Channel 4 Schools
January 17, 9.30-11.12am
Where exactly is Illyria? It might be located, in literal terms, somewhere in the north of what used to be Yugoslavia, near the Italian border, but, if Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is sprinkled with Italianate names - the Duke Orsino, Olivia, Viola - there are plenty of hints that we are really in a version of Elizabethan London. Antonio advises Sebastian to stay at the Elephant, in "the south suburbs", Feste refers to the bells of St Benet, a City of London church within walking distance of the Middle Temple, where one of the earliest performances of the play took place before an audience of lawyers, and Olivia's house guests have the undeniably English names of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew.
For his television adaptation of the play, director Tim Supple has conjured an imaginary, modern-dress London while maintaining a Mediterranean feel for the great houses of Orsino and Olivia. But for him this is no escapist romance; it is an analysis of the emotional journeys being taken by a group of people, some of whom are failing to face reality. For Viola and Sebastian, there is a real journey to undertake. Most actors playing the shipwrecked twins invent a "back story" to help them develop their characters, giving reasons for their running away from home and some understanding of their isolation; Supple has made this explicit: flashbacks show the siblings fleeing an Asian country in turmoil. Viola arrives, like many an asylum seeker, without much idea of where to go or what to do until she decides to work for the well-heeled Orsino.
If the ending, slightly rearranged by Supple, seems subdued it is touching, allowing Olivia to recall her grief and to express the understandable muddle of her feelings. This is a truly filmic Twelfth Night which takes advantage of the intimacy of the camera to produce what Supple accurately describes as an "emotional, soulful version of the play, about the interior lives of the characters".
Twelfth Night will be broadcast on mainstream Channel 4 later this year. To read this review in full see Friday Magazine in this week's TES. nbsp;