I’ve seen “Twelfth Night” so many times I’ve lost count, but this is my first experience watching this play streaming on the computer. Produced by UK’s National Theatre, I very much enjoyed it. Directed by DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company Artistic Director and National Theatre’s Associate Director, Simon Godwin, this 2017 production stars Tamsin Greig as Malvolia (changed from Mavolio) in a gender-bending twist, giving another layer to Shakespeare’s classic comedy of unrequited love and mistaken identity.
Greig is my favorite British comedian and she easily stole the show with her willingness to do anything to get a laugh. She can be seen in the hysterical British TV series, “Black Books” as the friend of a bookshop owner who tries to make that friend a more social person – a challenge since her character is almost as bad said friend. Think “Friends” but there are only three friends – and they’re older, drink, smoke, and are much funnier.
This production of “Twelfth Night” has a quirky, contemporary setting reflected in the bright costumes, cars, and scooters that act as set pieces. The rotating stage has a lift that allows a pool, fountain, and other set pieces (as well as characters) to be brought up from under the stage – designed by Soutra Gilmour. Music, song, and dancing are also interjected throughout, adding to the playful feel.
“I’ve seen “Twelfth Night” so many times I’ve lost count, but this is my first experience watching this play streaming on the computer… I very much enjoyed it.“
National Theatre provides the best synopsis of “Twelfth Night:”
“A ship is wrecked on the rocks. Viola is washed ashore but her twin brother Sebastian is lost. Determined to survive on her own, she steps out to explore a new land. So begins a whirlwind of mistaken identity and unrequited love.”
Director Godwin is very successful with his choice to capitalize and emphasize the humor in “Twelfth Night.” This is in contrast to some directors who concentrate on the melancholy surrounding the character of Malvolio. Having seen it done both ways, I feel “Twelfth Night” is much more enjoyable when played for laughs.
Feste character is also played by a woman, Doon Mackichan, who stole the scene time and time again with her brightly colored costume and comedic timing. Phoebe Fox as Olivia played her role well as a proper lady on the outside, but slyly showed her character’s cheekiness throughout. Tamara Lawrance as Viola was beautiful to watch. Her love for the Duke was easy to read on her face and her movement choices.
So put on your pajamas, grab some snacks, and take advantage of this rare opportunity to see a wonderful production thanks to Britain’s National Theatre. While the streaming is free, there is a donate button to support NT or a suggestion to donate to your local theater.
Running time: Two hours and 45 minutes.
“Twelfth Night” is streaming free through April 30 on National Theatre’s YouTube channel. Next up is “Frankenstein” with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating roles as the monster. It will be streaming from 7 pm UK time, Thursday, April 30 until May 8. Click here for more information.