Critics hail Stephen Fry's return to the stage in Twelfth Night

Oct 1, 2012

Seventeen years after fleeing to Belgium because of a bad theatre review, Fry's return as Malvolio is lauded

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STEPHEN FRY’S return to the London stage after a 17-year hiatus in Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night at the Globe theatre is being hailed as a "frankly unmissable triumph” - despite there being an embargo on theatre critics reviewing the show until it transfers to the West End in November.

Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph breached the theatre management's instructions, buying a ticket as an ordinary punter, and reported back on Fry’s first foray back into the theatrical limelight since he quit Simon Gray's Cell Mates in 1995 in a fit of depression after a scathing review in the Financial Times.

"It’s brave of [Fry], therefore, to return in a role around which the spectre of mental illness flits," writes Cavendish. "Gulled into making a fool of himself in front of his mistress, Olivia, the self-important steward winds up teased and tormented in a makeshift madhouse.

"Although he doesn’t dig – as yet – especially deep into that torment, Fry already charts the pride and humiliating fall of the man with understated actorly elan," Cavendish says.

Writing for Bloomberg, Mark Beech explains how he too stumped up for a ticket for the sold-out six-week run at the Globe, noting that "normally, you can get to stand in the replica half-timbered theatre for five pounds. In this case, expect to pay 50 pounds or more on eBay for the privilege."

In Beech's eyes, "Fry’s already come into his own. He delivers a likeable portrayal of the bookish steward driven slightly crazy by ambition and love. Soon Malvolio is prancing around self-confidently. Fry has good comic timing," and plays the role for laughs at times.

The Guardian decided not to break the embargo, but instead asked readers who had seen the show to give their reviews. 'MrsNorris' thought it was a "wonderful production" and that Fry was the "most sympathetic Malvolio" she had seen, while 'Purblind' and 'WilliamW' were a bit more restrained, calling Fry "good in his role”.

Writing for the What's On Stage blog, veteran theatre critic Michael Coveney lays into "the business of regulating first night reviews in a sorry imitation of the New York system" - thankfully, he notes, it appears to have backfired.

And Coveney wonders whether the whole plan wasn't a ruse to sell more tickets to the West End run. "One or two cynics have even suggested that Cavendish broke the embargo with the connivance of the Sonia Friedman producing management (therefore making a one or two star review highly unlikely)."

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