Adapted by Joan Nordlund from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
Staged by Christian Jull
Featuring (in order of appearance): Christian Jull (Sir Toby Belch); Anna Rawlings (Maria); Marietta Chela (Fool); Hosanna Megumi (Olivia); Daniel McMullen (Malvolio).
The RStC were facing a dilemma. We had long since set Yasmina Reza’s The God of Carnage, translated by Christopher Hampton, as our major production for Autumn 2016. The plan was to enter into a joint venture with Soupe Troupe, a like-minded theatre group, but circumstances intervened and this was not possible. The God of Carnage would stand alone if necessary, but then we remembered The Bard.
In fact, we have been reminded of him on numerous occasions in 2016, the 400th anniversary of his death. There was a strengthening conviction among us that we should offer our audiences a Really Small tribute to Shakespeare, something different from what we have seen during the past 12 months.
We know that Shakespeare tells a good story - several good stories in many plays, that he draws colourful characters, that he had people rolling in the aisles (sic) of The Globe, and that his way with words is inimitable. Here was our starting point: tell a good tale, add some earthy humour and be faithful to the text. So far, so good.
We set limits of 30-40 minutes, including all business, and five characters. The idea was to follow one plot line that would engage and make sense to the audience. Having seen many excellent performances of Twelfth Night, I came to the conclusion that this play might be the answer, and in particular the plot line involving Malvolio and his yellow stockings. I downloaded the freely available script, and went through it Act by Act extracting all the scenes involving Sir Toby Belch and his cronies and their plotting against Malvolio. From the wealth of material this produced I gradually cut the text down to 50 minutes shared among five characters, trying to maintain continuity and coherence. We reluctantly decided to cut the prison scene, although keeping some references to it, to arrive at the desired 30 minutes. The text is as Shakespeare wrote it, perhaps with the addition of the odd ‘Get thee three hence’, and the order of events is as in the original. We are having our first reading of this working version on July 21: I’m a tad nervous ...
Whatever happens between now and October 13, this has been a labour of love for me. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be Love’s Labour Lost!!
I’ve been an Alan Bennett fan for many years, and I particularly like his prose style. His monologues give us the best of both worlds: written narrative brought to life. The only other Bennett play I have directed was Habeas Corpus, for the Finn-Brit Players in 1983. Glyn Banks was in the leading role, and Mark Shackleton put in a sterling performance as Canon Throbbing: need I say more?
For me as a director, a good dramatic text is one that doesn’t lose its fascination no matter how often you read, rehearse, hear or perform it. Some of Shakespeare’s plays, much of Pinter’s writing, Bennett and Mamet immediately come to mind, but there are many more. The writing is right, and is seldom improved by actors’ lapses or directors’ alternatives. It’s the story, the rhythm, the characterisation, the wording, the pausing, the idiosyncrasy.
For the actor this loyalty to the text is not just a matter of principle, it is also a practical necessity when other people (fellow actors, sound and lighting operators) are involved. Where does this leave the performer of a monologue? Stranded, some might say! Apart from the odd sound effect you are on your own. There are no fellow actors to pick up forgotten cues or give you surreptitious prompts. You have to know exactly where you are going. You need a good script and to be able to hold the attention of the audience, alone.
Maggie Smith played Susan in the original BBC TV production of Bed Among the Lentils. The director was Alan Bennett. Undeterred, Anna Rawlings and I are building our own interpretation, influenced somewhat by the Puoli-Q setting and the fact that it is a ‘live’ performance. The play hasn’t lost its fascination. It is a good text!
We lived nearer to Sheffield than to Leeds, but it’s in the same neck of the woods - although the locals would dispute that. We had a detached house on Rackford Road, with a parquet floor in the hall and a garden that was bigger than a tablecloth, more like a tennis court. Mum polished the floor and everything else on Thursday. Monday was washing day, and on Tuesday she went shopping. Dad did the washing up and Sunday breakfast, and he cobbled our shoes. He kept meticulous accounts of the household spending: ‘Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’.
We were self-sufficient in the vegetable department. Dad even had a cucumber frame. Mum had a thing about leaving the gate open, letting the dogs in. She didn’t want cats in the yard either, although a closed gate won’t keep them out. Dad fought a constant battle with the moles, and secretly cuddled the cats.
We didn’t get many callers. Our house was at the end of the lane so folks didn’t just just pass by. I remember the milkman and his horse and cart, though, and Dad on standby with his shovel in case the horse dropped him some manure for the garden. Doris wouldn’t have liked the muck. I don’t think Mum did either, although she didn’t say as much.
Mum always baked the bread, in a coal-fired oven. Woe betide anyone who opened the back door in winter when the dough was rising. I used to come home from school on baking days, sit on a stool by the fire and wait for a warm, fresh roll and butter. ‘Don’t spoil your tea, Joan’, she’d say.
She made my frocks when I was little. I’ve still got the one she ran up for my ‘big white Teddy wiv a gween wibbon’. The one I remember best was the ‘sweet little Alice blue gown’ I wore when I was five and a bridesmaid at Uncle Les’s wedding. Mum did embroidery as well. I’ve still got some of her cushion covers.
I’ve been drawing on these and other memories in my search for Doris. There are millions of women like her, but Alan Bennett made her special. All Christian and I have to do is to bring her to life on the Puoli-Q stage!