Twelfth Night

written by

William Shakespeare

directed by

Val Foskett

performed at

Attic Theatre, Wimbledon

10th to 13th November, 1993

Twelfth Night Poster

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About the Play

"An apple cleft in two... "

...or, as we might say, alike as two peas in a pod. Viola and Sebastian are twins, who are separated when their ship is wrecked on the coast of Illyria. Each of them thinks the other is drowned, and each must cope with their loss. Viola is particularly vulnerable, a young woman alone in a strange country, so she decides to disguise herself as a boy and serve Duke Orsino who governs Illyria. Her intelligence and charm soon make the new page the Duke's favourite, and he entrusts 'Cesario' (as she is now known) with the task closest to his heart - taking his messages of love to Countess Olivia. The Countess has, so far, politely rejected all the Duke's entreaties: perhaps she might listen more readily to Cesario? Indeed she might! But unfortunately by this time, Viola has fallen in love with Orsino herself... what will become of this? And what will happen when Sebastian arrives?

Twins appear in both 'Twelfth Night' and 'A Comedy of Errors', and both plots revolve around mistaken identity. This suggests that Shakespeare may have written them with particular twin actors in mind. In Shakespeare's day the female roles would have been played by young boys, so perhaps he had identical twin boys in his company at this time. It's no wonder that a boy actor playing a girl in disguise as a boy should look convincing enough to be mistaken for her/his brother.

The Duke

There was a real Duke Orsino. In 1600/1601, around the time when 'Twelfth Night' was written, Don Virginio Orsino, Duke of Bracciano visited Queen Elizabeth as an honoured guest His letters home, which still survive, describe how warmly he was made welcome in the English court, and how he saw a play performed on Twelfth Night at Whitehall sitting next to Elizabeth! He seems to have been 'virtuous, noble, of great estate, of fresh and stainless youth... ' just as Orsino of Illyria is described, and Shakespeare may well have based his Duke on the real one.

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Cakes and Ale!

alt filler While the Duke composes verse and listens to refined music, the fun below stairs at Olivia's house is rather more robust! Her dissolute cousin, Sir Toby Belch, and another of her suitors, the dimwitted Sir Andrew Aguecheek spend another riotous night in drinking and singing loud songs, much to the disgust of Malvolio, Olivia's puritanical and humourless steward, who threatens to throw them out of the house. The two knights are thirsting for revenge, and helped by Maria, Olivia's gentlewoman, they plan to play a wicked practical joke on the sour-faced steward that will make him a laughing-stock...

The 'Twelfth Night' after Christmas, the feast of the Epiphany was traditionally celebrated in Shakespeare's day by masks and revels, when the usual social order could be turned on its head, the kitchen boy was allowed to be rude to the cook and the servant to play jokes on his master: If the play was written for performance at that time of year; then the tricking of Malvolio would have had a seasonal flavour. The character of Toby is reminiscent of Falstaff, another drunken reprobate who appears in 'Henry lV', written about two years earlier.


It has been suggested that there may have been an original for Malvolio - in Queen Elizabeth's own household. The Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household, in effect her 'steward' - and known as somewhat of a puritan - was one Sir William Knollys who had been the sublect of some gossip at the time ('for what great ones do, the less will prattle of'). His middle-aged wife was ill and ilke to die, and word had it that he had set his eye on the young and pretty Mal Fitton as a suitable replacement. The young lady had apparently been leading him on in his conspicuous and doting pursuit, while secretly entertaining the advances of a much younger suitor. But by Christmas 1600 her secret was out - she was six months' pregnant and in disgrace, leaving Sir William looking very foolish! It is not hard to see parallels between his situation and Malvolio's, fooled into thinking they are loved by younger women whose interest lies elsewhere.

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Feste: an alternative or a drag?

alt filler Dialogue for Audience (you) and Director (me)

YOU: Hey, what's the idea of casting a woman as Feste? It's a part for a man, surely?

ME: Well, yes, it was probably written with Robert Armin in mind, Shakespeare's resident singer-comedian at the time.

YOU: So you are just trying to be trendy, right?

ME: No, I used our own resident singer-comedian, who happens to be a woman.

YOU: So, she's pretending to be a man?

ME: If you mean 'Is she trying to pass for a male actor playing Feste?' then no. If you mean 'Is she an actress playing Feste?' then yes.

YOU (Probably): What do you mean by that?

ME: Well, think of some modern examples of entertainers who cross-dress: Dame Edna Everage, Hinge and Bracket, the principle boy and the dame in pantomime. Everyone knows that they are played by actors of the opposite sex to the character - that's part of the fun: knowing that they aren't what they seem draws ourattention. If the disguise was so good that you really couldn't tell, then they would be transsexuals, not actors and we would be none the wiser.

YOU: It just seems odd when Feste is referred to as 'Sir', 'Fellow', 'He' all the time, and obviously is a she.

ME: Yet when Barry Humphries hosts a chat show as Dame Edna, does anyone say, 'Good evening, sir'? Feste, being the resident in-house entertainment, runs a non-stop show. Her make-up shows she is a professional. We are now used to sharp, spiky, alternative stand-up comediennes. My Feste would fit in well at 'Jongleurs' I think.

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W. Shakespeare

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Jobbing playwright. Purveyor of high class entertainment to the gentry. Lines penned while you wait.

Perhaps that is a slight exaggeration, but it is probably nearer to the way that Shakespeare and his craft were regarded at the time of his writing. Today, when a library full of commentaries, studies, symposium papers etc. has been written about his work, when it appears as a standard item on the English examination syllabus, when it shares with the Bible the honour of being the only reading supplied to every castaway on Desert Island Discs, and when tourists come from all over the world to watch performances in a language they may only slightly understand, it is hard to realise that to his contemporaries he was a scriptwriter, not a literary genius.

He does not appear to have been particularly interested in publishing the plays, except to prevent bad, pirated versions appearing instead. They were written to be performed, and if neeessary changed to suit the cast and circumstances by the author who may well have been playing a minor role in the production! He was writing for a particular company of actors, so made sure there were parts to suit them and songs for the good singers, dances for the Court, who tended to order 'a play with music and dancing', court scenes giving scope for sumptuous costumes, and comic relief, even in the tragedies, to give the groundlings a good laugh. When a character like Falstaff was popular with the public, even though his death had been reported in 'Henry V', Shakespeare brought him back in another play 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' - just as the writer of a soap opera or film would do today.

Shakespeare's audience appreciated topical jokes, clever word play, and stylish poetry - they were not bothered about historical accuracy, either in plot or costume: the main thing about costume was that it should be eye-catching, so both King Henry IV (date around 1400) and Mark Antony (died 3OBC) could have worn the same Tudor-style armour or brocade doublet. One wonders what Shakespeare would have made of the controversy over modern-dress productions of his work. I suspect that he would be far more distressed to see a respeciful, Tudor-costumed, but otherwise moribund performance!

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in their groups

The Duke's Household

COUNT ORSINO, Duke of Illyria ~ Russell Thompson
VALENTINE, attendant to Orsino ~ Nick Vellani
CURIO, attendant to Orsino ~ Georgina Gunn
MUSICIAN ~ Richard Foskett
OFFICER ~ Tony strong

The Countess's Household

OLIVIA, A countess ~ Annette Piper
MARIA, her waiting gentlewoman ~ Claire Inglis
MALVOLIO, Olivia's steward ~ Stephen Rock
SIR TOBY BELCH, her uncle ~ Dave Freeman
FABIAN, a member of her household ~ Cliff Mason
FESTE, her jester ~ Phillipa Booth
PRIEST ~ James Grayston

Visitors to Illyria

SEA CAPTAIN, of the wrecked ship ~ James Grayston
VIOLA, later disguised as Cesario ~ Jenny Siese
SEBASTIAN, her twin brother ~ Richard Foskett
ANTONIO, another sea captain ~ Norman Foskett
SIR ANDREW AGUECHEEK, Sir Toby's Protege ~ Julian Samways

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the backstage workers

Stage Manager ~ Sarah Hewitt
Assistant Stage Manager ~ Roisin Thompson
Prompt ~ Sonya Timms
Lighting ~ Graham House
Sound Effects ~ Simon Harris
Musical Director ~ Richard Foskett
Publicity ~ Julian Samways
Artwork ~ Russell Thompson
Box Office ~ Penny Stone
Front of House ~ Margaret Blackwell
Production Coordinator ~ Lynn Mason
Designer and Director ~ Val Foskett

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Olivia (Annette Piper)

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Sebastian (Richard Foskett) and Viola (Jenny Siese)

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Olivia (Annette Piper) and Orsino (Russell Thompson)

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Cesario (Jenny Siese) and Orsino (Russell Thompson)

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Olivia (Annette Piper) and Cesario (Jenny Siese)

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Sir Toby Belch (David Freeman) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Julian Samways)

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Feste (Philippa Booth)

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Malvolio (Stephen Rock) and Olivia (Annette Piper)

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