An unlikely but captivating tale at Shakespeare's Globe

Review by Oli Burley

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare - Part of The Season of Cupid and Psyche at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (Running time: 3hrs 15mins (including 20min interval)

MISCHIEVOUS twins once took great delight in swapping places half-way through a dinner-date with yours truly, presumably to lighten the mood of an otherwise dull evening.

Mistaken identity involving identical siblings is likewise at the very heart of Tim Carroll's vibrant and enthusiastically faithful version of Twelfth Night that produces a rather more charged blend of dramatic tension and mirth.

The essential ingredients of this enthralling production and my costly evening are similar. Love (and its frustrated form), grief, laughter, drinking and plotting are tossed together in a seamless play bound ever tighter by the knitted fate of its characters.

But significantly separated twins Sebastian and Viola, half-believing each other dead in a shipwreck, have no idea their mutual presence in Illyria is producing a concoction of emotions.

In this case, the confusion the twins cause is an unfortunate knack, rather than deliberate attack, of the clones.

Unlike my experience, the twins differ in sex - though that fails to stop The White Company employing an all-male cast to play the dramatis personae list, which includes three females among its 10 chief characters.

From the moment one enters the Globe pre-performance and is presented with a view of Countess Olivia (a frocked Mark Rylance) getting into costume, the audience is welcomed into an inclusive performance that is strengthened by the merging of the sexes.

The cross-dressing, not to mention the near-pantomime femininity at times, reinforces the notion that love may be able to make anything possible.

"If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction," says Fabian - one of Sir Toby's in-crowd - in Act III, scene IV. If what unravels is unlikely, it is nonetheless captivating.

Pallid Olivia is close to enchanting in her ineffectual wooing of Viola (Michael Brown) who has disguised herself as the page Cesario in order to enter the service of Duke Orsino (Liam Brennan); his love towards Olivia remains equally unfulfilled.

As Cesario's affection for Orsino grows, Olivia's frustrated feelings are played out against the amusing antics of her boozing cousin Sir Toby Belch (a suitably vulgar Bill Stewart), devious gentlewoman Maria (the matronly Paul Chahidi), the fool Feste (Peter Hamilton Dyer) and he of "doormouse valour" Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Albie Woodington).

The quirky quartet discredit Malvolio (Timothy Walker), Olivia's proud steward, in a plot that leaves its victim ridiculous in garish yellow stockings that are only outshone by the falsity of his beaming smile.

Only with the arrival of Sebastian (Rhys Meredith) into the same space as Cesario can the actors play out a conclusion that suits almost all.

RELATED LINKS: Click here for the official Globe site...