Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is already famous for its gender and sex confusion without Malvolio having a sex change.

On the National Theatre’s poster there is a photograph of an elegant Tamsin Greig standing on a staircase in a smart suit, white shirt and high heels, and a bottle of champagne at her feet – so that is what I thought “Malvolia” might transform into after she had read Olivia’s love letter. Instead, Greig on stage is dressed in a Pierrot costume, which she throws off to reveal a showgirl striptease corset, and she bursts into song, as if she were a cabaret artiste. It is so over the top as to be totally unbelievable.

Much more believable, and rooted in the text, is that Orsino (Oliver Chris) loves Viola (Tamara Lawrance) far more when she is disguised as a boy than he does when she is revealed as a girl.

Simon Godwin’s production will be enjoyed most by audiences who know the comedy well and can see what Godwin has done with it. His inventiveness completely upstages both the actors and the play. Tom Stoppard has described the chaotic, anarchic and sometimes bewildering Travesties as “a bit of singing and dancing mixed up with philosophical debate”.

The setting is Zurich in 1917. To enjoy his travesties of history and literature it is not necessary to know anything about Lenin and the Russian revolution, Tristan Tzara and Dada or James Joyce. But it is absolutely essential to know Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, because so much of the play relies for its wit on direct quotation and pastiche. Stoppard’s dazzling intellectual and verbal jeu d’esprit, directed by Patrick Marber at Apollo Theatre, is acted by Tom Hollander and Freddie Fox with panache.

Middle-aged audiences, and especially middle-aged women, are going to love The Girls, a musical version of The Calendar Girls by Tim Firth and Gary Barlow at Phoenix Theatre. In 1999, eleven middle-aged women posed in the nude and made history. The women, members of the Women’s Institute in a Yorkshire village, stripped to raise £500 for leukaemia research. Joanna Riding and Claire Moore head a fine cast. Barlow’s music soars and Firth’s lyrics deepen the poignancy. The script is also better constructed and wisely saves the nude shoot for a hilarious finale.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection