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These notes are to provide more background information to the plays
than we are able to fit in the paper programme
Welcome to the Rushen Players’ production
of Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare.
Here are a few thoughts from our director, Sarah Lockyer.
The last Shakespeare play that the Rushen
Players staged was A Midsummer Night’s Dream, back in 2010. Quite a long
For many people, actors and audience alike, their experience of Shakespeare is largely
having read and analysed his plays as set texts at school.
But they are not meant to stay on the page but come to life on
stage - and be enjoyed.
Even if you don’t catch every word or meaning, Shakespeare’s plays are full of lovely images and familiar sayings.
In this play, listen out for Orsino’s opening lines and Viola’s ‘willow cabin’ speech, for example,
and you may recognise Sir Toby’s reference to cakes and ale and the encouragement
to Malvolio that some have greatness thrust upon them.
not just the language that makes Shakespeare’s plays intriguing, of course,
but how his characters, stories and themes still have relevance nowadays.
He explores love in all its forms, from romantic to familial; examines time and again the tension between private life
and public image; and shows the struggles faced by outsiders and the joy of finding friendship - or simply having fun!
Whether he takes us to a castle in Denmark or a wood outside Athens,
Shakespeare lets us see ourselves
in his characters - their virtues and weaknesses, triumphs and
mistakes - and join in with their stories which ring true today as they did 400 years ago.
Why Twelfth Night?
Considered one of Shakespeare’s finest
‘mature’ comedies, the play was probably first performed
at the court of Queen Elizabeth I on 6th January 1601, hence its title.
Twelfth Night was a time of fun and feasting, and on this occasion also coincided with the
visit of an Italian diplomat the Duke of Orsino.
History does not relate what he
thought of his love-sick counterpart in the play!
The comedy has been performed consistently throughout the years, all over the world,
its wonderful characters attracting the very best actors.
In RSC productions alone, Viola, the leading
female character, has been played by Diana Rigg, Dorothy Tutin and Zoe
while the iconic comic role of Malvolio has been brought to life by Eric Porter, Ian Holm and Antony Sher.
Twelfth Night is the first
Shakespeare play I attended, aged eight, when my grandparents took me to see
a young Judi Dench as a nervous but determined Viola and Donald Sinden suitably pompous and posturing as Malvolio.
It was mesmerising, and I kept a poster from
the production on my bedroom wall for years after!
I love the way the play gently makes fun of its main characters as they get entangled in love triangles
and more harshly attacks the spoil sport Malvolio who condemns the levity of his fellow householders.
It was his kind of Puritanical attitude that would see
the theatres in England shut down not long after Shakespeare’s lifetime.
The play is versatile and can be given quite a serious treatment, with Malvolio’s humiliation taking a nasty turn,
and the threat lurking in Orsino’s court a real and present danger for the loyal Antonio,
but there is also plenty of scope to bring out the festive side of life in Illyria and the joy of friendships and reunions,
which is what I wanted to focus on in this production.
Why the 1980s?
I first came up with the idea of setting Twelfth
Night in the 1980s for a school production I directed many years ago.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the chance to develop this more fully with the help of seasoned actors and a great tech team.
I have retained Shakespeare’s speeches throughout, with a little editing, but have taken liberties with the music,
as we know Shakespeare often used popular songs in his plays.
The 80s setting
gives great scope for larger-than-life characters, exuberant costumes
(including cross-dressing as well as cross-gartering!), singing and dancing, and general joie de vivre.
It was a decade that ran the gamut from post punk to new wave, ska and synth pop music and saw a pot pourri of fashion trends
including lycra, leg warmers, fingerless gloves, Doc Martens, denim and miliary jackets!
There was room for brooding romantics, sassy girls, gender-bending
boys and cool, stylish gents,
all exploring their identities through pop culture.
It takes me back to my student days which were a pretty heady mix of work and play - and falling in and out of love!
I hope the setting of the play brings back happy memories of the decade if you remember it,
and for those who don’t, I bet the songs will still get your feet tapping.
It’s a chance, in the words of Sir Toby, to ‘make the welkin dance indeed'.