Twelfth Night: a much celebrated and much played production, though none perhaps have been played quite like this before. In a play which blurs the lines between gender and identity, these lines will no doubt be blurred even further in Thick As Thieves‘ upcoming production staged with just four actors.
With rehearsals under way, Executive Producer Thomas Judd took the time to talk to me about rehearsals, returning to The Hope Theatre, and what effect this reduced cast will have on the text.
Rona Kelly: Why did you choose this particular play?
Thomas Judd: It’s such a funny play. Shakespeare was an absolute master when it came to comedy – this play is over 400 years old and we’ve been giggling away reading it. One of the main elements is farce, which is so intrinsically humourous, and is especially popular in this country – we have a rich history of performing and enjoying it. There are some wonderful characters in Twelfth Night as well, and since there are only four of us in it, we all get a nice variety of them to play!
RK: What themes are proving key in your production?
TJ: Love is the biggie: passionate, unrequited, misunderstood, familial, narcissistic, platonic…it comes in many flavours and is most often the source of the confusion and hilarity in the play. It’s such a universal theme and it makes the play incredibly accessible, something we’re big on.
RK: How have rehearsals been going?
TJ: We’ve laughed a lot! We’re at an early stage, so it’s been a lot of discussion about how we welcome the audience into the space and how everything is initially laid out. We’ve also got some fantastic original music by our resident composer, David Knight, so we’ve been working through our opening song. This time we have instruments!
RK: You’re returning to The Hope Theatre after an acclaimed run of The Tempest there last year. Are you looking forward to returning to this space?
TJ: It suits us perfectly to be so close to the audience. Everything is just that little bit more tangible. We’re as much about providing an entertaining experience as telling a story, and creating a shared sense of fun when everyone is together in that intimate space is much easier.
It’s also the kind of venue that never imposes itself on a production – it can be completely transformed. We’ve seen a number of different productions there over the past year and each one is able to create a unique space, whether it be intricately detailed, minimalistic, welcoming or hostile. That versatility really helps us to bring our style and the world of the play to life.
RK: Last year, we saw an island recreated in the intimate space of the Hope. This year, we’ll see more courtly scenes characteristic of Twelfth Night. Can you tell us a bit about the set design?
TJ: Yes, we had real foliage for three weeks in a heatwave! It was remarkable how long those plants managed to last. We were fortunate with The Tempest in that the location is very straightforward – each scene is on another part of the island, which lends itself to one specific set. In Twelfth Night we travel more often between different environments, so we’re having to get a little creative. Let’s just say it involves drapes…
RK: The cast for this production consists of four actors who will be taking on all 13 parts! Why have you chosen to perform it in this way? What challenges does this bring with it?
TJ: One of the reasons we do this is because it’s another way to shake up convention. The constant changing of characters, the mad costume changes and the inevitable moments of confusion and chaos – the other thing to mention is that we operate the sound as lighting as well – are all wonderful ways to create something highly entertaining and accessible. The audience know we’re only four actors, and so there’s an implicit, shared acknowledgement amongst all of us that we’re going to have to get to the end of it somehow or other!
It also helps us to be completely balanced when it comes to male and female performers, something that is tricky when it comes to Shakespeare. We have two men and two women in our productions, and the parts are shared out. This means predominantly that the women play male characters, and have equal representation on stage. Which is how it should be!
We turn the challenges into opportunities. Sometimes an actor will have the last line of a scene as one character, and the first line of the next as another. Or an actor will be playing two characters in the same scene – we don’t have actors talk to themselves on stage, so we figure it out in other ways. Sometimes we need help from the audience…there’s plenty of scope for fun where that’s concerned!
RK: And finally, how would you sum this production up in 6 words?
TJ: Four actors. Thirteen roles. Fun ensues!
Twelfth Night will be playing from 12th – 30th April 2016 at The Hope Theatre. To book tickets, visit The Hope Theatre’s website. For more information on Thick As Thieves, visit their website or follow them on Twitter to keep up to date with all the news from rehearsals.