After his celebratory A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2010 and the joyous As You Like It in 2011, Eamon Flack will turn his magic touch for comedy to one of the Bard’s finest delights, Twelfth Night (or What You Will) at the Belvoir Theatre from 27 July 2016.
Twins are washed up after a shipwreck on the shores of a strange land, each unaware of the other’s fate. They’re in Illyria, which is strangely like our world: the repressed and the debauched are at constant war, the desires of men and women seem eternally thwarted.
But this is a dreamland too – where music is the food of love, and nobody is quite what they seem. Girls are boys, boys are girls, puritans are lusting suitors, drunkards are moralists, and fools, of course, are wise. Eventually brother and sister find each other again – that’s hardly a spoiler – but what will they see and hear in the meantime?
There’s more to Shakespeare’s great play than muddled identity and exuberant celebration – it’s a mature story of melancholia amid the mayhem, of what is lost along the way even when life’s journey is a barrel of laughs.
“We are performing the play almost entirely exactly as written. This is partly a boast and partly a warning, because some of the play is now archaic nonsense,” says director Eamon Flack. “There are ideas in there that no longer mean anything, and there are jokes that are clearly specific to the talents of the actors Shakespeare wrote it for – and in some scenes wrote it with.”
“Nonetheless we have taken the play on its own terms and plunged headlong into its strange poetry because the archaic oddity of the play is what makes it glorious.”
Belvoir’s cast is an embarrassment of riches: Peter Carroll (The Great Fire, Seventeen) as the killjoy Malvolio and Nikki Shiels makes her Belvoir debut as Viola, with Amber McMahon (Angels in America) as her twin Sebastian. Emele Ugavule (Mother Courage and Her Children) will play Antonio, the ship’s captain, and she will play the piano to accompany the singing new songs by acclaimed composer Alan John.
They are joined by an array of rogues and charmers, including John Howard (Ivanov), Anthony Phelan (Once in Royal David’s City, The Wild Duck) and Lucia Mastrantone (The Book of Everything) as the Countess Olivia’s coterie of friends and staff, Anita Hegh (The Wild Duck, The Seagull) as the Countess herself, and Damien Ryan (Nora) as the Duke of Illyria.
Belvoir are also pleased to announce that one of Sydney’s favourite performers, Keith Robinson (Hamlet, The Alchemist), will be making a long-awaited return to the stage as Feste the fool, using his wheelchair. Robinson contracted a variant of the neurological condition Guillain-Barre Syndrome ten years ago, which has kept him from the stage.
In the 400th year since Shakespeare’s death the jokes will be just as hearty for audiences both young and old in this winter-warming treat for Sydney audiences.
Director: Eamon Flack Featuring: Peter Carroll, Anita Hegh, John Howard, Lucia Mastrantone, Amber McMahon, Anthony Phelan, Keith Robinson, Damien Ryan, Nikki Shiels, Emele Ugavule Set Designer: Michael Hankin Costume Designer: Stephen Curtis Lighting Designer: Nick Schlieper Composer: Alan John
Belvoir Theatre, 25 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills
Season: 27 July – 4 September 2016
For more information, visit: www.belvoir.com.au for details.
Image: Nikki Shiels and Peter Carroll feature in Belvoir’s production of Twelfth Night – photo by Brett Boardman