Review: Voter’s Choice, (Shakespeare’s Globe) – Twelfth Night

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

‘Trying to take on the experience of Shakespeare’s Globe’.

When players Steffan Cennydd and Sarah Finigan stepped forth on the Globe’s wooden stage and thanked one and all for being part of their ‘little experiment’ at Shakespeare’s Globe, a subsequent rapture of applause ensued. And this paradigm of enthusiasm boiled throughout; from the shouts and screams for preferred choices of production, to the cheers and bouts of applause throughout, to the final blissful bellows and ovations at the end, there was certainly a sense of meaning making and history being cemented.

Never before in its twenty-one year history had an audience at this reconstructed Globe, had the opportunity to vote for what production they would see on the night. Limited to only three choices, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew, though not all twenty-six plays were on option, there was something very traditional and authentic about this experience. Especially given that the Elizabethan model, at Shakespeare’s time of writing, meant that in a theatre, players would not perform the same piece every night, the space being open to the elements and filled with a variety of people, breeding a level of unpredictability, just as the play to be performed is unpredictable. But furthermore, when the troupe were not tied to a theatre house, they would tour the country (as this production will soon do), in rep being paid to perform at domestic establishments. ‘In rep’ of course meaning in repertory, thus they had an extensive back catalogue of rehearsed plays, allowing the most powerful person, usually the patron of the evening, to choose which they should perform. Voter’s Choice puts this decision today into the hands of whom they believe to be the most powerful viewer and patron, (through the purchasing of a ticket), the audience as a whole. This ties in nicely with Michelle Terry’s Summer Season mission statement, as aforementioned in our review of her As You Like It, she is asking the question that is asked in the opening of Hamlet, ‘Who’s there?’. Today who is watching Shakespeare at the Globe and how is it best to satisfy them? This piece first and foremost satisfying them by putting the choice in their hands and secondarily as it provides a veracious-feeling, orthodox performance, for those seeking something close enough to represent historic truth, whilst remaining exciting and even feeling remarkably new.

‘Historic truth’ first comes in the composition of the cast, made up of a mere eight players with immense dexterity, reflecting insatiably the fact that we know only a small group of actors would have toured juggling a variety of roles. As did this Voter’s Choice production, with Colm Gormley hilariously revelling on and off of stage in order to perform both the monumental roles of Malvolio, the Puritan in the service of the Lady Olivia and Antonio, a sea captain who saved Sebastian from the waves. Similarly Jacqueline Phillips boldly balanced the parts of both Maria, Olivia’s maid and Sebastian, Viola’s twin brother whom she thought had drowned. Congruently this ensemble weaved together effortlessly, a clear proving that this project, much like an Elizabethan touring troupe, requires a team effort, wholeheartedly reflected in, but not limited to the musical moments when all players joyously came together, instruments in tow. However here Michelle Terry’s commitment to gender blind casting is afoot, and moves somewhat away from orthodox, but leaps towards relevance and this is where the true animation exists. Without a full knowledge of Shakespearean performance we can never pursue a truly authentic production, we can simply take steps towards a veritable fabrication. However Shakespeare was writing for his time and for his audience, so as this production clearly demarks, without taking steps towards relevance we can never fully capture his essence. With that in mind, Voter’s Choice makes the decision to showcase four females alongside four male actors, an equal split of gender graciously fulfilling the aim of ERA 20:20, a campaign with the mission of seeing ‘women represented on screen, in television and theatre in equal numbers to men’ by 2020. Much like As You Like It, Twelfth Night thus pursues an interesting dialogue on the notion of gender. A poignant moment delivered in the form of Viola in the guise of the male, Cesario, portrayed by Steffan Cennydd speaking of the powerful and excruciating love a women may feel, followed by a retort form Duke Orsino, portrayed here by Rhianna McGreevy, who declares women, ‘they lack retention’. It’s a powerful image to see a male actor playing a women, defending the gender he is representing, opposite a female actor who is forced to defile it whilst portraying a man. A non-superficial exploration of the perception of gender and its stereotypes, bravo!

Onto the performance itself, the acting can only be described as invigorating. Luke Brady’s Feste was sarcastic, full of wit and dynamism. His powerful and beautifully toned voice juxtaposed his comedic disposition perfectly. Alongside him were the hilarious Russell Layton, as Sir Toby Belch and Sarah Finigan, as Andrew Aguecheek. The pair energetically bumbled and bound across the stage, convincing as the often drunk and idiotic noblemen, encouraging much laughter at their expense. Commendably, Colm Gormley’s Malvolio captured both the uptight absurdity of the man, as well as the margin of empathy to be felt at his embarrassment and mistreatment. Gormley’s Antonio alternatively, conveys an air of humility, strength and likability. Steffan Cennydd, (Viola), Cynthia Emeagi, (Olivia), Jacqueline Phillips, (Maria and Sebastian) and Rhianna McGreevy, (Duke Orsino) were all equally as expressive, delivering their parts with an effortless clarity, inclusive of impeccable comedic timing and enthused temperaments. Culminating in a highly competent and entertaining ensemble.

Design wise, the stage authentically remained bare as it most likely would have done in the Elizabethan era, with a further minimal use of props. The costume is however the intriguing element, as it was of the nature of representative. Each actor starting in a base costume of what seems to be a modern reimagining of Elizabethan male clothing, (as actors of the time usually donned their own clothes). Trousers here replacing hose and a denim style of breeches were placed over the top, worn with white shirts in many cases. This is first and foremost a nod to the original use of only male actors, as women were forbidden to perform. With all actors here, regardless of gender, or of the gender they would be playing wore the same ilk of ‘uniform’. Costume, such as illustrious robes of bright colours and capes were then applied over top in order to convey status and character. This however, is another historic nod as troupes would have inevitably reused costumes to be able to perform an extensive number of plays on tour, changing a cloak, or putting on some expensive lace in order to portray a different personae.

To conclude, Voter‘s Choice is an exciting concept. Distinctly due to the immediacy of the event, as soon as a decision is made the actors jump straight into the text without hesitation. The concept is all about the experience, whether that be about recreating a sense of history or exploring new ways to deliver an exciting and dynamic Shakespearean performance to modern audiences. It puts its audience at the centre and that’s what make it so incredibly enjoyable. Book here.

The Ensemble:
Bill Barclay – Composer
Luke Brady – Player
Steffan Cennydd – Player
Andrew D Edwards – Designer
Cynthia Emeagi – Player
Sarah Finigan – Player
Colm Gormley – Player
Russell Layton – Player
Isabel Marr  – Assistant Director
Rhianna McGreevy – Player
Brendan O’Hea – Director
Jacqueline Phillps – Player
Siân Williams – Choreographer

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