Twelfth Night to Remember


On our first full weekend of the program, we went on a day trip to Hampton Court Palace and then into London to see a performance at the Globe. Both localities are representative and important when studying Tudor England. Hampton Court was built by Cardinal Wolsey who then handed it over to Henry VIII. The gardens were absolutely magnificent, and I have included some pictures below. The highlight of our day out was definitely the performance of Twelfth Night in the Globe. I have asked two of my colleagues to write reviews of their experience.

Emma Thom is a rising senior at Sweet Briar College, majoring in English Creative Writing. She is an active member of the Sweet Briar Theatre Department, starring in both “The God of Carnage” and “Shrek.” In high school she was in several shows including A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Emma also spent her first year of college studying at the American University in Paris.

Twelfth Night: A Visual Spectacle

By, Emma Thom

Being a thespian myself and an avid Shakespeare reader, I was looking forward to the performance of Twelfth Night at none other than the Globe Theatre. Famous for classic, traditional portrayals of Shakespearean, the Globe is a world renowned playhouse with shows selling out months before their opening. I had expected Elizabethan garb, stockings, a few funny hats, and maybe a tambourine or a Renaissance guitar or two. Aside from my visual expectations, I had planned to listen — to the language, the craft in Shakespeare’s hand, and the comedy inherent in his writing. What I got was something else entirely.

I was somewhat familiar with the premise of the play before it began; I had heard word of cross-dressing and questions of gender and disguise, but also of humor and fruitless love. As Feste, written as the clown or fool in the original text, made his/her debut onto the stage, eyes widened at the sight of an extravagant gold lamé dress, five inch platform heels, and an afro-style wig with gold hoops attached at the ears. I say his/her but there is no question of the 250 pound black man’s gender. The juxtaposition of his curly chest hair and bushy beard against the sequined dress made for an image that is difficult to forget. His billowy baritone voice was enough to command attention but his wardrobe made him impossible to avoid. In fact, the talent of all of these actors, be it dancing, singing or acting, is undisputable. The phrase “there are no small parts, only small actors,” rings true in the case of this show; it was a cast of triple threats.

What followed in the almost two and a half hour rendition can best be described as a 70’s revival of Shakespeare’s 16th century play. Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” was sung with soul and sheer joy at the opening and closing as the actors waved white flags in one of many dance numbers. Some took issue with what you could call the gender agenda, or the issue of sexuality. I think it’s a fair point to say lines were crossed, some leaning towards crude humor and distaste. But in defense of director Emma Rice, Shakespeare toyed with gender identity centuries ago with viable rumors claiming he himself experimented sexually. She essentially amplified ideas already present in the text with Malvolio’s role played by a woman, Feste in the role of a drag queen, and Sir Andrew who spoke with a lisp, dressed in various shades of pink, and took pride in his prissy demeanor. The Duke, on the other side of the spectrum, was just shy of irritating with a personality so pompous I found myself rolling my eyes with nearly every line. The opening scene, which was either removed or moved elsewhere on Saturday, details the Duke as a much more sensitive and poignant character while Rice chose to portray him as disingenuous and daft. As a result, any sadness becomes comical and difficult to take seriously.

Visually, Rice’s interpretation was flashy. 16th century audiences came for the auditory experience; they came to close their eyes and relish the genius in the language. On Saturday night, I was sure if I had shut my eyes even for a moment, forgetting the strobe lights and disco balls, I would’ve opened them feeling lost in a sea of sequins and interpretive dance. Rice shattered ceilings, broke boundaries and lead audiences members far outside their comfort zones. I found myself unable to look away from the glare of Feste’s dress as he took his final bow, applause roaring from the audience. I may have left with more questions than answers but if Rice’s aim was to entertain, she succeeded with flying rainbow colors. If her aim was to portray a traditional Shakespearean play, her efforts fell short. If nothing else, this was a Twelfth Night to remember.

Dalton Hall is a rising junior at Hampden Sydney College, majoring in English and minoring in classical studies. He is a Shakespeare aficionado having previously seen “Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth,” and “Arden of Faversham.” Dalton was also in “The Tempest” as Prospero, and if he could go anywhere in the world it would be Vienna for the music.

Midsummer Madness: Emma Rice’s Twelfth Night at Shakespeare’s Globe

By, Dalton P. Hall, Judgmental Hampden-Sydney Student and Self-Important, Self-Appointed Arts Critic

Opening to mixed reviews, Globe Artistic Director Emma Rice’s new production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was exactly as the title of this review suggests—a madcap mélange of gender-bending servants, tightly-choreographed song-and-dance numbers, and basso profondo drag queens.  After a varied career at the Globe and with many cheering her exit, Rice’s production of Twelfth Night, her last main-stage production, seems very much to be a final, cavalier goodbye to the theatre that has been at such odds with her.  Her anachronistic choice of setting, use of amplified music, and characteristically daring light design, all of which have been hallmarks of her style at the Globe and, many would say, the reason for her ouster as “unworthy” of the Globe’s dignity and traditions.  

Personal politics aside, Rice’s production of Twelfth Night was, to this reviewer, a mixed bag, alternating delights with outrages and innovative staging choices with tiresome low comedy.  The play begins with a scene on the doomed S.S. Unity and an opening rendition of the gay anthem “We Are Family” by the ensemble (lead by the incomparable Le Gateau Chocolat as Feste, whose role was expanded to include duties as master of ceremonies and “narrator”).  Notably, this number is only made possible by the redaction of the play’s original first scene as it appears in Shakespeare’s text, a key scene in establishing the character and motivations of the play’s leading man, Duke Orsino.  Following the shipwreck scene and the apparent death of her brother Sebastian, Anita-Joy Uwajeh’s Viola assumes the guise of the eunuch Cesario and serves the love-struck Duke as an emissary between the Duke himself and the unattainable Lady Olivia.  As the play’s action unfolded and Rice’s number of artistic licenses began to mount, alternating a clever use of the stage space with bawdy physical comedy that cheapened the play’s more dramatic elements, it became harder and harder to ignore the play for what it was: an irreverent, well-intentioned farewell that often fell flat.  

All told, Emma Rice’s new production of Twelfth Night was alternatively a faithful and heretical interpretation of Shakespeare’s comic masterpiece.  Starring turns from Anita-Joy Uwajeh as Viola and Le Gateau Chocolat as Feste, as well as Katy Owen as a brilliantly-acted, gender-bent Malvolio and Carly Bawden as Maria, make the production worth seeing; Rice’s addition of musical numbers, several of which are incredibly well-sung by the cast, and clever appeals to the play’s central theme of the subversion of identity through the gender-bending and sexual ambiguity of many of her characters, make the play well worth seeing.  Alternatively, Rice’s redaction of key lines and scenes, lack of attention to traditional methods of stagecraft and presentation, as well as her re-christening of the play as a musical, will leave ardent Shakespeare fans palpitating in their seats.  I myself was largely pleased with the play as a piece of theatrical folly if not as a piece of thought-provoking drama, and it was as funny, entertaining, and subversive as any introduction to the Globe could have been.   

Students at the Globe before the performance of Twelfth Night

Sweet Briar, VMI, and W&L students at Hampton Court Palace