Twelfth Night, National Theatre, review: ‘Greig has effortless rapport with audience’

Twelfth Night at the National Theatre. Picture: Marc Brenner

Twelfth Night at the National Theatre. Picture: Marc Brenner - Credit: Archant

This grief-infused Shakespearean comedy often tends towards the melancholy, but Simon Godwin’s madcap, gender-bending, cheerfully queer version rediscovers the mirth.

This grief-infused Shakespearean comedy often tends towards the melancholy, but Simon Godwin’s madcap, gender-bending, cheerfully queer version rediscovers the mirth.

Oliver Chris, recalling his haughty toff from One Man, Two Guvnors, sets the tone with a blithely entitled Orsino: there’s more humour than heartbreak wrung from the play’s numerous mistaken identities and unrequited passions.

Phoebe Fox’s stroppy Olivia expresses grief in a fury, but finds a giddy outlet once Tamara Lawrance’s sweet, cheeky Viola saunters past her defences. Theirs is a sibling-like bond, a reminder that these two young women are connected by the loss of a brother.

Daniel Rigby turns the oft-tiresome Sir Andrew into a hilarious plaintive hipster, whose bond with Tim McMullan’s coolly exploitative Toby suggests a desire for more than friendship.


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Similarly Antonio is openly enamoured of Sebastian – underlined by an unnecessary but riotous trip to a gay bar (four words: drag queen singing Hamlet).

Doon Mackichan’s Feste is ill-defined, though her songs are genuinely enjoyable.

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But the most successful piece of cross-casting is Greig. Severe-bobbed and schoolmarmish, she denies her desires in strict adherence to the rules, yet is eccentric from the off, trotting in a little circle when agitated. The yellow stockings appearance becomes a full burlesque, complete with whirling nipple tassels.

Greig has an effortless rapport with the audience (the Globe should take note), which does make the watching plotters an irritant in the letter discovery scene. No need for commentary with Greig’s layered line readings and lighting-fast reactions.

Amidst the stylistic melting pot (from Elizabethan to contemporary) and Soutra Gilmour’s spectacular playground – a pyramid of moving staircases, offering entertaining reveals with each revolve – the real romance and darker themes are underexplored, but this is a joyful, fresh and marvellously funny experience.

Ratng: 4/5 stars

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