Review: Tamsin Grieg in TWELFTH NIGHT at the National Theatre, Olivier

I have a serious love/hate relationship with Shakespeare; I'm getting to the point now where I'm bored of seeing his plays crop up in similar and tedious revivals across town every season, so when this new production of the play - with a cast led by Tamsin Grieg as Malvolia - came to my attention at the NT new season announcement last year, my curiosity peaked.

If you want to know more about how this cool new production was put together then might I suggest the talk that Tamsin Grieg gave on the production and her performance at the National Theatre a few weeks back, which you can watch on YouTube. In the talk, Grieg highlights that the NT approached her and asked her what she fancied doing and after a lot of thought, this idea came up. It might be the first production in memory where a Shakespeare character has been well and truly gender-bent; most times a woman plays a male character in a Shakespeare play or vice versa, it's a woman playing a man still. In this instance. the character of Malvolio has been completely transformed into Malvolia, a lesbian female character, which is refreshing to see.

Daniel Ridby and Niky Wardley in a scene from Twelfth Night

It's a remarkable feat that the production actually manages to pull off perfectly. Malvolio is a notoriously masculine character and considering his masculinity is mocked throughout the show, I was surprised to see that the female incarnation of the character somehow works just as well. It goes without saying that Tamsin Grieg gives a fantastic performance, but I have never seen her be as funny or as intelligent in a performance as this one. It's a Shakespearean performance that will stick with me for a long time to come.

In fact, the entire cast are absolutely fantastic. Niky Wardley plays Maria and my love for her grew with this production more than the love that I had for her beforehand. She really is one of the most hilarious actresses around and her performance here alongside Grieg's Malvolia had me in stitches. It was also nice to see some other familiar faces in the cast like Emmanuel Kojo, whose performance as a drag queen in the second act (yes, drag queen - told you it's quirky) was sublime, while Daniel Ezra, Adam Best and the rest of the cast give fantastic performances as well.

Daniel Ezra in Twelfth Night

Simon Godwin directs this sublime production in and around Soutra Gilmour's innovative stage design beautifully, in a production that feels like it folds away like a story book. It's modern and its design feels modern and sleek, but that isn't to say that it doesn't fill the Olivier beautifully; the end sequence that takes place on the massive staircase feels so immersive and powerful that it might be one of my favourite directed and designed moments in the history of the Olivier. Michael Bruce's music choices for the piece helped to drive it towards its goal as a quirky and preppy piece of theatre - as does Gilmour's aforementioned stage and costume design - and it's a blend that comes together perfectly.

Even if you're a Shakespeare-phobe, I really do think you will fall for this production like I did. It's funny, original and entertaining in equal measure and I defy anyone to see it and not leave the theatre feeling full and theatrically satisfied. With an original twist and a fantastic cast to boot, it's one of the National's best shows in a long while.

The ladies entourage in the National Theatre's new production of Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night continues at the National Theatre, Olivier thru May 13th with tickets available here. The production will be broadcast live to cinemas across the globe this Thursday (April 6th) via NTLive, with tickets for that available here.

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