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Review: Twelfth Night--NT Live ****

Michael Cox reviews 'a very enjoyable staging of one of Shakespeare's best comedies'.

Much has been made of Tamsin Greig’s casting in the role of Malvolio in the National Theatre’s current production of Twelfth Night. This isn’t really a big deal, to be honest. After all, this is a play about gender bending that has frequently seen many of its female roles played by men and, more recently, male roles played by women.

So why not Malvolio, or Malvolia as Greig’s character is called? It’s still the same character: faithful yet highly conservative servant to Olivia who gets snared in Sir Toby Belch’s scheme to create humiliation. It doesn’t add or detract anything; Greig is an excellent performer and gives a terrific portrayal of the character, gender be damned.

Perhaps that is a charge that can be levelled at director Simon Godwin’s production: it’s a very solid production that’s good looking and universally works well yet adds very little in terms of inventiveness. Its 1960s Italian chic setting is fun to behold and the revolving stage allows for fluidity to the action.

And it is filled with great performances from a flawless ensemble. Tamara Lawrance is terrific as Viola while Oliver Chris makes his Orsino a bit more pathetic than most—it’s a clever choice that works well. Tim McMullan is wonderfully seedy as Belch while Daniel Rigby has a blast as the clueless fop Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Even the supporting characters are memorable, with Adam Best standing out as Antonio and Doon Mackichan impressing as Feste.

If there is a moment of inspiration, it comes in a wonderfully innovative epilogue played out during Feste’s closing song. The fates of all the characters are shown, finishing with Greig’s Malvolia standing alone in the rain, perhaps taking momentary pleasure or maybe deciding not to have her vengeance after all. It’s a shame the production that proceeded it didn’t have as much inventiveness as that, even if it all pays off in a very enjoyable staging of one of Shakespeare’s best comedies.

Twelfth Night was viewed at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh on April 12, 2017 as part of the NTLive series. Encore screenings are occurring at different times throughout the country.

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