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.