By Kathryn Tann
After having to ask some cheerful croquet players for directions, I found my way to the Fellow’s Garden at Castle, and was met with one of the most wholesome rehearsal scenes I’ve ever come across. Fulfilling this Shakespearean dream was this year’s CTC tour troupe, sitting in a circle on the daisy-scattered lawn.
Having joined the prod team and performers of Twelfth Night on the grass, I was able to listen whilst they practiced their opening song: ‘Come Away’. Led by Barney Mercer, playing Feste, the rest of the cast soon joined in, guitars and voices together, making such a sweet sound that this preview was already promising to be a joy to write. Lucy Knight, this year’s Director, explained the decision to have Feste open and close the play as though he were the puppeteer, inspired perhaps by the famous Puck, and so to book-end Shakespeare’s script with music.
And of course, Twelfth Night is a very musical play. I spoke to Musical Director Georgie Proctor who told me that ‘there’s just so much you can do… We’ve got a banjo, a mandolin, a harmonica, a tin whistle…’ – the list went on. In fact, this is one of the company’s most musical tours to date, which of course brings its own challenges. In the open air, away from modern tech and theatrical acoustics, Castle Theatre Company must rely on their instruments and their voices. Producer Emily McLean admits this makes the show ‘a real exercise in projection’, but the cast as a whole agree that Shakespeare outside adds a real atmosphere to the performance. And having seen just a glimpse of the story so far, I whole-heartedly agree.
Lucy tells me that she wants a ‘travelling theatre company vibe’, harking back to the days of bands of actors offering Shakespeare to the everyman. With all their tour locations lined up in the UK and US, this is essentially true. Soon to be dressed in tweed and surrounded by families and picnics, I can’t help but feel as though CTC are doing Twelfth Night exactly how it should be done. I asked if this was the plan; if Lucy had wanted this production to be ‘traditional’, so to speak.
‘Because we’re taking it on tour it does have to be reasonably traditional’. The director goes on to admit that ‘it’s also very important to keep it… quintessentially British’, especially when trying to please the crowds in America. For Knight, Americans ‘want to see British people doing Shakespeare.’
Nevertheless, Lucy insists that CTC have still ‘done [their] own thing with it’. She gives the example of the puppets used in the opening shipwreck, which instantly pulls the play away from National Theatre’s recent tragic dramatization of that scene. One inspiration which has been gleaned from that production, however, was the decision to cast Malvolio as ‘Malvolia’. I asked Jazzy Price how she has approached the role: ‘What was arrogance or hubris in Stephen Fry’s portrayal of it, in Tamsin Greig it became a lot more subtle… it becomes less flamboyant’. Changing the gender of the role undoubtedly adds another layer of meaning to the play, and possibly a more serious side. While CTC want to bring modern issues into traditional Shakespeare, however, the primary aim is still to maintain the festivity of Twelfth Night, and to fulfil their annual promise of a performance to be enjoyed by all. And having seen just a tease of this year’s production, I’m absolutely confident that this promise certainly won’t be broken any time soon.
Photography: Twelfth Night Production Team.