Twelfth Night, which reviewers weren't invited to see at the Globe (even though some snuck in regardless), features Stephen Fry in his first major stage role in 17 years.
Fry plays Malvolio alongside Rylance's Olivia, in an all-male cast that also features Johnny Flynn as Viola, Paul Chahidi as Maria, Roger Lloyd Pack as Andrew Aguecheek, Liam Brennan as Orsino and Colin Hurley as Toby Belch.
Twelfth Night opened on Saturday (17 November 2012, previews from 2 November) and continues in rep until 9 February.
Rylance’s Olivia in Twelfth Night – a performance resurrected from his days in charge at the Globe – glides, as if on castors, through the play in total command, a white-faced beauty in a tiny coronet whose flirtatious cheek, this time, has a more carnal intention, the pivot of the action, ‘the observ’d of all observers’... And Stephen Fry as Malvolio? He’s fine, without being great, or even stepping out of his comfort zone. No sign of mania, or even hysteria, not much of a rictus when he “smiles” or absurdity in his yellow stockings. He’s funny, alright, but in a totally Stephen Fry sort of way. The scene-stealing, detailed acting performance here is that of Paul Chahidi as a wonderful Maria, a sort of trussed up Patricia Routledge with a sniff of a party spirit and a chance with Sir Toby... And although Johnny Flynn is a perfectly acceptable, likeable Viola, he misses the inner rush and turmoil by a mile.
The big draw is Stephen Fry's Malvolio, and he acquits himself extremely well. He is suitably grave, dignified and overbearing. My only reservation is that Fry has such natural lordliness and is so handsomely bearded that you feel he would be a catch for any Olivia... Mark Rylance's Olivia, a performance that shows the stylised movements and white face of the onnagata (female impersonator) from Japanese kabuki theatre being shattered by uncontrollable sexual desire... Carroll's production captures the labyrinthine strangeness of Shakespeare's comedy when Liam Brennan's Orsino casts surreptitiously longing glances at Johnny Flynn as his feminised pageboy, Cesario, while Feste sings of sexual desolation. With Roger Lloyd-Pack as an aristocratically woeful Aguecheek.
I can think of no living actor who takes to the stage with such ease and spontaneity as Mark Rylance. He makes the theatre feel like the place that he calls home... As the grieving Olivia, even the way he moves make you laugh. He seems to glide across the stage as if on castors, at times executing what looks like a nifty three-point turn... Stephen Fry strikes me as a solid rather than an inspired Malvolio, comically capturing the puffed up conceit and pomposity of the man, but largely missing the character’s poignancy. Roger Lloyd Pack offers a superb double as a devious Buckingham in Richard III, and a deliciously absurd and poignant Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night, while Johnny Flynn, Samuel Barnett, Paul Chahidi and James Garnon all excel in the female roles.
Viola is Johnny Flynn, whose quiet vulnerability convinces; Paul Chahidi is instantly credible as a strapping Maria, terrifying Roger Lloyd Pack’s wimpy Aguecheek whose baffled, bearded face emerges from a huge ruff like the Baptist’s head on a platter... As for Rylance’s Olivia, reprised after nearly ten years, it is as odd and adept as the legend suggests... brilliant... Liam Brennan’s choleric, confused Orsino is remarkable too... Colin Hurley is a lovely compact sybaritic romping Belch; but the darkness of the Malvolio story is lost. Stephen Fry, an obvious star draw, is competent enough as Malvolio but seems unwilling to show us why the steward is unpopular. Even in character you feel that he wants to be liked, and though there is well-timed comedy in his grandiose soliloquy, he does rather milk it.
Mark Rylance is a white-faced, flustered, delicate Olivia. Returning to a part he played a decade ago, he pecks his way around the stage like a sad little bird or glides as if on wheels, speaking with the pained precision of a woman trying to control her passions... Fry plays Malvolio as more of a patrician, scholarly figure than a fussy parvenu or joyless puritan. It’s his first stage role in seventeen years; he’s confident, if not perhaps the most fluent mover, and his voice is generously mellow... The pace is a bit too slow, and at times the tone tilts towards pantomime. But the sense of ensemble is strong, the play’s peculiarities come across vividly, and Rylance is once again a marvel.