• Isabelle Osborne

Theatre Review: Twelfth Night, National Theatre Screening

Since the outbreak of coronavirus meant theatres across the globe were forced to close their doors, The National Theatre have begun streaming past productions online for free. From Jane Eyre to Treasure Island, this is a must for all theatre lovers. What is more, you can donate money via the screening to aid the National Theatre in their attempt to endure the impact of the pandemic on the theatre industry.

Last week, I thoroughly enjoyed their screening of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, a text I studied at A-Level and have seen a few different adaptations of. The play is a whirlwind of mistaken identity and unrequited love, a comical delight with a dark undertone. Directed by Simon Godwin, this production struck a fine balance between the dark, haunting elements of the play and the comedic, light-hearted humour that had the audience in hysterics. Read on to hear my thoughts on the production...

Malvolia, Festa and Fabia

Whilst Shakespeare originally intended for these three characters to be male, Godwin's production saw Tamsin Greig transform the obnoxious Puritan Malvolio into Malvolia, with Imogen Doel as Fabian (a) and Doon Mackichan as Feste (a). This really opens up the discussion on sexuality, as we see Malvolia falling for Olivia in what was intended to be a heterosexual relationship with the male Malvolio. This supposed lesbianism transports the play forward into the 21st Century. In addition, I was drawn to the female dynamics between Greig, Doel and Mackichan, as Fabia's and Festa's taunting of Malvolia capture how women in today's society often find fault with one another in an attempt to belittle, rather than empower, one another.

Sir Andrew and Sir Toby

I adored Andrew's garish pink checked suit and matching socks, making him all the more eccentric and humorous. Toby's refusal to listen to Malvolia during their forbidden midnight party captures the lack of gender equality that resonates with both a contemporary and modern audience. In my view, Toby seemed too responsible and reserved to play the drunken fool - I felt Tim McMullan (Toby) actually suited the appearance of Orsino, and would have guessed he would have played the latter before watching it. In some respects, this captures the sentiment of the play, that appearance is merely an illusion...


The boxing scene between Orsino, played by the tall and handsome Oliver Chris, and Viola, posing as 'Cesario', gives off the impression that the former is a typical macho, hyper masculine man. Such makes Olivia's rejection of him increasingly laughable as the 'macho' man fails to attain his desired mate. I have never seen Orsino played in such a masculine-confident manner, as we often read his character as a distastefully sickly and woeful romantic in his constant wallowing and hopeless pursuit of Olivia.

The Yellow-Garters

Malvolia's appearing in yellow-garters following her finding the falsified letter was brilliantly interpreted. The cabaret style as Greig walked down the staircase generated a humour that so perfectly contrasted her previously solemn, wicked portrayal of the Puritanical hypocrite. Her yellow outfit, making her look slightly clownish, directly juxtaposes Olivia's black dress, highlighting the reversal of character as one lover gains attention whilst another is rejected.

Comedy vs Darkness

The play as a whole felt quite comical (aside from the moments of pure darkness), especially through the character of Viola, who I have never perceived to be a particularly comical asset to the play before now. The dark-room scene, whereby we see Malvolia alone on a darkened stage with a blindfolded around her eyes, truly evokes her vulnerability and completely opposes the merriment of the Twelfth Night celebrations. The blindfold was quite haunting, making Festa's taunting of Malvolia even more cruel.

The Music

As a saxophonist, I am biased in my enjoyment of the glorious sound of the saxophone throughout. The car horns and lazy jazz following Viola's confession of her love for Orsino to the audience convey the dissonance between the characters as the love triangle develops, and how events will become even more tangled as the play continues. Michael Bruce's compositions accentuates the role music plays within the play, and the musical interludes between scenes assisted in illuminating the different moods of the play.

The denouement

Hair plays an interesting role in the production. As Malvolia removes her wig, concluding her torment and exposing her raw, vulnerable state, we are reminded of the extent of her torture and how the ending remains unresolved despite the reunion of the twins and the resolution of the love triangle. In addition to this, Sir Andrew's hair - at first tidy but destined to become dishevelled by the end - shows his feeling of degradation, with the hysterical hair-flick upon his exit representing a last attempt to regain his lost dignity. In both instances, hair conveys the humiliation and shame the two characters feel, making Orsino's optimistic declaration that he would like to see Viola is woman's clothes all the more shallow. His snogging of the wrong twin, all-be-it comical, leaves a bitter taste in ones mouth, as the audience is reminded that both Olivia and Orsino fell in love with an appearance. The swirling of the stage as Festa closes the play in song expresses the cycles of revenge; this is assisted by Malvolia's walk up the stairs, bedraggled and disgraced, as she leaves the audience wondering whether she will achieve her intended revenge...

Final thoughts

Overall, I enjoyed the modern touch Godwin achieved whilst maintaining the Shakespearian tradition. Tamsin Greig's performance of Malvolia was inspired, and the contemporary feel of the play through the use of music, props and set reminds us of how timeless Shakespeare's work remains.

Featured image courtesy of Gwen King on Unsplash. Image license can be found here. No changes were made to this image.

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