TWELFTH NIGHT. Belgrade Theatre, Coventry.
Bob Eaton is directing Shakespeare's Twelfth Night for the third time. On this occasion, his thoughts have turned to a correlation between the anarchic elements of the comedy and sixties Britain, when authority was being challenged and society was breaking out of the strait-jacket of long accepted structures and conventions.
He sets his production in 1968, and with Greg Palmer has created original music in the style of bands such as The Birds and the later Beatles when their work was less pop, but more folk and blues inspired.
"Music and love were going to change the world,then", says Eaton, "and the play is a celebration of misrule, a 'feast of fools' in which everything has been turned on its head. The 'fools' are in charge to sort things out, just as the sixties blew a current of fresh air through the stuffiness of society. Of course, there were all those Malvolios waiting in the wings to have revenge on us, but we didn't know that,then".
Order is restored, at the end of the play. "The hierarchy of society has been preserved, but new elements have been drawn into it", explains Eaton. "The free-wheeling spirits of Viola and Sebastian, who come from a virtually unknown background, and who move easily through all strata of society, bring a leavening quality with them", he says, while he sees the relationship of Orsino (Duke as in Ellington rather than Westminster) and Olivia as the slightly uneasy relationship between new money and old.
"This wealthy rock star has bought the neighbouring estate, but a girl of Olivia's background is never going to marry him. However, in the end, she accepts him into her circle, just as our Establishment has drawn popular 'names' into its orbit, bolstering its power."
But the play is about individuals as much as society, and for Eaton the most powerful moment of the play is when the twins suddenly see each other again, after the destruction of the storm and deep grief for each other's loss.
"It's a moment of great healing", says Eaton, "comparable to the moment when the statue moves in The Winter's Tale. All are affected by this seeming miracle - all that is but Malvolio. He remains outside the charmed circle, the bit of grit which will later become the irritant for new strife".
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