Twelfth Night, National Theatre Live

The video replay of Simon Godwin’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which played at the National Theatre in London, has been showing in New York venues recently. No matter how well you may know the script, of which they kept the dialogue true, you’ll find yourself laughing at fresh delivery and crying at scenes that are surprisingly emotional for a Shakespearean comedy. The production is big, bold, a little bit musical, with a superb revolving/folding set, excellent performances by the actors, and most of all clever direction. You hear Godwin’s voice come through as loudly as Shakespeare’s.

Twins Viola and Sebastian are washed ashore after a shipwreck and each presume the other dead. After Viola goes into hiding by disguising herself as a boy, Shakespeare’s hilarious tangle of mistaken identities ignites chaos and confusion, added by the fact that everyone seems to be in love with someone who doesn’t love them back. Will they ever be happy? Well, if you know Shakespeare’s comedies, you know that they all end in at least one wedding, but the tragic fate of Malvolio makes this play’s conclusion a little uneasy.

tamsingreig-smallIn this production, it was decided that Malvolio, a male, should be Malvolia, a female, played by Tamsin Greig. This is in the spirit of Shakespeare’s gender bending theme. There is one pun about her name ending in “O” that no longer works but otherwise, you realize that having a woman in love with her ladyship is really no different than if it were a man. Greig, who you may know from Black Books, Green Wing, Episodes, or Friday Night Dinner, steals the show. She embodies the unsmiling servant so well that when she transforms into a beaming beacon of yellow stocking and cross-garders, you really get the sense of the scope of Greig’s acting toolbox, more so than any of the TV shows I listed above.

That isn’t to say that the rest of the cast pales in comparison. Tim McMullan and Daniel Rigby are hilarious as the drunken Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. Smack the Pony‘s Doon Mackichan takes on another usually male character, Feste the Fool. Beautiful singing. I almost didn’t recognize Greig’s fellow Green Wing alum Oliver Chris as Orsino. Best of all is Tamara Lawrance as Viola. She really pulls of the young boy routine and has gives Viola a lot of personality and spirit not necessarily seen in the script.

It is the best adaptation of Twelfth Night that I’ve seen, as well as the best production from National Theatre Live that I’ve seen, and even the best performance I’ve seen out of Tamsin Greig. If the showing comes to your neck of the woods, you absolutely must go see it.


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