Twelfth Night is arriving at the ADC Theatre nexxt week. The show's director, ISSY SNAPE, talks to us about transporting Shakespeare's story to a new time and place.
What is the effect of transporting Twelfth Night to a cosmopolitan city?
Transporting Twelfth Night to a modern city helps to reveal the truly ensemble nature of the piece and enhances the chaotic, freneticism of the world of Illyria. It also draws our attention to how extremes of reality can coexist within such close proximity, as Viola (as Cesario) attempts to move between households.
By placing the world of Duke Orsino within one of modern capitalist finance, it becomes increasingly apparent that his approach to wooing Olivia isa calculated, obsessive strategy akin to pursuing a business acquisition. This setting also calls into question the degree to which social mobility is tangible, as we watch Malvolio (Malvolia, in our production) attempt to rise through the ranks of Olivia’s household, only to be cruelly abused for the attempt.
Setting the play in a modern British city forced us into asking difficult and at times troubling questions which could perhaps be otherwise overlooked. How does Orsino’s swaggering misogyny and competitive masculinity synthesise with the tender, loving scenes he shares with Viola? What is the modern equivalent of the puritanical steward Malvolio, and what are the implications of casting a woman as Malvolia? Or the ethereal, darkly philosophizing Feste? What does it mean to love ‘the wrong person’ in a modern city, and how does repression function in contemporary considerations of identity?
How have you approached Shakespeare’s language in rehearsals?
Clarity of language is the mark of a strong Shakespearean production. Given the limited rehearsal time, we have avoided a schematic or generalised approach to Shakespeare’s language and have preferred to deal with questions of language as they arise in our reading of the scenes and during blocking.
Many linguistic questions and problems were brought up during the process of ‘actioning’ which we undertook for all scenes. This is a process whereby a stimulation is provided for the actor to directly play each line by assigning to it a transitive verb which encapsulates what they are ‘doing’ to another character, or to themselves in that line.
Often, actors found themselves confronted with startling inconsistencies between the words their character speaks at any given moment, and the modern setting, or the dark reading, or even something they do or say later in the play. In these cases, the actioning provided a clarity of message, and a close attention to how to make this message comprehensible was easier to hone in on in later rehearsing. At a micro-level, this would then take the form of pronunciation and prosody work, rather than taking generalised ‘ways of speaking Shakespeare’ as our starting point. For example, characters often felt unnatural with Shakespeare’s exclamative ‘O’s so we would work together on how to translate those in our modern Illyria by lengthening the ‘O’, or giving it a questioning inflection, or a worried frustration - always guided by the actioning work which underpinned rehearsals.
Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s comedies, but do you see any serious (or even tragic) elements in the play?
Twelfth Night is an undoubtedly dark comedy. I believe it is Shakespeare’s skill in interweaving brilliant comedy with dark melancholy which makes Twelfth Night such an engaging and timeless play.
The text does not allow for the easy categorisation of characters into ‘straight men’ and ‘comic relief’, as most seem to embody a broad range from tragic pathos to exuberant silliness. Olivia grieves the death of her brother and father whilst clumsily coming to terms with love and her sexuality. Viola must also grieve the death of her twin brother whilst entangled in the comic confusions of mistaken identity. Malvolio’s (Malvolia, in our production) aspirations of social mobility and desire for his/her mistress Olivia are ridiculed to the point of cruelty. I could go on!
All of our cast have been very excited to tackle the extraordinary range of tone the different characters and storylines of Twelfth Night offer. However, in transposing the play into a modern context, the play’s questions of gender, class and sexuality, and how these interrelate, seem to take on an even darker pertinence. As we moved through rehearsals we found the play’s comedy did not simply offset its darker elements, but was deeply bound up with and implicated in them; indeed, it became impossible to any longer separate the two.
Twelfth Night is performing at the ADC Theatre at 7.45pm from Tuesday 29 October to Saturday 2 November