Viola has been shipwrecked in a violent storm off the coast of Illyria; in the process she has lost her twin brother, Sebastian. She disguises herself as a boy and assumes the name Cesario for protection. Thus disguised, Viola becomes a page in the service of Orsino, the Duke. It seems that Orsino is having little luck courting Olivia, who is in mourning for the death of her brother. As Orsino's proxy, Viola is sent to Olivia with love letters. Viola refuses to budge until she is let in to see Olivia; Olivia, intrigued by the impudent young "boy," contrives to get "Cesario" to return by sending her steward, Malvolio, after her with one of Olivia's rings. Viola realizes to her dismay that Olivia has fallen for her Cesario rather than Duke Orsino—further complicated by the fact that Viola has had stirrings herself for Orsino.
Sebastian (Viola's twin, presumed dead) comes ashore in Illyria thinking that Viola has drowned in the shipwreck. A man named Antonio rescued him from the surf, and continues to aid him—at some risk to himself, as Antonio fought against the Duke at one time. Meanwhile, in Olivia's house, Sir Toby Belch (her uncle) has hoodwinked a foppish Sir Andrew Aguecheek into supporting him by convincing him that he could be a suitor to Olivia. There is a running feud between Malvolio , the House Steward, and Belch; with the help of Maria, Olivia's maid, and Feste, a clown, Belch plots to make a buffoon of the steward. Maria writes a love letter to Malvolio that will make him think Olivia has fallen for him. Malvolio falls entirely for the sport, which eventually leads to his confinement as a madman.
All the while, Belch is egging Sir Andrew into a duel with Viola's "Cesario" character as she departs from Olivia; Olivia is now entirely smitten with Cesario, even though Viola continues to press Orsino's cause. As Viola and Sir Andrew prepare for a duel that neither one wants, Antonio happens upon the scene. Believing Viola to be Sebastian, he intervenes and is arrested. Viola, of course, does not recognize Antonio. Later, Belch and Sir Andrew encounter Sebastian, who doesn't back down from Aguecheek when challenged and resoundingly beats him. Olivia intervenes in the matter, and - mistaking Sebastian for Viola/Cesario - presses her suit for him. A bemused Sebastian agrees to marry her. Antonio is brought before the Duke for questioning, and Viola relates the events of the duel. Antonio tells everyone how hedragged "this man" from the surf, saving his life. Then Olivia enters, searching for her new husband—who she thinks is Viola (as Cesario).
Adding to this confusion, Belch and Aguecheek enter claiming that Viola/Cesario has violently assaulted them. In the midst of Viola's denials, Sebastian appears. The brother and sister recognize one another and are reunited; Sebastian helps to clear the confusion as to who fought who and who married who. At the end, Orsino and Viola pledge their love, Olivia and Sebastian will remain satisfactorily wed, and Olivia rebukes Belch and Maria for their abuse of Malvolio, who vows his revenge upon the whole lot. Belch agrees to wed Maria to make up for getting her in trouble, and all—except the disgruntled Malvolio—will apparently live happily ever after.
Orsino – Marton Gsokas
Curio – Joseph Timms
Valentine – Richard Keightley
Viola – Rebecca Hall
Sir Toby – Simon Callow
Maria – Finty Williams
Sir Andrew – Charles Edwards
Feste – David Ryall
Olivia – Amanda Drew
Malvolio – Simon Paisley Day
Sebastian – Ben Mansfield
Director – Peter Hall
Designer – Anthony Ward
Lighting – Peter Mumford
Music – Mick Sands
Dear Sir Peter Hall
As it is nearly your 80th birthday, would you like to come and direct a production of Twelfth Night for us here at the National? Unfortunately, only the Cottesloe Theatre is available. However, because the Cottesloe is very small indeed, this will at least guarantee that not many tickets will need to be sold before we can put the “House Full” signs up outside.
Dear Mr. Hytner
Yes, I would love to. My daughter, who has appeared in many of my productions at the Theatre Royal Bath, would like to play the lead role of Viola, as this is a part she hasn’t played before and would like to add to her CV. I would also like her photograph to appear on the front cover of the programme. Please let me know if this will be possible.
There is no such thing as a small theatre, only small directors. The fact that the production has my name plastered all over it will guarantee that it will be a complete sell-out for the entirety of its run.
Sir Peter Hall
Dear Sir Peter
Yes, we are prepared to let your daughter take the lead in this production. We will “ringfence” the auditions and, regardless of the quality of the other actresses attending the audition, will cast her. We are assuming that, because she is your daughter and has appeared in many of your previous productions (albeit a long way outside London), she can actually act? We only ask as the role of Viola is very difficult and is usually played by very experienced actresses such as Vivien Leigh, Zoe Wannamaker and Judi Dench. We presume you know (having done quite a bit of directing before) that Viola spends most of the play “disguised” as a man. Will this be a problem?
Thank you for your kind letter. I telephoned my daughter today to let her know that you will be calling her for an audition. In order to save time, she will bring the signed contract offering her the role (which arrived yesterday in the post) with her.
As you mention my good friend Judi Dench (whom I directed recently in A Midsummer Night’s Dream down in the suburbs somewhere), I wonder if you might be able to find a part in Twelfth Night for her daughter Finty? Finty is not a terribly talented actress and has received quite a lot of bad press for having inherited neither her mother’s nor her father’s acting ability. This should not be a major problem as we will put her in the “comedy role” of Maria. Between ourselves, my daughter is not terribly talented either; despite many years of coaching and appearing in many of my productions, she cannot seem to do very much with her arms or hands and, in fact, tends to leave her arms hanging down by her sides for much of the time. This has caused some problems in the past in productions (which I directed) where she has had to pick things up from tables or shake other people by the hand. I have repeatedly advised her to try and use her arms and hands a bit, even if it is only raising them slightly and waving them about in time to the lines, but she seems unable to move them, unless she flings her entire body around from side to side, at which point her arms flap about a bit. I will try and get round this problem in my direction by not giving her very much to do (or indeed giving anyone very much to do). We will be able to get round this problem by saying that the direction is “minimalistic”.
Unfortunately, my darling daughter has problems with acting, let alone acting the part of a woman acting as a man, so I won’t bother her with this additional problem. I’ll just ask her to do it all in her normal voice. She is very good at gurning, I remember, so when any emotion is called for, I can get her to do that.
There are a couple of other people my daughter and I know very well and I wondered if you could find parts in the play for them? The chap who played Oberon for me opposite dear darling Judi in Dream has done a lot of work for me and perhaps we could cast him as Sir Andrew? He is very good and very funny and could possibly be the best Sir Andrew people have seen in a long time.
I am very fond of the TV series Outnumbered, and wondered if we could cast the guy who plays the grandfather as something? He is, alas, a bit of a gloomy old cove, has a face like a melted trifle and cannot sing for toffee. Perhaps I could cast him as Feste? You know, the clown? The one who tells jokes and sings a lot?
I also like Brian Blessed and find him very funny, particularly when he roars all his words and shakes his jowls about. Is he available?
Of course you may cast the children of your very good friends in our production, regardless of how talented they are. We contacted Brian Blessed but he was not available – perhaps if we cast Simon Callow and ask him to do an impression of Mr. Blessed? That would be very funny – although possibly a little wearing for the audience. Let us know what you think. The guy who plays the grandfather in Outnumbered is really excited about being able to work with you and slaughter both the comedy and the songs. We will hire a 5 piece orchestra of obscure period instruments such as the mandola and the nykelharpa, spend lots of money dressing the musicians in lovely period costumes and then hide them away in a bit of the auditorium where very few people can see them, and then ask them to play really really loudly so that the old guy from Outnumbered is drowned out a bit.
Unfortunately, we are a bit short of money for the set. Have you ever directed Twelfth Night on an empty stage? You are welcome to come and have a rummage around in our stockroom for odds and ends to use on stage (we have some lovely screens with trees on which you could use for the garden scene. They are completely wrong for the Shakespearian period, being kind of 1880s aesthetic-type things, but they were very expensive and have only been used a couple of times before. Would you be able to use these?). We do have a couple of seats which you could use, but we cannot afford a trapdoor in the floor to use in the prison scene. Please let us know what you think.
I like the idea of asking my very good chum Simon to do an impression of Brian Blessed. Clever!
There should be no problem having nothing on the stage; in fact my daughter’s hands do tend to keep catching on bits of furniture if she is not careful so this would be a very good solution to the problem. My cleaning lady has a large collection of those awful Lilliput Lane china cottages which she has collected from adverts in Woman’s Own, and she will let me borrow them as long as we keep them safe. We can put all these up in a line on a long shelf on the back wall of the theatre and they will look like a little village in the distance. My daughter made a guy for Bonfire Night last year and we could drag that onto the stage and pretend that it is a shipwrecked sailor in my daughter’s first big scene – she can point at it and look doleful. I’ve got a lovely tablecloth with a leaf design printed on it, which we can hang over the stage and raise and lower at various points.
It’s a nuisance that you haven’t a proper dungeon, but in the shed I think there is an enormous birdcage left over from when our parrot, Humphrey, died of Bird Flu. We’ll put Malvolio in that for the dungeon scene [note to self: remove Tidi-San from the bottom and clean out the food trays]. We miss Humphrey very much; he was very good at helping my daughter learn her lines. In fact, sometimes we could barely tell the difference! How we would laugh!
All the best,
Have you anyone in mind for the thankless role of Sebastian? You know, the “twin brother” of Viola? I rather like that sexy young guy who’s played a couple of very similar parts to this one at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. Of course, he doesn’t look anything like my daughter, but we can get round this by getting him to shave his beard off and wear a lank and silly wig. That’ll fool the plebs in the audience completely.
What about costumes?
Costumes shouldn’t be a worry – we have some lovely ones in clashing colours. Simon Callow’s is purple, your daughter and the sexy guy from Regent’s park will be in cerise and we have a lovely acid orange frock going spare; maybe you could cast someone as Olivia who would fit into it? There are various other costumes in pale blue, and of course lots of servant’s costumes in dung brown with little caps and aprons. We’ll get both the girls playing maids to wear dung brown with little aprons so that, when your daughter has to pick out the woman playing Olivia, nobody will be able to guess which is which! (btw, we’ve got the woman playing Olivia in a really lovely black silk gown with an Elizabethan collar at this point, so she will look totally different to the two women in dung brown with little aprons. But we will give all three of them little black lacy veils to hide their faces with. Nobody will notice).
We do worry that your daughter and Judi Dench’s daughter might look a bit upstaged by the guy we’ve got to play Malvolio. He is very thin and sneery looking, and also acts extremely well. In fact, he might actually turn out to be one of the best members of the cast. Never fear – we have a really odd guy from New Zealand to play Orsino. He speaks just like Jilly Goolden did when she was going a bit over the top describing a bottle of vino collapse – you know, all fruity and pompous. In fact, he’s so OTT he will draw all the attention away from anyone on stage who is really good.
Tickets are selling really, really well and your daughter looks lovely in the photograph on the front cover of the programme. We look forward to seeing her at the auditions next week.
Break a leg!
Love and kisses,
Your good chum Nick
The reviews are in. Oh dear. Sorry.