Twelve facts about Twelfth Night….

Here’s 12 facts about Twelfth Night (hopefully interesting and hopefully a few you didn’t already know!)….

1. On Twelfth Night (prior to the Shakespeare play) servants often dressed up as their masters, men as women etc. Based on the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia at the same time of year (characterised by drunken revelry and inversion of the social order; masters became slaves for a day, and vice versa) this is the cultural origin of the play’s gender confused driven plot.

2. Malvolio the stern-but-ultimately-undone steward of Lady Olivia is a very popular character among actors, having been played on stage and screen by Laurence Olivier, Stephen Fry, Alec Guinness, Richard Briers, Patrick Stewart, Richard Wilson, Ian Holm and Derek Jacobi.

3. The 2006 film She’s the Man (staring Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum) modernises the story as a contemporary teenage US comedy. Instead of an island Illyria is a prep school and incorporates the names of most of the play’s major characters. Orsino, Duke of Illyria becomes simply Duke Orsino .The story was changed to revolve around the idea of football (or soccer as they call it in the US!) rivalry but the twisted / love triangle romance remained the same as the Shakespearean original. Viola, pretends to be her brother Sebastian, and tries to woo Olivia for her room-mate Duke. However Olivia falls in love with Viola (as Sebastian) and Viola falls in love with Duke (who thinks she is Sebastian). The cast also regularly go to restaurant named ‘Cessario’s’. Two of Duke’s Illyria soccer teammates are named Andrew and Toby and a nod is given to the omitted subplot by naming a briefly-onscreen tarantula Malvolio. Depending on your point of view you may be happy / sad to hear there is no football in our version of Twelfth Night!

4. In March 2017, the Royal National Theatre’s production of Twelfth Night changed some of the roles from male to female, including Feste, Fabian (which became Fabia), and most notably, Malvolio – which became Malvolia – played by Tamsin Greig. As a result, the production played with sexuality as well as gender.

5. Henry VIII, George Washington and George Bush (senior) all celebrated Twelfth Night by getting married on that day, in 1540, 1759 and 1945.

6. The faces of our Twelfth Night twins Viola and Sebastian (played by Zoe Bloss and Owen Lewis) might be familiar. Zoe appeared in our 2015 performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Snout and Owen played Tybalt and Paris in last year’s Romeo & Juliet.

7. Twelfth Night contains a number of Shakespeare’s most famous quotes including “If music be the food of love, play on” and “Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit”

8. The first (recorded) performance of Twelfth Night was on 2 February 1602.

9. The play has been turned into a musical on numerous occasions. These include Your Own Thing (1968), Music Is (1977), the Elvis Presley jukebox musical All Shook Up (2005), and the Tony award winning Duke Ellington jukebox musical Play On! (1997).

10. In Elizabethan London all stage plays were performed by male actors who crossed-dressed in order to play the parts of women. So in Twelfth Night the heroine Viola would have been played by a male actor cross – dressing as a female character who in Twelfth Night cross dresses as a man! Viola’s cross – dressing a big no-no for C16th Puritans who argued that cross-dressing was sinful, wicked and monstrous and that it promoted sexual deviance and turned women into hermaphrodites (yes really!!!!!!!!)

11. Following his open air role as Sir Toby Belch, Ivanhoe Norona will be appearing in season two of the Netflix Original series The Crown (getting promoted from a Sir to a King!)

12.Samuel Pepys writes of “Twelfth Day” in 1663 when he saw Shakespeare’s comedy, finding it “a silly play and not relating at all to the name or the day”. Charming!

If this has whet your appetite you can book your tickets here (24 hours a day):  by calling 01752 267131 (Mon – Fri 11am – 6pm) or popping in to Barbican Theatre on Castle Street (Mon – Fri 11am – 6pm). 

Twelfth Night is performed open air in the Residence One secret garden at Royal William Yard from 2 – 20 August and is sponsored by Plymouth AudiColumn Bakehouse and Plymouth Marjon University and supported by Arts Council England and Plymouth City Council (Official)