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Review: National Theatre Encore: Twelfth Night

There have been countless productions of Shakespeare’s plays, so making them stand out amongst the crowd is a difficult undertaking, especially for one as popular as Twelfth Night. However, despite the large task, director Simon Godwin steps up and produces an interesting, fresh and visually astounding take on Shakespeare’s classic.

This production couldn’t come at a more appropriate time; gender politics are being challenged every day and Godwin, fully aware of this, uses it to his advantage. He pulls focus to it primarily through swapping Malvolio’s gender – Malvolia – and casting the fantastic Tamsin Greig (Green Wing, Episodes). Greig gives a hilarious turn as Malvolia, which is no surprise to anyone that is familiar with the actress, who one moment resembles Miss Trunchbull and the next a songstress wearing yellow stockings. For some people the performance may have crossed into the realms of ridiculousness, but Greig manages to rein in the performance at the end for a sombre end note that sticks with you long after the show has finished.

Godwin also gender swaps several other characters, an example being Doon Mackichan playing Feste. This swap feels somewhat less justified than the Malvolia swap, which gives an interesting glance at lesbian sexuality that Feste just doesn’t bring to the table.

The show was performed at the National’s Olivier Theatre and they make full use of it, as evidenced by the large pyramid-like staging. The whole stage revolves, allowing quick scene transitions with whole new sets, meaning you can go from inside the lavish palace of Olivia to a bar in a matter of seconds. It provides spectacle for the show that honestly never failed to amaze.

The show isn’t all fantastic; there are low notes to pick up on, most notably some musical choices that induced cringing rather than laughter. Shakespeare’s verse is melodic and does call for a song every now and then, which the show does rather effectively in place of some monologues, giving them a bit more flavour. The show even ends on a song that truly makes the audience feel something as it provides a contrasting tone to the rest of the play and makes you think about what you’ve just seen. Despite this, Godwin found it appropriate to put in a small rendition of BBK’s ‘Too Many Man’, which felt horribly unfunny and out of place. The target audience of this joke is unclear as few audience members laughed when it occurred. However, other than some questionable acting in places, this is the only criticism I have.

It cannot be overlooked just how funny this show is; making a modern audience laugh with Shakespeare is no small feat, let alone so consistently. A lot of this is down to the performances, primarily Greig, whose love letter scene is hysterical. An honourable mention should also be given to Daniel Rigby, who plays Andrew Aguecheek with such delight it’s impossible not to laugh whenever he says or does anything. He plays the character with such bumbling stupidity that he cannot even draw a sword without having it stuck in a bush.

The show is by far one of the best renditions of Shakespeare’s comedy in recent years and is definitely worth seeking out if it ever returns to a cinema near you.

Image source: Taliesinartscentre.co.uk