It was a night of firsts – I’d never been to the National Theatre before, and I’d never seen Twelfth Night before. And for the rest of the audience, I don’t think they’d ever seen Twelfth Night played like this before.
Tamsin Greig takes on the role of Malvolio, re-purposed as Malvolia. Having watched her for years in Black Books, Green Wing and Episodes, seeing her in Shakespeare takes a few minutes readjusting. But soon she’s completely taking the comic lead – she has amazing timing and makes little looks and comments to the audience. And yellow stockings and cross-garters? Please, please go and see it for that scene alone.
Although a comedy, the play draws out a lot of the other emotions. Watching the twins being reunited is a genuinely touching moment, and not something I’ve ever really seen be dealt with so tenderly before.
Aside from the scene Tamara Lawrence and Daniel Ezra are so funny, seemingly completely exasperated that the rest of the characters are unable to tell them apart. They are physically similar, with short hair and a long white tunics over black trousers, making them at least mirror images if not exactly identical. Lawrence is also adorable in her little actions, like she sneaks a touch of Orsino’s hand at one point, and she bounces on her toes when he talks to her.
The stage set itself is an extra character. I love how sets are becoming so prominent in some productions. Starting off as the sinking ship, the stage unfolds out to become different rooms, and things pop up out of the floor to become outside spaces. Plus the staging is actually attractive – Olivia has great interior design skills. Lots of geometric patterns and succulents.
The individual elements of the production are so strong, although there are a few scenes that don’t really work – Malvolia in prison for one just felt cold and dull. I also wasn’t completely sold on Doon Mackichan as Feste. I didn’t find her funny and I didn’t understand her costume. It was all a bit try-too-hard-Glastonbury meets Noel Fielding, and I’m not sure what the result was supposed to be.
All the threads of the play are drawn together really neatly at the end, where we see a montage of the characters continuing with their lives beyond the end of the play, but with Malvolia left outside as a horribly tragic figure. We go from seeing her at the end of the first act dancing for joy in a fountain, reflected with seeing her dragging herself up the marble stairs in the rain. Alone, broken and desolate, it’s a stark point on one of Shakespeare’s comedies. Maybe cruelty was more amusing back then.
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