It was Mama Mia meets Anything Goes meets Brigadoon meets Kinky Boots and I loved it! What this means is that the time was the 70’s in Scotland where everything had a nautical flare to it and there is a drag queen. In all honesty I felt like there were too many ideas going on for it to be cohesive but I still enjoyed it thoroughly. Perhaps its my sentimental pull to the show because I played Olivia and in high school but also I personally love the script and I sat there with a smile on my face the entire show.
The 70’s was utilized in costume, choreography and music. Some characters wore bell bottoms or the blue ruffle shirts of the time. There were many scenes that had disco numbers and that was a lot of fun. Reading in the program Emma Rice explained that the time period “it was resonant for me.” Though she backs up this claim with the raise of Margaret Thatcher and the rebellious music I still feel like this was a selfish choice. Directing something this public because you just want to is self-serving. Because there were so many thematically elements I felt like this point didn’t serve the play well. If it was just disco-fine. But it was disco+ Scottish + naval. I personally liked the fact there was disco because of the dancing and the music.
In terms of Scotland this again was a vague reason. Illyria is an island; Scotland is an island-lets set it there. I wonder what ideas came first: setting it in Scotland or setting it in the disco era because I felt these fought for attention instead of complimented each other. There were Scottish accents and kilts and music. This aspect was my least favorite choice because it was so limiting because Scottish traditions are very prominent and was conflicting with the disco era. Illyria is an island that Shakespeare didn’t describe, I like to imagine it as a place without strong cultural ties to it and making Illyria Scotland defines it too much.
The nautical theme really worked because the story begins with Sebastian and Viola being shipwrecked and the plot unfolds from there. Having this theme present throughout the show was a reminder and added nice moments. For example, the ensemble would move in wave-like motions and it was effective because it was used for a scene transition or to introduce a new character. As an ensemble, everyone wore all white outfits that looked sailors and I loved the uniformity and the sort of Greek chorus effect this had. In terms of storyline I wished this was the main or only theme chosen because it compliments so well.
There were some interesting characterization choices that surprisingly worked well. Instead of Antonio played gay as he usually is Sir Andrew Augecheek was the flamboyant one and it played nicely. I’ve often seen Orsino played as this sappy, woo-is-me type so stricken with love but here he was this rock-star who was full of lust and it was effective because it was a different pining after Olivia and it was a smart, different choice. Malvolio was just a hoot! She, yes Malvolio was played by a girl, was in the last summers production of Midsummer which Theatre history class watched and she played Puck. She’s a tiny little thing but commands a big presence. She played him as this sniveling ninny with a flare for pizzazz instead of just an uptight house-keeper. Instead of dry humor like Malvolio tends to have the caricature of him was just goofy. The only character that didn’t work for me was Feste. He plays such a large role within the plot but here it was more a background shadow. He rarely ever spoke, instead he sang a lot of the transition music but played very little part in the actual scenes. His use is suppose to be comedic but I felt so many other characters took this purpose. If I didn’t know the script well I would’ve been very confused as to who this character was or meant to be. This is also where the drag came into play. I think it was suppose to represent not having a specific gender because can be played either way but with every other theme that was going on this just was another layer that didn’t really fit.
It’s interesting because I thought a lot of the main ideas clashed and weren’t cohesive yet I adored this production. Maybe it is just my sentimental pull but it was amazing being able to watch arguable my favorite Shakespeare show play out at the Globe theatre.