Can someone, somewhere, please put a ban on Twelfth Night for a few years? Or if people must insist on staging it, could they at least not involve any creatives I like so I can steer clear? To be fair, Peter Hall's production for the National might put the brakes on it for a while anyway. For this 80th birthday present to himself, the legendary director has staged a deathly-dull, slow-moving version almost entirely bereft of energy, sexuality or humour. From Marton Csokas' languid opening speech as Orsino to David Ryall's dirge-like final song as Feste every line is dragged out slowly, and as Viola Rebecca Hall is mainly required to stare wistfully into space or sadly shake her head. Designer Anthony Ward joins in the non-fun, with a plain autumnal set whose main plus point is a lot of open space for the actors to use, should they wish to (they don't.) Despite there being so little of it, the set makes sure everything's slow as well, a large canopy wheezing its way up and down slowly to make sure the scene changes don't build up a pace the rest of the show can't handle.
For a play where everyone seems to fancy everyone, nobody actually appears to fancy anyone here - the costumes are Restoration-set so maybe it's the huge poodle wigs putting everyone off. Simon Paisley Day was surely born to play Malvolio so it's a shame he gets to do it in such an underpowered production. The argument is that Hall is here concentrating on Shakespeare's language and clarity of speech but (and I know this is ironic given how long I avoided the Globe) having now seen several productions there and on the RSC's deep thrust stages it seems ludicrous to think that a production as ponderous and reverential as this is what Shakespeare could have had in mind - the groundlings would have booed it off the stage. This seems like an academic treatment of the text, not a theatrical one. Only Charles Edwards' Sir Andrew brings some humour to proceedings, and Finty Williams another burst of energy with her Maria, prone to bursting into Babs Windsor chuckles. Visually, the only thing coming close to a striking moment was Malvolio's incarceration, which here puts him blindfold inside an oversized birdcage. Maybe it's just me having Twelfth Night overload as on the way out the rest of the audience were raving about how much they loved it but if they really found it so funny, wouldn't they have laughed more than a dozen times over three hours, and a bit more enthusiastically at that? Interestingly, given how focused on clarity of speech the production apparently was, the other thing I overheard was more people muttering that they didn't understand Shakespeare's language than I've heard for a long time.
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare is booking until the 2nd of March at the National Theatre's Cottesloe (returns only.)