Belch in order to win his affections.
By the simple device of swapping reunited twin partners, all problems of unrequited love are resolved.
Staged as authentically as is possible in the 21st century, this Twelfth Night is riotous good fun, anchored by magnificent performances from all concerned. Rylance is the eighth wonder of the world, surely destined to become a bona fide national treasure alongside his co-star Stephen Fry. I cannot wait to see what he makes of Richard III.