Not a PREVIEW DISCLAIMER as such, apparently newspaper critics are not being invited to review this production until after its West End transfer, so the whole Globe run is either fair game, or we're to infer that it consists entirely of previews. In any case, one of the papers has already broken that embargo.
"Original Practices" means an all-male cast, and Johnny Flynn has done a season with Propeller which would seem a good sign for him taking a matter-of-fact approach to playing a female role, but I was disappointed by his Viola. He puts on a high reedy voice which borders on parody, and keeping it throughout the show doesn't leave much room for subtlety of performance. If the production was so keen on having a high-voiced Viola, surely they would have been better served swapping Flynn with Samuel Barnett, who plays her brother Sebastian, and whose voice has a naturally higher register. Rylance's Olivia is also quite high-pitched but he gets away with it (of course, getting away with performances nobody else could pretty much sums up his career.) As she floats around the stage in black mourning dress and painted white face, this is a rather vulnerable Olivia, eliciting both laughs and sympathy. Though an older Olivia, there's something quite childlike about her, like she's been sheltered by the father and brother she suddenly lost. Going by this and the recent RSC production, 2012 is a year of underwhelming Violas, and strong Olivias and Marias - in fact at times this becomes The Maria Show, Paul Chahidi stealing every scene he's in, especially opposite Colin Hurley's very understated Sir Toby, and mining every bit of comedy in the role, something that sadly can't be said of everyone.
And there's lots of little things like this that made this overall a rather under-powered Twelfth Night for me. It's entertaining enough but never raucous, or anything close to it. The programme notes bring out the old standby about Twelfth Night being Shakespeare's bittersweet farewell to all-out silly comedy, and the production seems to be taking this melancholy very much to heart. The first half is particularly leisurely, which contributes to the hefty running time - over 20 minutes longer than the last production of the play I saw. Though the second half picks up energy (the "duel" between Viola and Roger Lloyd Pack's Sir Andrew is well done) it does of course have to suffer the consequences as wondering if you'll make the last train gets in the way of getting lost in the story. There's not much to actively dislike here, but I did feel that if this was the signature production of Rylance's tenure, perhaps I didn't miss much by skipping those years.
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare is booking in repertory until the 14th of October at Shakespeare's Globe (returns only) before transferring to the Apollo Shaftesbury Avenue.
Running time: 3 hours 20 minutes including interval.