This is a very interesting but perhaps somewhat disappointing version. Shakespeare’s dark comedy has been updated to now, and in a major twist we have Tamsin Grieg as Malvolia, compelling us to view everything through fresh eyes. But that is not the only twist in this unusual version – sexual orientations and gender identities are fluid in the confusions of Twelfth Night – not everyone is what or who they appear to be.
Countess Olivia and Duke Orsino are both captivated by the shipwrecked Viola when she’s in disguise as the page ‘Cesario’, while Viola’s twin brother Sebastian, in his search for her, is lovingly watched over by Antonio the sailor who rescued him.
This new modern dress production by Simon Godwin increases complications by boldly transforming Malvolio, the Puritanical steward, into Malvolia, a woman who has a lesbian passion for her employer, the Countess Olivia .
Does it work? To a degree, yes, but it is a bit uneven and rushed under Simon Godwin’s direction. For the screenings there are lots of dizzying shots of the use of the revolve and the unfolding of the pyramid like set (which at times unfolds like a 3D pop up storybook to fluidly become a ship’s prow, a chapel , a cell , a highly manicured courtyard full of box trees, a nightclub). The opening shipwreck scene is masterly. There are long dangerous staircases and a swimming pool or two … not forgetting the fountain in the famous letter scene … water is a major theme.
At first Tamsin Greig as Malvolia is shown as rigid, extremely controlled, repressive and obsessive, with almost robotic like movements. She is dressed in business like black and her helmet of hair is beautifully kept and polished. However, still in the garden after the letter scene there is a joyous segment where she jumps and delightfully splashes in the fountain.
in Act 2 Grieg is superb not just in the over the top Cyd Charisse like segment where she is in her yellow swimsuit enticing Olivia but also pierces our hearts in the distressing finale. Right at the end we see and feel her loneliness; she is drenched in the rain , without wig or uniform .
Dark, petite Phoebe Fox is magnificent as the fiery, feline, rather aloof yet quite engaging Olivia.
Tall, blonde and handsome Oliver Chris as Duke Orsino is reduced to a minor character because of the way the production is skewed but still makes a terrific impression.
As oily, sleazy Sir Toby Belch Tim McMullan is excellent and Daniel Rigby is neat and presentable but sly and conniving, (wearing a man-bun and a pink chested outfit), as his sidekick, whom he repeatedly swindles, Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
As Viola in love with the Duke, Tamara Lawrance is glorious, yet always self conscious of her femininity even while playing Caeasario a ‘boy’, (especially when Olivia is chasing her/him). She is caught in an awkward situation, enduring the pains of unrequited love and also being lusted after. Lawrance is charming, giving a sweet and finely nuanced performance.
Viola’s brother Sebastian is excellently played by Daniel Ezra .Yes, they do look alike to a degree and as they both dress alike in black and white no wonder there is some confusion.
Strong, stalwart Antonio is gruffly played by Adam Best. Are there hidden undertones in their relationship?!
The female Feste is excellently played by Don Mackichan as world weary in tatty shorts and tights in her rather garish outfit.
Her songs are performed with panache and she delivers the difficult tongue twisting would-be-witty rejoinders terrifically.
The fight and attack scenes are tight and dangerous, if somewhat messy, and there is a great scene at the nightclub of The Elephantwith a wonderful sultry drag queen in fabulous costume and makeup with killer high heels crooning To Be Or Not To Be.
This production is boisterous, yet we lose most of the feeling of loss, of tenderness, love and longing. A challenging ,somewhat radical , quite intriguing version.
Running time allow just over 3 and ½ hours including one interval.
The NT Live’s production of TWELFTH NIGHT is screening at selected cinemas from 3 June 2017.