Twelfth Night (National Theatre, 12th February 2011)

The National Theatre’s production felt like it was a GOOD polished clean production, without some of the roughness that makes a production not just a good, but an exciting and thought-provoking one.  It was the kind of production that didn’t leave me disappointed, on the other hand it didn’t leave me thinking about the text in ways that I hadn’t thought about before. Watching it, I thought that there was and overall aesthetic and the colours were clear and the lines were sharp throughout as if nothing was going to merge into anything else to create images that can be messy and surprising at the same time. Here was another woman playing a woman playing a man who wears her  hair long, and made me think of  Katy Stephens in the RSC’s As You Like It, where as an audience we see the character is a woman. I found the historical context and the costume very coherent as an overall theme, and it is a very different approach from the RSC mixing different period costume in productions. This was another production of Twelfth Night which focused on browns, reds and rusts, which seems to be a popular colour scheme for recent Twelfth Nights, with 2009 RSC and York Theatre Royal productions using similar shades.  The minimal design was very effective and didn’t detract from the focus which was the speaking..

The verse speaking was clear and well spoken. Maybe because I was listening for them, I really noticed the pauses at the end of each line when characters speak verse. I know that this is Peter Hall’s thing, and at times it did stress words and make sense, but at other times, it felt a little odd.  I know I could hear every word, but much of the play felt as if it was all pitched at the same level, but did highlight some of the intentional contrived speeches such as Orsino’s opening speech.

There were some nice moments.  I felt that the birdcage image in relation to Malvolio’s imprisonment was shocking and worked well, but I felt that there was nothing else in the production that related to this.  York Theatre Royal production had used this image for Olivia in their production and it was an ongoing theme which they worked with throughout.  I thought that Simon Callow and Charles Edwards did good jobs and Flinty Williams was a great Maria. You can’t help finding the drinking scenes funny and the tricking of Malvolio humorous, but the production didn’t seem to bring out the comedy in other places.

Now and again, seeing a production like this one, is Ok, but I wouldn’t want this to be my experience every week. I think the variety and diversity in which Shakespeare is performed at the moment adds to the joy of going to the theatre. I suppose I would say this is what I might expect, but some of the other productions I’ve seen recently – such as the National Theatre Hamlet, and Propeller’s Comedy of Errors – surprise me with something that I’m not expecting.

National Theatre Simon Callow Twelfth Night

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