• Title: Twelfth Night
  • Director: Simon Godwin
  • Broadcast: 6th April 2017

I went to see Twelfth Night, broadcast by National Theatre Live on Thursday night.

Initially, I wasn’t sure whether to write this review or not, – theatre isn’t my forte – but once I left the cinema, I had so many thoughts about the production and I wanted to share them.

Godwin’s Twelfth Night is a play which, for the first time that I’ve seen, truly foregrounds the Malvolio subplot of Twelfth Night – or should I say, the Malvolia subplot.

Tamsin Greig played Malvolia, a female representation of everybody’s favourite self-righteous and controlling steward. Although characters’ teasing comments about her Quaker-like behaviour were still included, Malvolia was less pious and more of a narcissistic control freak, which made for good humour for a contemporary audience. The infamous scene with Malvolia’s yellow stockings now included a musical number, and watching Greig flaunt about the stage to musical accompaniment, as well as the horror of the other characters, was wonderful comedy.

NTL 1 [Malvolia].jpg
Photo by Marc Brenner via Twelfth Night Production Images.

This gender swap is one of a few changes made to the original Shakespeare play and spotlights contemporary issues surrounding gender roles and sexuality; Antonio’s implicit homosexual love for Sebastian is given more prominence (the two share on onstage kiss), the Malvolia / Olivia narrative suggests Olivia’s potential bisexuality, and Feste is now a woman.

Doon Mackichan played Feste, although I thought her portrayal fairly standard. She was a comical enough ‘fool’, but I felt her humour was at its peak when in interaction with Sir Toby Belch, played by Tim McMullan, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played by Daniel Rigby.

Every aspect of Rigby’s Aguecheek was absolutely hilarious; his body language, his line delivery, his costume was all spot-on. Aguecheek, for once, finally had his own style and personality, which was such a refreshing change from other productions of Twelfth Night, in which Aguecheek is simply ridiculed, rather than developed as a character.

NTL 2 [Aguecheek and Belch].jpg
Left to Right: Rigby as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and McMullan as Sir Toby Belch. Photo by Marc Brenner via Twelfth Night Production Images.

However, I think the relationship between cruel mocker and light-hearted comedy is incredibly important in this production of Twelfth Night.

Before the screening, Greig said in a VT that Twelfth Night is a witty play with a continuously melancholic undercurrent, and I wholeheartedly agree with this.

Viola and Sebastian are torn apart from one another. Olivia falls in love with someone she thinks she knows, who turns out to be somebody different. Antonio admits his feelings for “Sebastian”, who in reality was Cesario, and is left rejected and crushed. Sir Andrew is repeatedly humiliated by Toby Belch’s manipulative schemes as well as repeatedly heartbroken because he knows he stands no chance at winning Olivia.  Malvolia comes to terms with her own sexuality and openly expresses her feelings for Olivia in front of the entire household, only to be laughed at, imprisoned and treated like a madwoman. Thus, Greig’s final line: ‘I’ll be reveng’d on the whole pack of you’, had such poignancy, that I felt more sympathetic for the plight of Malvolia then I ever had before.

Godwin’s Twelfth Night was thoroughly enjoyable, brilliantly comedic, but also cleverly melancholic and thought-provoking.

In short, when can I see it again?

– Judith

If you’d like to read about more this production of Twelfth Night, you can click this link to go the National Theatre Live website, or read this article by Susannah Clapp in The Guardian.

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