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Twelfth Night – the Director’s Preview

Janine Wunsche introduces Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, her first show at SLT and upcoming 28 June – 2 July 2022.

What drew you to directing this particular Shakespeare?

Initially I was thinking that the comedy was what everyone needed after lockdown, and a trip to a warm sunny setting (after no-one had had a holiday for years) prompted me to set the play on a beach. But this comedy has a fantastic mix of styles. It moves from romantic comedy, to witty banter, to anarchic misrule, and even dabbles in farce. Trying to hold the balance of these was an exciting challenge. Apart from that, the play explores love and attraction which ignores gender, age or class. it has a feeling of freedom and non-judgement which feels very important in today’s society. It was an opportunity to have a lot of fun with a lot of actors.

Twelfth Night rehearsal image

What themes does the comedy explore?

The play is about love, in all its aspects. Some are in rapture, others very passionate, some loves are unrequited causing pain and rejection. There is sibling love in the twins who get separated.There is deluded love in Malvolio, and playful, sexual attraction in Belch and Maria. So it’s a great exploration of love.

The other theme is of puritanism versus revelry. In Shakespeare’s day there was a big puritan movement campaigning for theatre to close, because they were too wild and sexy, or anarchic and exposing in a satirical way. Shakespeare is definitely on the side of theatre, so Twelfth Night, traditionally a night of revels and pranks, gives freedom to the sub-plot to attack Malvolio, who represents the puritan movement. It also explores the fact that people are not honest with themselve; Viola has a quality of open mind and open heart which is refreshing and captivating. Although in disguise as a young man, she always speaks the truth. Feste holds up the mirror, in typical Fool reflections and exposures.

Twelfth Night rehearsal image

How are you staging the play?

I decided to set the production TODAY, giving the best opportunity for audiences to relate to the various characters and the human traits they have. In my mind Illyria is a world of its own, without parents, politics, royalty, or much law, so the characters are free to explore what is happening and make their own choices. They can fall in love with whoever they like. The beach idea was a feeling of this being some kind of Love Island, but nothing like the TV show! The pre-show music is from the Balkan region of Europe, where Illyria was once an actual place. It felt important to transport our audience to an unfamiliar, lyrical environment where they are open to experience freely, without judgements inflicted by known territory or society.

What have been the challenges in directing this play?

The biggest challenge is being willing to let the play have its own life. We are conditioned in the UK to take an angle on our productions, especially if they are Shakespeare and done so many times before. For me the best way to tackle Twelfth Night is to let the farce sit right next to a beautiful reunion, without any blurring. I believe if you can achieve this, then the overall picture is much richer.
I hope we got somewhere with this.

You’ve directed elswhere many times – how are you finding SLT so far?

My previous experience as a director has been extremely varied. I have directed plays in pub theatres like The Gate and Old Red Lion in London, and then larger theatre in the regions, such as West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds and the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. Some of my work has been abroad in national theatres or operas. For me, it’s always about the performers and the play, not the venue. Obviously I prepare differently for a big theatre; the acting has to be bigger, but personally I like intimate theatre, because the actors can be so honest in a simple way, and it is seen.

My experience at SLT so far is wonderful. I am so pleased to be here. The building is very efficiently run, and everyone contributes in their own way. I think our team is now about 25 with the crew. There is a great enthusiasm in the building. It is taking me a long time to get to know how it all works, and who is who, but I’m getting there. Being my first show here I am a bit out of my depth with the process, but I’m grateful to John Winters, Bex and Cal particularly for all their support. Thank you!

Twelfth Night rehearsal image

Twelfth Night runs Tues 28 June – Saturday 2 July at the Old Fire Station
Buy your tickets here