Review – Twelfth Night, National Theatre

Wednesday 22 February 2017

imagesHope you didn’t mind the gap.

Phil felt unmoved to bother writing about his last few theatrical disappointments, he’d been catching up on shows in the last weeks of their runs anyway. Also he’s been going to the pictures. A lot. And by avoiding the disappointments of theatre he’s been able to enjoy being disappointed by some over-praised films.

He did catch Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser with Reese Shearsmith and Ken Stott, which proved a good deal more watchable than the sometimes inaudible (Sir Ian) 2015 TV version. Phil is, of course, so old he saw the original stage production with Tom Courtenay and Freddie Jones back in 1980. Then the second World War events seemed to have happened a very, very long time ago. Yet the number of years between that production and the events it depicts are almost the same as those between Sean Foley’s revival and Phil’s initial viewing of the play. Most discombobulating.

He also saw Buried Child which is interval-heavy and comes with a massive spoiler alert in its title. Despite the starry presence of Ed Harris it had a most tiresome first Act followed by a thoroughly amusing second. Unfortunately it also came with a third act.

And Phil, err, caught Nice Fish with Mark Rylance; a thankfully interval-free 90 minutes of codswallop. There’s only so much quirky one can take. The most interesting thing about it was the people who got free seats in stage-side boxes if they came dressed as fish. Full marks to the 3 women sitting stage left for providing the most entertaining element of the evening.

And last week Phil was at a recording of Ben Elton’s clever, clever Shakespeare BBC sit com Upstart Crow with the writer providing some of the very amusing audience warm-up. Very starry if you’re not aware of it: David Mitchell, Harry Enfield, Paula Wilcox, Liza Tarbuck and Gemma Wheelan who impressed as Karen Matthews in TV’s The Moorside. Wheelan couldn’t be more different in this. Quite remarkable. Sadly he didn’t see the episode with Noel Fielding or Emma Thomson (as Queen Elizabeth) who are appearing in this run. Episode 4 (second series) should you wish to listen out for Phil’s cackle among the studio audience.

Which, at last, segues us to Mr Shakespeares’s nastiest “whirlwind” comedy, Twelfth Night, which comes with a touch of gender-fluid casting (just to confuse things), not necessarily in the shape of Tamsin Greig, as her character, Malvolio has been changed to Malvolia, adding a sapphic angle to the story, but in the casting of Doon Mackichan (How do you pronounce her surname? Is it to rhyme with Jackie Chan?). She plays Feste, prone to inflicting too many songs on us (albeit rather well-sung) and upholds the tradition of Shakespeare’s fools, by successfully making him/her completely unfunny.

We accept that the insane tale of mistaken identity and cross-dressing has to be taken with a huge pinch of salt, and we’ve whinged about it before, but the bullying sub-plot is decidedly grim and not the most remotely bit amusing. Malvolia has only asked the revellers to keep the noise down as her mistress Olivia (Phoebe Fox) is trying to sleep. Fair enough. She doesn’t deserve the treatment she receives. And though Phil laughed throughout the first act, particularly at Greig’s often hilarious Mrs Danversish fourth wall-breaking Malvolia, milking it for all is is worth, he remained stoney-faced during the famous yellow cross-gartered stockings scene. Malvolia appears, not only in the lemon hosiery, but in a Pierrot costume which is removed to reveal a bathing costume with nipple tassels that twirl so much they could whisk the over-egging into the fluffiest of omelettes.

There’s a very good cast around her. Tamara Lawrance‘s cross-dressing Viola has a believable boyish quality to her and two of the original players from One Man, Two Guvnors, Oliver Chris and Daniel Rigby play Orsino and Sir Andrew Aguecheek respectively and for all they are worth. Phil was fairly sure it was Tom Edden (the waiter in that production) sitting in the same row watching them. Tim McMullan who is never averse to stealing scenes does it again as Sir Toby Belch.

Transport features on stage: a rather gorgeous Triumph TR6 (it’s credited in the free cast list – do you really think Phil would know anything about cars?), a bike, a scooter and a ship. There’s no sign of a train though, suggesting the production must have been sponsored by Southern Rail.

It’s a technically complex production, which utilises the revolve throughout. There’s also a rainstorm, a plunge pool and a fountain with a mind of its own. Director Simon Godwin ensures that several of his cast get very wet. Soutra Gilmour‘s pyramid-shaped set unfolds to reveal various locations and not always attractively: one resembles the kind of hotel spa that you’d find yourself resisting even with a Groupon offer.

Oh, and it’s nearly 3 hours long (including the gap).




4 Responses to “Review – Twelfth Night, National Theatre”

  1. Sandown Says:

    “Transgender” is the latest fad among the progressives, so there is no surprise to find it surfacing at the National.

    However, it can lead to some awkward textual inference. Presumably the line: “some have greatness thrust upon them” would imply that Malvolia will be using a strap-on ?

  2. margarita Says:

    The NT is way ahead in the Politically Correct, if artistically questionable, casting. It could be worse – Viola could have an identical twin brother whom we’re not supposed to notice is Black.

  3. […] West End Whingers: “It’s a technically complex production, which utilises the revolve throughout.” […]

  4. Jovial Moon Says:

    After experiencing “Twelfth Night” on many occasions both on the professional and amateur stages, this version must go down as the poorest. What a waste of talent for Tamsin Greig to be involved with this production. There were occasions when the production was lifted and the comedy became tolerable but in most cases it descended to pantomime standards. I was so disappointed that I declined to stay for the second half!

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