A storm at sea throws twins onto new shores. Rescued and reinvented, there is little time to mourn: Illyria is in the “Roaring Twenties”! Our effervescent production provided a cocktail of confusion, comedy, and cross-dressing, as Viola tried to make sense of who she is, who she loves, and what the hell is going on…
|Fabian / Valentine
|Maria / Antonio
|Sir Andrew Aguecheek
|Sir Toby Belch
|Sea Captain / Officer
|Feste / Curio
|Lucy Hollis and Clare Glancy
|Meghan de Chastelain
|Head of Stage
|Assistant Stage Manager
|Front of House Manager
|Box Office Manager
|Schools’ Workshop Leader
|For Wylds Farm
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Viola and her twin brother Sebastian are shipwrecked; they are rescued on the shores of Illyria, each believing the other to be drowned. Viola disguises herself as a young man and, under the name of “Cesario”, gets a job as a servant for the Duke, Orsino.
Orsino is in love with Olivia, but she is mourning her dead brother. She has rejected all Orsino’s advances, vowing a seven-year solitude. Orsino sends Cesario (Viola in disguise) with love letters to woo Olivia. Unfortunately for Orsino, Olivia is taken in by Cesario’s disguise and falls in love with “him” instead.
Viola has secretly fallen in love with Orsino, who is confused by his feelings for his new “male” servant. So, to recap: Viola loves Orsino, Orsino loves Olivia and Olivia loves Cesario/Viola. And, having rescued Sebastian, the sea captain Antonio has growing feelings towards him…
To add to the confusion: Malvolio, Olivia’s butler, is secretly in love with his mistress. A “puritan”, he disapproves of the other members of her household: her drunken uncle Sir Toby Belch, his impressionable friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek and her servants: Maria, Fabian and Feste the fool. Fed up with Malvolio spoiling their fun, they decide to play a practical joke on him.
Maria forges a letter to Malvolio, supposedly from Olivia, suggesting that she loves him and that he should wear yellow stockings with cross-garters and smile all the time. Malvolio does as the letter suggests. Assuming he has gone mad, Olivia has him locked up.
In a further comic sub plot, Sir Toby and Fabian plan a duel between Cesario and Sir Andrew, convincing them that they are both fierce fighters, and rivals for Olivia. A duel is narrowly averted by Antonio, thinking that he is rescuing Sebastian. Later, Sebastian is goaded by Feste, and about to fight Sir Toby, but Olivia steps in. She mistakes Sebastian for Cesario and asks him to marry her. To her amazement, he agrees.
Orsino visits Olivia to convince her of his love. She is implacable, and calls upon a bemused Cesario to admit to their recent marriage. Confusion reigns about who is promised to whom, until finally both twins end up face to face. All is revealed; brother and sister are reunited, and the love triangle is resolved into two couples: Sebastian & Olivia, and Viola & Orsino. Olivia discovers the trick that has been played on Malvolio, and he is released from prison. A combined wedding is planned, although not every character will have a happy ending.
Some plays manage to get deep under one’s skin; perhaps you study them for A level, or see a memorable performance in your formative years. Lines and images can come flooding back after years, in an instant. “Twelfth Night” is one of those plays for me, but via another route. As a young actor I was fortunate to be cast as Sebastian in two very different productions, one directed by the charismatic actor-director Kenneth Branagh, set in a frosty Edwardian graveyard, the other directed by the infamously acerbic Ian Judge, set in a warm Elizabethan Illyria. The experiences confirmed my love and respect for the playwright, forged lifelong friendships, and sowed the seeds of a later re-exploration of this extraordinary festive play, teetering between wintry abstinence and “midsummer madness”. A great deal has changed since the 1990’s, although in terms of advances in global, gender and identity politics we’re little more than “work in progress”. Boats still wash up on shores with hopeful human cargo aboard, women have to conform or “cross dress” in order to survive or succeed. Plus ça change. But across the decades, the play endures and continues to question and amuse.
Our 1920’s setting was chosen to allow the play’s age-old themes to breathe afresh: gender fluidity, the impact and processing of grief, cruelty or bullying disguised as harmless banter, the search for identity. Other advantages emerged over the weeks of planning our production: the death of Olivia’s brother as a victim of the “Great War” becomes a more tangible concept; Malvolio’s “puritan” values (here Victorian / Edwardian) are swept away by the excesses of the Roaring Twenties; binge drinking replaces war time abstinence; cross-dressing is provocative and sexy, yes, but now women can and do wear trousers – even the trousers. Not to mention the 20’s fabulous fashion, music, lots of music – and new music: Jazz! In every area of life and art the rules are being stretched and broken in an explosive decade that begins with a roar and ends with a crash.
So, new costumes, new sounds. But at the heart of a play, written without any concept of how it would be staged four centuries later, are still a series of lost and bewildered individuals looking for security, identity, connection and love. Not what one would imagine as the recipe for a comic night out on a Hampshire hillside, but when you’re in the hands of a writing genius, you know that there will certainly be much laughter and possibly some tears. In this play, both are allowed.
Chris Hollis, Director
“Fast, funny, moving, atmospheric, skilled. Forget the National and the R.S.C. come down to Hampshire and see how it SHOULD be done!”