“Twelfth Night”: Shakespeare’s Globe

Julie Sorokurs on the South Bank.
10 August 2021

Sean Holmes’ production of Twelfth Night washed up on the shores of the Thameside Globe this August with larks and sing-alongs aplenty. Though lt visually parallels Holmes’ other carnivalesque production running this summer at the Globe — A Midsummer Night’s Dream — and even boasts a nearly identical cast of players, Twelfth Night shines where the other falls flat, as it also dares to delve into the darker and more sinister themes of Shakespeare’s characters.


Michelle Terry as Viola. Photo credit: Marc Brenner.


As theatres across England return to filling their auditoriums to nearly full capacity, the Globe has reinstated its signature standing groundlings tickets. Audiences filing in to find a place to stand in the yard, or take their seats in the surrounding galleries, will see a stage that looks anything but like the setting for one of Shakespeare‘s most beloved comedies. Indeed, here the fictional land of Illyria, where the events of the play take place, most resembles an abandoned casino hotel along the Las Vegas strip (Jean Chan‘s elaborate design). A broken jukebox and displaced carousel tiger signify the many years that have passed since Illyria was in its prime.

The space is rusted over and overgrown with weeds; there‘s a rundown Ford truck in the yard; and the floor and walls are evidently saturated with several decades of smoke and spilled drinks. Though my feelings towards a similarly American-centric aesthetic in Holmes’s Dream were less than favourable, here it feels a bit more ln line with Twelfth Night’s themes of crossing class boundaries (the American Dream!) and strangers turning up on unfamiliar lands (even this New York native finds it difficult to believe that Las Vegas exists outside of popular fiction).

What ironically looks like the most recent addition to the setting is a dead stag that hangs from the ceiling; a bucket placed underneath it demonstrates that there ls still some blood left to drain out of it. Such a visual would look more at home in medieval times, a decidedly stark contrast to what is more or less the disused and decaying infrastructure of twenty-first-century revelry and opulence. (Though one might argue that a shuttered Vegas casino is simply the modern-day equivalent of a run-down sixteenth-century palace.)


Photo credit: Marc Brenner.


Chan’s costumes in this production also do a great deal of the heavy lifting In maintaining these visual dissonances, as each one of Illyria’s inhabitants looks similarly out of place and time and therefore at odds with everyone else.

We are first introduced to one of the brightest examples of how this production plays to the fluidity of many of Twelfth Night‘s characters: Feste the fool, played by the incomparably versatile Victoria Elliott, first shows up as a blonde cabaret singer in stilettos to be reckoned with but soon switches this get-up for a more androgynous look: a baseball uniform and cap. But it doesn’t stop there.

While an earnest and perpetually downcast Michelle Terry, our hero Viola disguises herself as “Cesario“ in the Elizabethan-era pantaloons one might expect from Shakespeare’s time, Sir Toby Belch, played by the brilliantly funny and quick Nadine Higgin, might as well have come straight out of a Louisiana bayou — adorned as he is in a floor-length leather coat and a black fedora. Higgin’s conspiratorial Sir Toby is one of many foils against Terry’s gentle and hapless Viola/Cesario, and consequently it feels as if Terry is often swallowed up by the laughs and songs to be had in the scenes at either end of hers.