NTLive: Twelfth Night

OK, so last night, I hopped in the car and headed down to my old stomping grounds at UCLA to catch the National Theatre Live cinema broadcast of the recent production of Twelfth Night, from the Olivier Theatre in London, with Tamsin Greig as Malvolia. And yes, that’s Malvolia.

So, full disclosure here: I’m a big Tamsin Greig fan. I think I first saw her in Tamara Drewe with Gemma Arterton. And I’ve been loving her in the series Episodes with Matt LeBlanc. So when I heard about this, I was very very intrigued. And watching videos like the one below, made me want to see this in the worst way:

And after seeing some of the trailers, and the pretty great scenic design, I was even more sold.

And you can tell there’s a “but” coming, right?

Don’t get me wrong, it was good. The scenic design was great. The modern setting was well-done. And the gender fluidity, I think worked really well. Oliver Chris’ Orsino may be the best I’ve ever seen: I actually bought his falling in love with Cesario while still loving women. I like the use of music by onstage musicians.

And I thought the first half was very effective. I like the concept that Olivia is so distraught over the death of her father and brother that she only wants women around (thus Feste’s a woman, as are Fabia and Malvolia). I liked the idea that Orsino’s crew was always in physical training (cue Village People “YMCA“). Malvolia was sharply drawn.

Then, for me at least, the train came off the tracks…around the time of the most pivotal scene in most productions, though it’s more subplot than main plot: the gulling of Malvolia. For a woman who is so tightly wound, she interacts with the audience too easily, too outrageously. A bit with a spouting fountain doesn’t pay off as planned (and it messed with the body mics). And while her yellow-stocking-cross-garter reveal is funny, the idea of her singing a burlesque version of one of the “Will” sonnets while doing a vaudeville striptease just didn’t work for me. Meanwhile, Viola–that mourning sister–goes grab-assing around with Cesario; just too big a jump for me. In the second half, things get a bit screechy, and we get the typical mistaking of volume for emotion.

And then there’s the ending.

When Malvolia proclaims that she’ll be revenged on them all, she indicates the audience as part of that all. OK, sure, I can dig that. But then she pulls off her wig, revealing short bleach-blonde hair slicked back. Then the final image of the production has her climbing stairs up to the sky with rain falling on her as she looks up and raises her arms. Fade to black.

What the hell?

Look, you all know me. I LIKE directorial concepts. But I like for them to explain the play. I don’t want to have to read a thesis to understand the concept, or have the play explain the concept. It should help the audience, not make them wonder.

Do I recommend it? If you’re gender-fluid-curious or a fan of Greig, sure. If not, you can probably skip it.

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