Twelfth Night was one of the productions that had me most excited to be gifted an Advance Membership to the National for Christmas. It’s a Shakespeare play I haven’t ever seen or studied, in fact, my only real exposure to it was the seminal film She’s the Man. However, the presence of Tamsin Greig in a gender-swapped role was enough to encourage me to buy a ticket. And whilst I’m sad that my attendance meant I missed out on the protest against the current garbage president, I’m very glad to have seen this.
In case you have also managed to avoid knowing much about Twelfth Night, it’s the story of Viola (Tamara Lawrence), who having survived a shipwreck she believes has killed everyone else, including her twin brother Sebastian (Daniel Ezra), disguises herself as a man to go and serve in the Duke Orsino’s (Oliver Chris) household. Once there, Viola falls in love with Orsino, Orsino is hopelessly in love with Olivia (Phoebe Fox) and Olivia falls for Viola…what could possibly go wrong?
Twelfth Night is a genuinely funny play (which is often a challenge with Shakespeare) and there is not one performance that ‘lets the side down’, from the principals to the supporting ensemble and musicians.
Simon Godwin’s choice to gender swap a few of the roles, including Malvolio to Malvolia (Greig), is an interesting one. For some characters it’s barely noticeable (such as Doon Mackichan’s Fool), but for Malvolia is does offer an extra dimension to the pretty cruel subplot where Olivia’s servant Mary (Niky Wardley), cousin Sir Toby (a delightfully develish Tim McMullan) and failed suitor Sir Andrew (a brilliant Daniel Rigby) decide to play a prank on her. Indeed, the play’s final tableau does offer something of a redemption for a character I’m presuming is usually treated as the complete fool of the piece.
Final shout-outs must go to Soutra Gilmour for her fantastic set and costume design of the show; which excellently uses a revolve and trap doors. Also the music by Michael Bruce is wonderfully performed by Mackichan, Emmanuel Kojo and the musicians.
If you can get a ticket, I would recommend spending some time in Ilyria as a nice break from the somewhat chaotic real world.