Outrageous high comedy ensues as the pangs of unrequited love affect the unforgettable characters of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. While the lovelorn Duke Orsino plots to win the heart of the mourning Olivia (Mark Rylance), an alliance of servants and hangers-on scheme against the high-handedness of Olivia’s steward, the pompous Malvolio (Stephen Fry). When Orsino engages the cross-dressed Viola (Samuel Barnett), who has disguised herself as a young man under the name Cesario, to plead with Olivia on his behalf, a bittersweet and hilarious chain of events follows. Performed in repertory with Richard III, and presented in the custom of how Shakespeare’s plays were first staged, with an all-male company playing male and female roles; actors participating in the pre-show ritual of dressing and preparing their make-up on stage, in front of the audience; music played live on traditional instruments; and lighting created almost exclusively by 100 on-stage candles.
Scholars believe William Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night; or, What You Will around 1601–02 as an entertainment for the close of the Christmas season. The comedy has been produced on Broadway many times. This production originated in London at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which is located near the site of a playhouse in which many of Shakespeare’s plays were first staged.