Twelth Night at the National Theatre Online
“By the roses of the spring, my maidenhood, honour, truth and everything. Um… I love thee,” says Olivia. She wears a red, backless bathing suit and speaks to a soaking Cesario, who is trying to escape the lady’s advances. Originally performed at the National Theatre in 2017, this adaptation of Twelfth Night is currently available to stream live on Youtube, bringing the classic work to a wider audience.
The play is a Shakespearian comedy of mistaken identity and unrequited love. Viola and Sebastian, twins who are strikingly similar in appearance, are both shipwrecked and washed up in Illyria. Viola, believing her brother is dead, disguises herself as a young man named Cesario and becomes a servant to Duke Orsino, whom she quickly falls in love with. Duke Orsino is besotted with Countess Olivia, who does not reciprocate. The duke charges Cesario with sending his messages of love to Olivia, but when the countess sees Cesario she falls in love with her instead.
A boat-shaped backdrop, flanked by stairs on either side, revolves around the stage to reveal the scenes in this play. It begins as the shipwreck which separates Viola and Sebastian – dim blue lighting, lightning flashes and the sound of crashing waves – before an old-fashioned green car rides onto the set to transform the surroundings for Duke Orsino’s speech. From a nightclub to a bath, complete with a mini swimming pool, the impressive staging and able to show a variety of scenes in convincing detail.
The actors wear modern dress – suits, dresses and snazzy purple jackets – but there are a couple of fun additions, including Malvolia’s yellow cross-gartered burlesque number. A skilful cast are able to make this script accessible to people who may not typically enjoy early modern plays.
Phoebe Fox is endearingly awkward as Olivia and is able to be both aggressive and vulnerable in the same sentence. Tasmin Greig feeds off the audience and portrays Malvolia as utterly hilarious and even a little sympathetic. Tim McMullan (Sir Toby) is great at being a drunken lout; he and Daniel Rigby (Sir Andrew) play well together. The players are able to break the fourth wall with little jokes and glances without detracting from the show: it’s a great performance all around.
This play is three hours long, which is challenging if you’re watching from your laptop as the sky changes from blue to black, but it’s worth it. If you want to escape the madness of the outside world and laugh along with the sometimes sad, always ridiculous but ultimately uplifting world of Twelfth Night, tune into The National Theatre’s Youtube channel by Thursday 30th April.
Photo: Marc Brenner