I went to the RSC in Statford Upon Avon quite a few times in the 60s. I was a schoolboy at the time and it was a day out and a fun coach trip but little more than that until, as a seventeen year old in 1970 I saw this production of The Tempest with Ian Richardson as Prospero and Ben Kingsley as Ariel. To say that I was moved would be an understatement - I was blown away. The performance had a huge emotional impact on me and I've waited for almost fifty years to feel that way in a theatre again. In that time I've seen plenty of Shakespeare's plays and plenty of other excellent theatre (most notably Richard Armitage's The Crucible at the Old Vic in 2015) but none has influenced me like that production did in 1970 - until yesterday.
We travelled to London for the National Theatre's new production of Twelfth Night. We've seen the play three or four times before and it's always been enjoyable but nothing special. But this production was very special.
From the spectacular opening when the steep staircase central to the set became the prow of a ship in a fierce storm it was clear that this was going to be something extraordinary. That incredible set morphed throughput the production into a myriad of sub-sets as the revolving stage revealed surprise after surprise. But a fabulous set does not necessarily make a fabulous event - the cast and direction did that.
The comic roles of Sir Toby Belch (Tim McMullan) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Daniel Rigby) were performed with perfect comic timing and were genuinely funny. Doon Mackichan played the fool Feste in one of the production's role reversals.
Tasmin Greig was the big name draw and brought loads of pre publicity to the production in playing a lesbian Malvolia besotted by her mistress instead of the usual male Malvolio. Tamsin Greig is a hugely talented actor and was totally credible in the role leaving the audience genuinely grieving for her plight - something no Malvoiio has ever achieved in my experience
But, whilst there is no questioning the power of Tamsin's Malvolia, lesser know actors Tamara Lawrence as Viola and Pheobe Fox as Olivia are outstanding.
I've read several critics' reviews of the production. They tended to be positive but a little stand offish and carped about minor discrepancies or nit picked over aspects of the gender reversal. For me, the only valid criticism lies in the audience response and the response was phenomenal. Rarely have I heard so much spontaneous laughter - the audience was truly rolling in the aisles. I absolutely loved it. Three hours of laughter tinged with some truly soul searching moments of pathos and sadness make this a production not to be missed. Beg, steal or borrow and get yourself a ticket.