Twelfth Night at the National Theatre Review


Welcome to Show Sunday, my new series in which I discuss performing arts in various ways. Whether that be a personal experience, a review or an insight into particular aspects of what I love.

Today I will be reviewing the National Theatre’s Live Cinema showing of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Well, what can I say? Last week I was blown away by this production. I had studied Twelfth Night at university and found it boring at times, despite She’s the Man being one of my favourite romantic comedies. Although I was a fan of the story, it definitely wasn’t one of my favourite plays by William Shakespeare. But that has all changed now!

Simon Godwin created a modern take on the timeless play, changing a few aspects including the setting and the gender of Malvolio. The choices that he makes are incredibly well thought out, and really show the importance of accepting people no matter what gender they are. This play really is timeless, and the change of time period really did make the director’s choices work.

One aspect that I loved was the design of the set. It consisted of two white staircases that are connected at the top. These staircases open and close to represent different locations of various scenes. For example, in Act 1 Scene 1, the stairs are closed, and when looking at the front they resemble the front of a ship. To add to this, the stage underneath revolves so that different angles can be used. During Viola’s soliloquy the stage is turned so that the back of the stairs are shown at the side of the stage. The characters then walk around the space as if it was a street, making the image of being outside Olivia’s home clear in the audience’s head. Of course, in other scenes props were used too. A fountain was placed centre stage and surrounded by potted plants to place the scene in a garden. It was all very cleverly done. These props and the costumes brought an array of colours to the stage; with the men wearing suits that are blue or pink and Olivia transforming from wearing black to light blue. It really did bring all of the characters to life.

Each performer acted splendidly, no matter what role they played. I paid particular attention to Viola as I studied her soliloquy in a class in university. I was interested to see if the portrayal would reflect the analysis that we made. Tamara Lawrance performed it just the way I imagined, keeping a balance of humour and sincerity. She clearly showed her intentions throughout, with one of my favourite moments being in the final act when she is accused of actions she did not do. She looks out at the audience and up to the sky with a mixture of shock and exasperation on her face. Viola is so open with her confusion that the audience ends up in fits of laughter.

Viola wasn’t the only funny character. Of course, it wouldn’t be a very good comedy if she was! All of the actors were directed to play the characters in a way that shows that they are all well aware of how confusing the situation is, even to the point where Sebastian mimes “What the f***?” as he leaves a scene. Hearing a modern phrase in a 1600s script really did make the play much more relatable. This is not the only time that little mimes, vocal and physical nuances are added to the text to modernise the play. I couldn’t mention physicality without mentioning Sir Toby and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Scenes that could potentially be boring are really brought to life. Their little scenes are like gems, with the characters modernised as party animals, twerking and skipping to loud music. It is a genius move, and the show would really be missing its spark without them.

As I mentioned before, there is one change that is more significant than all the others. Malvolio has become Malvolia, a woman who realises that she is in love with her mistress. Tamsin Greig shines in this as she plays with the audience, frequently breaking the forth wall. I really enjoyed how Greig plays Malvolia, showing her cynical flaws in a light-hearted and comedic way but also slowly revealing the harshness to her situation. Although the decision to change Malvolio’s gender worked, I did find a few things that confused me. Although Viola and Duke Orsino’s love for each other was clear throughout, Malvolia’s passion seemed to appear very out of the blue. It wasn’t portrayed enough in the beginning to warrant her sudden enthusiasm later on. She switched from being serious and very monotone to goofy. I found this off-putting but there could be an explanation. Perhaps these emotions had not been there and then when she opened up to them she became more ridiculous. The decision to end the play with Malvolia climbing the stairs shows that the director’s main focus is on the negative effect of Malvolia’s mistreatment and not the triumph of the twins’ love. I am unsure on this decision and would love to see the play again to understand it more.

Overall, this was phenomenal and I enjoyed it thoroughly! I was laughing all the way through, and did not want to be anywhere else. It has reignited my passion for Shakespeare. It was truly a heart-warming experience.

Now it’s your turn. Feel free to let me know if you had seen any Shakespeare in your time. What did you think of it? I’d also love to hear some feedback on what you’d like me to discuss on Show Sundays, so get commenting!

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