Twelfth Night at the National Theatre: Reviewed

Tamsin Greig is outstanding, she does steal the show in places, but this is not a one man (or woman) show.

This is emphatically an ensemble piece with each cast member sparkling in their own way and coming together to dazzle as a whole.

It’s fabulously funny,  loudly lavish and cleverly cutting.

But before we even touch on the performances, let’s have one heck of a shout out for the set design. The Olivier Theatre revolves, we know this, but how do you use it in a way that makes the most of its features without being gimmicky for gimmicky’s sake?

Well, you get Soutra Gilmour to design for you.

Set in the centre of the stage is a great triangular structure, which turns into a pyramid opening and closing many different scenes. It’s great fun, but also highly useful in transporting us through this ever changing world where nothing is ever what it seems. This combined with eclectic and vibrant costuming, makes an elaborate back drop for this talented lot to make merriment and mischief in equal proportions.

Twelfth Night Doon Mackichan as Feste
Credit: Marc Brenner

A generally light-hearted version of the play, although with an underlying current of cruelty which bubbles throughout, something  greatly enhanced by the gender fluid approach of casting adopted by Simon Godwin.

 At times it seems to suggest the ridicule Marvolia suffers has something even more sinister about it, moving dangerously close to lesbian stereotypes and the encouragement of homophobic bullying.

But it’s not, because this overtly flamboyant, diverse and unconventional world featuring drag queens, burlesque dance and more gender fluidity that you can shake a stick at, leaves us in no doubt that here, anything goes.

And when Greig sits cross legged, blindfolded, in her fetching burlesque number, there are no laughs. Instead we watch in disgust as the ‘Three Merry Men’ brutally break her down , exploiting her unrequited feelings for Olivia for nothing more than entertainment.

I must give special mention to the fabulously feisty Pheobe Fox (Olivia), who hankers desperately after a sweet and occasionally cheeky Tamara Lawrence (Viola). The way she struts about the stage attempting to seduce Viola, while dressed in her mourning wear is hilarious.

Twelfth Night  Phoebe Fox as Olivia.jpeg
Credit: Marc Brenner
Then there’s Daniel Ezra (Sebastian), who even with limited stage time, does wonders at wrenching us from the funny and adding some touching tender moments.

Twelfth Night - Daniel Ezra as Sebastian
Credit: Marc Brenner

Finally, of course, there’s Greig who works the auditorium, expertly drawing out every laugh we had to give with what appeared to be exceptional ease.

Twelfth Night - Tamsin Greig as Malvolia.jpeg
Credit: Marc Brenner
Unfortunately, it has finished its run, however you can still get tickets to watch it in the cinema, so check the National Theatre Live site here.

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