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Ahead of their production later this term, SCAN caught up with the crew behind LUTG’s production of Twelfth Night, including co-directors Lara Orriss, and Isaac Rolfe, stage manager Seb Ellis, producer Theo Tomas-Brown, and costume designer Elspeth Dale.
What inspired you to direct Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night?
Lara: Twelfth Night is my favourite Shakespeare play. It made sense that if I were going to direct something, it’d be this, because the characters are compelling, and there’s so much scope for adaptation and variation.
Isaac: I just happened to be the first-person Lara messaged with her idea at stupid o’clock in the morning. Lara came to me with this idea not long after I’d performed in The Tempest, so I was riding a bit of a Shakespeare high and was more than happy to join her in making it happen.
It’s interesting that you’ve chosen to conduct the performance outside. What prompted this and how do you plan to overcome the challenges of the venue choice?
Seb: We’re going to be keeping the actors and the audience’s safety and comfort in mind when deciding whether to put the show on, but given Lancaster’s tendency to rain as long as our set hasn’t devolved to a pool of mud we’re going to run the show. A little bit of rain didn’t hurt anyone, and you’ll soon not notice it when our play entrances you.
Elspeth: I’ve seen Twelfth Night outside in the rain before, and it just added to the island atmosphere – and if there’s real mud on their costumes that saves me a job!
Twelfth Night itself is a festival where everything is turned topsy-turvy, and a suspension of traditional social norms. With that in mind, why have you decided to change the gender of some characters?
L: At auditions, we kept several characters the same gender as the text presents them. Viola, Olivia and Maria remained female, while Orsino, Sebastian and Toby stayed male, preventing any confusion for those directly involved in the gender-swapping plot. We ungendered everyone else to make the play as inclusive as possible.
Do you have a favourite part or character in the play?
I: Favourite part of the play would be any of the moments between Orsino and Viola. There’s such a great mix of comedy and deception, the former’s obliviousness to the latter’s true identity making for some brilliant wordplay and interaction opportunities for the actors.
L: My favourite character is Antonio! He’s charming and deserves better. I’m also particularly fond of Andrew, naïve idiot that he is.
What inspired you to set the play in the 1930’s/40’s and what impact do you think it’ll have on the plot?
L: As all wild stories begin, I was doing a bit of Shakespeare reading at four in the morning. My sleep induced brain noticed a load of parallels between the play and 40’s wartime, so I did a bit of research into WW2 training camps for the army and women’s ATS.
S: Do you go for a clean & organised military presence or a shelled, barely-together camp in disarray? ’30s/ 40s wartime also provides a lot of really cool options for the set that you wouldn’t get in standard productions.
T: The wartime setting is something I found incredibly interesting when Lara and Isaac approached me about the project. The propaganda that we are looking to recreate on the producing front is undoubtedly something both eye-catching and exciting.
As the Commedia dell-Arte tradition is quite prominent in this Shakespeare play, how do you plan to accommodate for this tradition in your inter-war years setting?
I: I believe the 40’s setting will lend itself to the exploration of archetypes, which along with improvisation is a common feature of Commedia dell-Arte. We want to encourage actors to ad-lib and improv; helping them feel more comfortable with their characters and also enhancing the comedy for the audience.
Changes in clothing and appearance are central to the plot of Twelfth Night. Do you have anything special planned for the costume and set design?
E: The characters who are shipwrecked will be wearing navy uniforms and those stationed in Illyria army wear. I will be rummaging through all sorts of places to find military clothing that looks as authentic as possible, down to editing sleeves and lapels, so every character has the appropriate rank on their uniform. Something I love to do on the productions I’m involved in is costume everyone who the audience will see, so the band and ushers will be in the 40s/wartime costumes too – think mock-military á la the Andrews Sisters.
S: The set is also going to be amazing. We’re aiming to keep in line with the wartime aesthetic, with the two camps being an integral part of the sets design. We’ve also had to take into consideration space for the actors, as well as places for our band to sit and a few script-essential set pieces.
L: We are going to have a great live band courtesy of Alex Hardgrave, and ULMS that will be playing a host of favourite ’30s and 40’s tunes from Benny Goodman to Vera Lynn’s. We’re having music strewn throughout the piece as well as some nice extra bits and bobs that you’ll have to come to witness!
The comedy in this play does turn towards the vicious humiliation and impairment of Malvolio. How are you going to balance this comedy with this darker aspect?
L: Setting Twelfth Night in the ’40s allows us to tackle this humiliation quite well and challenge the sometimes-toxic concept of ‘lad banter’ that’s particularly prevalent in the military.
What would you say to someone unsure about coming to see the play?
L: The Vintage ice-cream van. No, I’m joking. The play is hilarious and engaging. The cast and crew are honestly magic. The band are fantastic; with war songs, the costume and set are wonderfully aesthetic.
I: Shakespeare in the park! The set is going to be amazing, and it’ll be a fantastic way to spend an evening in one of the most beautiful places in Lancaster. And we have a vintage ice-cream van.
And most importantly, when is the show?
I: The show is in The Dell at Williamson Park. There will be an evening performance at 6 pm on Friday 14th and Saturday 15th of June. There will also be a 1 pm matinee on the 15th. Watch this space for the tickets!