I was initially a tad dubious about these beamed-in theatre productions where theatres film their output and transmit it simultaneously to cinemas all over the world. Whilst I could see that it enabled thousands more people to see a play which they might not otherwise get to attend, it seemed a rather dislocated experience. It must also be hard for the actors, knowing that they are performing for a dual audience and that as well as having to project to the gods at the National (or wherever) they will have cameras on them doing a close-up.
But I am now a total convert, having seen not only Hedda Gabler from the National but also, on Saturday, the completely amazing NT production of Twelfth Night, starring in a gender-bent role, Tamsin Greig as Malvolia.
I always respected Tamsin Greig as an actor. Her ultra-distinctive voice is rarely heard on The Archers nowadays, as Debbie is permanently in Hungary, but I loved her in Black Books and various other things on the good box. But I basically thought of her as a soap/sitcom actress and had No Idea of what heights of comic invention she could ascend on the stage. Her Malvolia was the funniest, most striking, most pathetic, most hilarious and outrageous I have ever seen. And though she was the best thing in it, the cast as a whole was far from dusty. Setefane claimed that Phoebe Fox was the finest member of the cast, playing another gender-bent role, Olivia (a woman pretending to be her own brother). And ’tis true, she was indeed brilliant, but I couldn’t take my eyes off Tamsin Greig. Best. Twelfth Night. Ever. In fact, possibly the best Shakespeare ever – in my experience at least.
Gender-bending is common in Shakespeare when not only did boys play women, but characters often pretended to be of the other sex. But recently in more feminist style, roles have been swapped; so recently Helen Mirren has played Prospera in The Tempest and Maxine Peake, Hamlet:
If you get a chance to see this production, go. Sell your house and all its contents, but go. It’s terrific.
Yes, we have caught up with it. Starring Tamsin Greig (Debbie in the Archers, Fran in Black Books) and Roger Allam (the Queen’s adviser in The Queen) as her unbearable husband, the live-action version of the story is much more entertaining than the cartoon strip which spawned it. Brilliant though Polly Toynbee is, we did feel that the cartoon did ‘creep in its petty pace from day to day’ – it had terrific characters and great settings but nothing actually happened! ‘Maybe this week something will happen!’ we used to cry to each other over our Saturday Guardian. But it never did. This film, though, is a straight-faced, tongue in cheek romp; the storyteller standing to one side while the characters fall over each other and themselves and the Lord of Misrule has his day. Of course you are desperate for Fran (that’s not her name but I think of her as Fran) to kick her serial-adulterer husband in the balls as they preside over a writer’s retreat to which he – as an author – brings only kudos while she does all the work. You dearly long for him to get his come-uppance and he actually does at last. Trampled to death by stampeding cows with a strong sense of dramatic irony, he leaves Fran to run the place and get both the credit she deserves and the man who admires her.
There’s also a Thomas Hardy theme running through, with Fran as Bathsheba and the handyman as the Gabriel Oak character who is taken for granted and eventually gets his woman. One of the writers on the retreat is doing a book about Hardy which, if what he puts in is true, shatters a few of my illusions about the man. I tell you, if Mark takes to dallying with young women in his dotage he will find his balls decorating the Christmas tree. But he won’t. God bless him, he’s not Like That.
Anyway, it’s a really fun film, so go watch:
It was followed by take-away pizza (great) and a disappointing evening catching up with Bettina’s philosophy group. I had envisaged a large table of smiling faces all waiting for me and pleased to see me when I arrived: instead I found one bloke waiting outside as the place was heaving. We did eventually grab a table but it was very noisy and though five of us eventually turned up it was hard to hear what anyone was saying. I left early; I did sell a couple of pamphlets, though, which was good.
A busy day awaits: a visit from sister soon, then Daniel will go to Loughborough and we will be bussing to Countesthorpe to visit Holly’s boyfriend. Then tomorrow will creep in its petty pace once more.
PS Don’t go shopping whatever you do!