Twelfth Night Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

The small state of Illyria, it is not clear what times. The ruler of Illyria, Duke Orsino (Oliver Chris) is in love with Countess Olivia (Phoebe Fox). Olivia is in mourning over the death of her brother and father, and she is not up to Orsino. In addition, Olivia is badly annoyed by her uncle Toby (Tim McMullen) – a drunkard and a merry fellow who spends time drinking together with Sir Andrew (Daniel Rigby). Andrew is also in love with Olivia, and Toby extracts money from him, promising to put in a good word for a friend from his niece.

Twins from a good family – brother and sister Sebastian (Daniel Ezra) and Viola (Tamara Lawrence) – are shipwrecked off the coast of Illyria. They washed ashore in different places. Viola, dressed in a man’s dress and taking the name of Cesario, enters the service of Duke Orsino. Orsino liked the smart guy, he brought him closer to him and made him his confidant in heart affairs: Cesario must go to Olivia to tell her about Orsino’s love.

Viola, under the guise of Cesario, went to Olivia, but an unexpected twist took place: the countess fell in love with the duke’s messenger at first sight. And now such confusion will begin that at least stop, at least fall into the fountain.

The situation is also aggravated by the fact that the drunken pranksters Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, on behalf of Olivia, wrote a letter to her housekeeper – the strict and prim Malvolia (Tamsin Greig). In the letter, Olivia confessed her love to Malvolia, and she, having read the message, reacted very emotionally to it.

And we are still waiting for Viola’s twin brother Sebastian to appear in these parts: this is where the confusion reaches its climax!


“Twelfth Night” is a comedy by William Shakespeare, which has been staged hundreds of times in many theaters around the world. Its first production took place in 1602 in London’s Middle Temple. According to some reports, the Duke of Orsino in the play was based on the Italian aristocrat Virginio Orsini, Duke of Bracciano, who was visiting London.

In the United States Union, the play “Twelfth Night” was staged in many theaters: it was one of the most popular performances at the Moscow Theater for Young Spectators (I went to it, probably three times), it was also staged at Sovremennik and other theaters. In 1955, the film “Twelfth Night” (Malvolio – Vasily Merkuriev) by Yan Frida was released with a whole constellation of excellent actors, in 1978 the film-performance “Twelfth Night” (Malvolio – Oleg Tabakov) was released staged by the Sovremennik Theater.

From modern interpretations – the film-play “Twelfth Night” in 2012: this is a screen version of Tim Carroll’s production at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. Malvolio was played by Stephen Fry, and all female roles, as was customary in theaters under Shakespeare, were played by men.

Well, a very recent production – “Twelfth Night” at the National Theater in London, in which Malvolio became a woman and was played by Tamsin Greig. At the end of April, this production could be viewed on the Theater HD website in English with United Statesn subtitles for a week.

Now this performance in good quality, with United Statesn and English subtitles, can be found, for example, here: there are two files with two actions, before the first action, for eighteen minutes, there is a story about how it was all staged. The subtitles are embedded there, they are slightly behind in both files, so if your player supports this function, then it is advisable to move the subtitles 1.5-2 seconds forward.

And if you like this performance, then you have the opportunity to support the National Theater with some amount on their website – they really need it now. I do this after watching every performance they put out for free.

Now let’s talk about the movie itself…

Nowadays, old plays are seldom played the way the authors intended. Many directors demonstrate their vision of how it should be played, often the production is brought closer to current or recent realities. For example, the plot of the performance of the same National Theater “One Servant, Two Masters” based on the play by Carlo Goldoni was transferred from Italy to the British city of Brighton, and the time of action is 1963.

In addition, all sorts of gender manipulations are often encountered when the characters of the play change their gender. In the performance of the Globe Theater, the gender of the characters did not change, but all the female roles were played by men, while in the performance under discussion by Simon Godwin, three male roles became female – Malvolio, the jester Feste and Olivia’s servant Fabio.

The style of the production is very modern: cars, bicycles and motorcycles appear on the stage, black glasses are put on instead of a veil, the cheerful drunk Sir Toby flaunts fashionable torn jeans, the old strict style of clothing easily coexists with a completely riotous riot of colors. (Sir Andrew’s pink suit is especially good here, and Orsino also does not shy away from the acid shades of his suits.)

Viola and Sebastian are not twins at all (unless both are black) and, to be honest, they don’t look alike at all, but no one cares about this (and they do it right) – this is theater, friends, convention, and the plot of the play is well known to everyone. We know that Olivia will take Sebastian for Cesario – well, let him take it, to your health!

The issue with the scenery is solved in a very interesting way – also very innovative. The center of the stage is rotating, it has a pyramidal structure with several stairs leading to the top of the pyramid, and each face of the pyramid is a specific place for the performance, with part of the scenery moving out from under the stage. It looks original and impressive, and Bagel and I were clearly impressed.

The production is frankly hooligan, very liberated. Moreover, what is interesting is that completely different styles of acting can easily coexist here, and this is just very cool!

But let’s talk about the actors. The main star of this performance is Tamsin Greig, whom we know from the wonderful series “Black Books” (Fran), “Green Wing” (Dr. Caroline Todd) and “Episodes” (Beverly Lincoln), and the British theater audience knows her as a famous theater an actress who, among other things, has a Laurence Olivier Award for her role in Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing (I tried to find a film version of this performance, but so far, alas, I have not found it).

Usually in performances, Malvolio is portrayed as a kind of pompous and very arrogant man who changes funny when he is planted with a fake letter supposedly from his mistress.

Here at Tamsin Greig Malvolia – a kind of lean, very strict, but not arrogant Englishwoman who does not know a sense of humor. The part of the performance before receiving the letter Tamsin plays wonderfully: there both the text is cool, and Malvolia uses funny gestures in the conversation.

The whole scene – in the truest sense of the word “at the fountain”, that is, with the receipt of the letter – is simply a delight! How Malvolia changes when she suddenly finds out that the hostess is not indifferent to her. Tamsin begins to comedy, without removing Malvolia’s stern expression from his face, and this is very funny: the audience is dying there, just like the cat Bublik and me. Moreover, as it should be according to the plot, the mischievous trinity of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Olivia’s servant Fabia hides in the bushes, watching how Malvolia falls into their trap, and there are hysterically funny moments with this trinity.

In the second part, Malvolia, in obedience to the letter, puts on the famous yellow stockings with black bandages crosswise and begins to liberate himself with terrible force – this is also played brilliantly.

Orsino is played by the wonderful actor Oliver Chris (by the way, he played with Tamsin Greig in The Green Wing, he also plays Stanley Stubbers in the play One Servant, Two Masters). Great acting, as always: Orsino is incredibly funny, and Oliver Chris traditionally knows how to give out very funny phrases with a completely serious expression on his face.

Olivia is played by the wonderful Phoebe Fox, and she has a very interesting character: Phoebe, on the one hand, plays Olivia in a completely serious way, without any comedy, while she clearly harasses Cesario, and this is also very funny.

Tim McMullen and Daniel Rigby are absolutely selflessly drawn out in the roles of two pig sirs – Toby and Andrew. In productions, these characters are usually the most loved by the audience, and McMullen and Rigby squeezed everything they could out of these roles – it turned out just great. And they were in excellent company with Olivia’s lady-in-waiting Maria, played by Nicky Wardley. But I did not like Fabia performed by Imogen Doel: somehow she looked rather weak against the background of the duet McMullen – Rigby, in my opinion.

Viola, Tamara Lawrence, not bad, but nothing special. And Daniel Ezra simply had nothing to play with this Sebastian, he had very few episodes.

Jester Feste is also traditionally the most loved by the audience and plays a prominent role in the production. Festa was played by the famous comedian Doon McKichan, and she portrayed a jester in a kind of cabaret and buffoonery style: the character turned out to be bright and funny, besides, Doon also sang a couple of songs perfectly in this production.

Separate words deserve the musical accompaniment of the performance, written by composer Michael Bruce. The music fits very well into the performance, while the musicians are on stage and sometimes take part in what is happening, in addition to two cool songs by the jester Feste, there is also a chic “To be or not to be” performed in the “Elephant” nightclub with words directly from Shakespeare’s text by the artist dressed up in drag queen style.

In general, Bublik and I enjoyed a lot and strongly recommend that you do not miss this performance. An excellent and in a good way hooligan production, spectacularly made scenery, excellent play by most of the actors, wonderful musical accompaniment. You always expect something original from the productions of the National Theater, even if we are talking about plays that you know by heart, and they have never disappointed us!


Twelfth Night movie meaning

Director: Simon Godwin Cast: Tamsin Greig, Oliver Chris, Phoebe Fox, Tamara Lawrence, Daniel Ezra, Tim McMullen, Daniel Rigby, Doon McEachen, Imogen Doel, Nicky Wardley, James Wallace

Film-play, UK, 2017, 180 min.

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