Whirligig revenges and yellow stockings



FESTES with a serpent in her hairdo, played by Doon Mackichan. Photograph by Marc Brenner.

Humour is easily one of the most difficult genres to uphold: it dates; what may have been pants-wettingly hilarious in the 1500s, might be simply boring or perplexing today. In the hands of Simon Godwin, however, the gender fluid wildness of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is brought to the fore with a frothiness and a fervour that will have you in stitches. The lines of the story are handled with bold legibility, unbridled pizzazz and the kind of skill that makes you remember what brilliant theatre is all about.

With a cast headed by the remarkable and utterly perfect Tamsin Greig as the hapless Malvolio, and a female Feste (Doon Mackichan) who sports everything from serpent shaped coiffures to some of the most outrageously delicious barbs for lines, maverick behaviour is ramped up all the way. The lewd interregna and the spiteful ones, replete with cruel tricks are central to this tale of sleight of hand sexuality, faux letters, faux love and a denouement that reveals all.

But it is the stage presence of the fabulous saxophonist-clarinettist-flautist Hannah Lawrence that adds just that extra little bit of savoir faire to an already tightly sophisticated and wise work which tells a story of comeuppance in the most ludicrous possible way, but with a moral tightly contained in its moist whorls of pink subterfuge. Toss in a drag artist at the Elephant night club, keening lines from Hamlet, Sir Andrew Aguecheek with a man bun, the cross gartered yellow stockings and sparkly nipple tassels that turn at the press of a button, and you get the general picture.

The circularity of a well-designed elegant set that features tricks and doors, transparency and staircases that turns on its own momentum, plays beautifully into the mix of movement and choreography scene changes and serious hilarity in this gorgeous work.

The work isn’t only laugh-a-second stuff, however. Greig’s Malvolio is a nasty bit of work, consumed with her own sense of importance, under an implacable ‘Prince Valiant’ hairdo, but her interpretation is so well developed that she takes you from raucous laughter at her comeuppance into deep pity at the cruelty of her punishment. There are moments when she evokes the tragically washed up Frank ‘n Furter in the Rocky Horror Show, after all has been said and done. It’s a splendidly made work, that flows easy on the eye and laugh instincts, in its flippant and caustic take on love and how music feeds it. Whatever you do, don’t miss this one!

  • Twelfth Night is written by William Shakespeare and directed by Simon Godwin for the Olivier Theatre, National Theatre complex in London. It is performed by Adam Best, Oliver Chris, Claire Cordier, Imogen Doel, Mary Doherty, Ammar Duffus, Daniel Ezra, Phoebe Fox, Tamsin Greig, Whitney Kehinde, Emmanuel Kojo, Tamara Lawrance, Andrew MacBean, Doon Mackichan, Tim McMullan, Brad Morrison, Daniel Rigby, Imogen Slaughter and James Wallace. Produced and presented by National Theatre Live, it features creative input by Fiona Matthews (hair), Wayne Ractliffe (camera operator), Soutra Gilmour (set), James Farncombe (lighting), Shelley Maxwell (movement), Michael Bruce (music), Christopher Shutt (sound), Kev McCurdy (fight choreography) and Dan Jackson (musical direction). It broadcasts until April 28 for free via the National Theatre’s youtube channel.

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