Viola and Sebastian, twins, are separated in a ship wreck. Viola dresses as a boy to enter the service of Count Orsino. Orsino likes the lady Olivia, and sends Cesario as a messenger. But Olivia likes Cesario, and Viola likes Orsino. Meanwhile, Marvolia also likes. Confused yet? You will be! This is one of Shakespeare’s more popular comedies- with lots of gender swapping, mistaken identity, practical jokes and trysts. This production covers all the original gags whilst packing in some contemporary ones (did you ever expect to see twerking in Shakespeare?).
There’s a lot of capering and silliness, but often the biggest laughs came from very contemporary wry twists of the lip and deft delivery. The most notable part of this production is the extra gender-switching, which the uniformly excellent cast carry off with élan. One of the issues with Shakespeare is keeping it fresh, and we’re very used to seeing Viola as Caesario; now we have gender-flipped Marvolio and Feste. Marvolio was always tragic. Grieg lends her own bittersweet style to the role to create a truly arresting Marvolia, with shades of (if you can imagine it) a funny Ms Danvers in the Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Watch her hands, which are wonderfully expressive and used to brilliant comic effect.
Olivia (Phoebe Fox) has an excellent range, and manages to balance being the main source of authority in the play with her own humorously aggressive flirting. The set is also fresh and innovative. What first seems a sparse arrangement folds open like a pop-up book or else rotates like a dial to become the prow of a ship, a house, an orchard, a drag club, or a chapel. Overall it has a similar aesthetic to the Ricky Dukes and Lazurus Theatre company production of ’tis a pity she’s a wh*re!’ last year. Think high fashion, massive sunglasses, pools, champagne and bright Californian sun. There’s more than a hint of David Hockney’s paintings to the colour scheme. Basically: if you think Shakespeare should be in Tudor dress, you might want to go downriver to The Globe. The band has great timing, both musical and comic, and manages to flow comfortably between participating in and supporting the story. Special mention should go to Woodwind Hannah Lawrence who is brings a puckish energy.
If you want to make a night if it (and at three hours you most certainly will), the South Bank has a tonne of quality chain restaurants. If you want to go indie I really recommend Ev on the cut, a bit of a walk away, or if you want to push the boat out there’s always Skylon at Festival Hall. Where: Olivier Theatre, The National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 9PX
When: 7.30pm on weeknights, 2pm and 7.30pm Saturdays.
Written by David Brown