There seems to be a bit of a thing about gender bending in theatre at the moment. And for the record, it’s no bad thing. Especially when you see a production as strong as the National Theatre’s Twelfth Night.
In this glorious staging by director Simon Godwin, the wonder of love and how we should grasp it with both hands is very much the focus.
But there is also the wonderful mixing up of characters so we have a female Malvolio - here it’s Tamsin Greig as Malvolia - and Doon Mackichan as Feste the clown sporting some rather fabulous sparkly boots.
There is also more than a suggestion of same sex pairings with Daniel Rigby’s hipsterish Sir Andrew clearly in love with Sir Toby and Antonio enamoured of Sebastian. Even the Duke Orsino is not averse to kissing Cesario and, when confronted with the truth at the end, gives Sebastian a tender kiss.
The story is played out on the Olivier’s revolve stage which features a pyramid shape that splits during the opening storm scene in which the twins, Viola and Sebastian, get separated. It then opens out to reveal staircases, rooms and plenty of water - from a fountain at which Malvolia reads the letter supposedly from her mistress Olivia to the plunge pool in which Olivia tries unsuccessfully to seduce Cesario.
The revolving set also allows for the characters to spy on each other, peeping through the holes, and cavort freely not to mention letting Olivia, supposedly in mourning for her dead brother but now totally in love with Cesario, to climb the stairs and rock out to her favourite music when she thinks no one is looking.
The cast is excellent, from the dapper and rather louche Sir Toby played with swagger by Tim McMullan who is thankfully not so completely drunk he falls over all the time and loses our respect, to Greig’s Malvolia with her straight and severe bobbed hair cut and black attire. She also manages to interact beautifully with the audience and her transformation with the yellow stockings cross gartered is a sight to behold. Wearing a pierrot frilly white jacket she rips it off as part of a strip tease complete with twirling nipple tassels as she descends the stairs to the bewilderment of Olivia. Her ridiculing and subsequent humiliation are painful to watch.
But for me it was Daniel Rigby as Sir Andrew who stole the show. With his long hair fashioned in a top knot and his hipster attire he transformed the part brilliantly and made it his own.
Bonkers and wonderful in equal measure, this production is a real tonic and made me chuckle all the way home.
Twelfth Night is on at the National Theatre until Saturday May 13. Tickets from £15. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 7452 3000 for full listings.