Twelfth Night (National Theatre, 4th April 2017)

This really is a luxurious affair. As I spend much of my theatre-going time at relatively small scale productions, I almost forget the wonder the National Theatre can bring. The entire production is rich, filled with sumptuous costumes and high concept sets.

The abundance of wealth and glamour emphasises the humour - with Toby Belch, a usually elderly overweight sleaze transformed into a bizarrely charming Russell Brand-esque sot. Feste becomes a Kate Moss style party girl, too old for her glitter boots. Each scene is beautifully styled, rich in colour and meticulously thought-through. Some of the touches I felt were fleeting and could have been fleshed out to make the production more relevant, such as Olivia's stylised hand maidens. Comic and classy, they were underused as a way to engage a younger audience - the increasing 'girl gang' movement for female empowerment would have nicely fit with Olivia's position of power.

Much focus has been given to Tamsin Greig's performance as Malvolia, which is fantastic. Her sharp cruel edges and quick wit are well timed and mirrored in her image. Blunt bob and clean culottes are far from the glamorous promotional images used for the production, and after seeing the performance I'm not entirely sure why they haven't used said character photo's for the promotional photos, as the production is full of concept and gorgeous imagery. The only other decision I questioned from the production was relocating one scene to a sex club complete with a drag queen. Although I appreciate the entire play is based around gender, I felt this could be problematic - are we laughing with or at said drag queen?

On the note of humour, I also found myself surprised by the lack of empathy within the audience. When Malvolia is being horrifically treated by Feste, blindfolded in her underwear and humiliated, a scene which I found entirely tragic, audience members could be heard tittering away. It certainly made me consider how much audiences had developed since Shakespearean times. Do we relinquish all morals when we are told it is a 'comedy'? Even with the devastating ending, in which Malvolia, utterly broken and vowing revenge, removes her black bob wig and is revealed to have cropped bleached hair (she is notably entirely yellow, a colour her beloved mistress despises). And yet, laughs from the audience are heard again. Maybe in fact I am too sensitive.

Overall, an excessvie yet gorgeous production that captured the balance between comedy and tragedy within Twelfth Night - well acted and accessible.


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