REVIEW: TWELFTH NIGHT (National Theatre) ★★★★

twelfth night national theatreThe National Theatre brings a modern-chic version of The Tempest to the stage

Chaotic capers and absurd romantic misconceptions in Illyria. The power house that is the National Theatre, plays a modern-chic interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic comedy Twelfth Night.

Simon Godwin directs this production, and along with his impeccable cast, manage to wring out every single drop of satire, sarcasm and wit. Line after line is offered with a subverted nuance to brilliantly appropriate the alternate modernistic setting. All culminating in a hilarious yet classy production.

The Olivier Theatre’s huge stage is adorned by a gigantic pyramid shaped structure that is manipulated throughout to offer different settings. From one angle it takes the form of a huge flight of stairs, and another is the courtyard of countess Olivia’s abode, to name a few. All the while spinning on the epic drum revolve (Which incidentally is in need of restoration, the National are seeking to raise the £350,000 it will take to do so.) A relatively simple, but effective set that allows slick and swift transitions between scenes essential in this pacey farce.

When it comes to stylistic theatre concepts, the icing on the cake is offered by a live band. Stationed high in the wings, every so often a few musicians will adopt characters and perform as diegetic music, whilst characters such as Feste (Doon Mackichan) and Malvolia (Tamsin Greig) sing modernised adaptations of the shows songs. Nicola Davenport juggles the flute, sax and clarinet with immense skill, often perched on a step or wandering across the stage following the previous action, adding a beautifully moody atmosphere to scene transitions.

On to the cast, with which you will find very little fault. Phoebe Fox plays an insatiable Olivia with a wonderfully dry wit, as she desperately tries to win over “Cesario.” Daniel Rigby is brilliant as the camp, bumbling, idiot Sir Andrew Aguecheek, always one step behind the rest. Rigby clowns his way about the stage in a garish salmon pink suit with florescent pink socks, truly a comical treat. The show is stolen however by an unlikely character, the gender-blind cast Malvolia, played by Tamsin Greig. There is no question that Greig is a master of comedy, you need only watch a few episodes of Green Wing or Episodes, but in this role she excels. Greig never lets a single line, a single movement, a single look pass, without pinning it to a comical end. Everything she effects is perfectly aligned with the tone of the scene and her character’s status therein. Her sharp, cutting authority is underpinned with a desperate soul that when fooled by the other characters, builds to the hysterical reveal of horrid yellow stockings and cross garters. This comical subplot comes to a surprisingly dark end. After her imprisonment upon suspicion of losing her mind, Greig sends Malvolia in the complete opposite direction. In the final scene of frivolity and resolution of love, having learnt how she had been utterly humiliated and her heart broken to boot, she utters “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you” with such blood curdling abhorrence that it genuinely unsettles you. A brilliantly stark contradiction to the past three hours of comedy.

The entire cast as an ensemble are impeccable, not one weak link. Apart from one scene in which they constructed a stereotypical gay bar, complete with a featured drag act, that seemed slightly out of sync with the rest of the show, the entire production is gloriously styled and exceptionally manoeuvred. If you are not able to make it to the National for this show (and you really should) never fear, as they will be broadcasting a live screening on NT Live on the 6th April 2017.

Reviewed by Bob Galereux
Photo: Marc Brenner

Twelfth Night is playing at the National Theatre until 13th May 2017