The show stars Hugh Ross (Trainspotting, The Iron Lady, Waterloo Road) and is directed by Jonathan Munby. We caught up with him to find out more.
Q. Firstly, why Twelfth Night?
A. I love this play and always have done. It is one of Shakespeare’s best and surely one of the greatest plays ever written. It’s a perfect play, where comedy and tragedy are beautifully balanced. It is as much fun as it is dark and melancholic. It is a play about universals truths, and taps into the very heart of the human experience of being in love. It also brings into focus ideas about sexuality and the fluid nature of sexual identity and it feels very modern. Audiences can relate to the characters in this piece in a very immediate way, they recognise themselves in the experiences and situations portrayed. It’s about real people in real situations, fighting to make sense of their feelings or achieve what their heart desires. In this sense, it is eternally resonant and enduring.
Q. What makes your production of Twelfth Night different?
A. I’ve allowed my own experiences to inform the way I’ve staged the play. The production is who I am in 2014. We’ve also allowed the production to reflect a particular time in history. The play opens with a strong sense of grief and mourning. Olivia has lost a father and a brother. Viola too is also mourning the loss of a brother. This sense of loss, as well as references to recent wars, gave me the idea of giving the play an early 20th century setting. Given that it is the centenary of WW1, I thought how interesting it would be to set the play in the aftermath of the Great War, and allow an audience to the view the play and the characters through the prism of this catastrophic event. The period setting for the production, roots the play in something very real.
There are a number of surprises in the production, not least our use of rose petals. Inspired by ideas of love, rose petals continually appear during the show. Either issuing out of someone’s clothes or falling from the sky. The production uses 125,000 petals during the course of the evening. This play is one of Shakespeare’s most musical. I have been working with the brilliant composer, Grant Olding (One Man, Two Guvnors), on setting the songs in the play and he has done an amazing job. The songs are sung by the character of Feste, played here by famous 70s rocker Brian Protheroe. The music is mostly based on Irish folk and audiences come away from the show, always humming the tunes.
Q. Are there any funny stories from the rehearsal room or whilst you have been on the road that you can tell us about?
A. We arrived in Blackpool at the same time as hurricane Gonzalo. We rehearsed and opened in a force 10 gale. Given that the play opens with a ship wreck and storm, the irony was not lost to the actors or audience…
Q. What do you enjoy most about touring?
A. Seeing how different audiences engage with the play.
Q. What made you want to get into directing?
A. I was an actor from a very young age and it was clear that that was what I was going to be. But, I went to university instead of going to Drama School, partly to satisfy my parents desire for me to get an academic degree. Once at Uni I started to make work, rather than be in it. I realised that I was a better maker than performer and enjoyed the creation of work much more.
There is something very satisfying about having a dialogue with an audience. I love to provoke an audience, to make them think differently about something, or to bring a certain idea to their attention. Theatre is a very special medium: immediate, living and potentially explosive. I’ve just directed a play set at the end of the Apartheid era in South Africa, called A Human Being Died That Night, by Nicholas Wright. The piece takes an uncompromising look at the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation. The live experience of watching this play, penetrates an audience very deeply. It underlines the power and potential that theatre can have.
Twelfth Night runs 4-8 November, Cambridge Arts Theatre, 7.45pm (2.30pm Sat matinee). Tickets £15-£27.