Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Where: The Masque, Muizenberg, 37 Main Road, Muizenberg
When: July 5-15, 2023

Cast: The cast includes Wayne Ronne as Duke Orsino, Tami Schrire as Lady Olivia, Hannah Molyneux as Feste the fool and Kathryn Griffiths as Maria
Director: Barbara Basel
Tickets: Quicket – R100-R120  

Block bookings: E-mail to organise a block booking discount for more than 10 tickets
Venue info: Secure parking available, wheelchair access, cash bar and snacks        

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, tends to be staged within a frame of the light-hearted and wacky. For The Masque Theatre’s winter 2023 production of Twelfth Night, director Barbara Basel has taken the play in a very different direction, by setting it in the milieu of Weimar Germany: A liminal period – during dark days – when there was however – an immersion in the arts – behind closed doors. The cabaret scene became a vital platform and medium for expression – personal and political and was a powerful space for exploration of gender and sexuality. However, Basel is mindful about providing audiences with an entertaining night at the theatre. She chose the play for its “wit” and “satire and comedy”. She says that audiences can expect “to laugh and enjoy themselves” as they revel in Twelfth Night at The Masque Theatre, Cape Town, July 2023:

TCR: What led you to set Twelfth Night in Weimar Germany? Was there an image or a book or film that prompted you on this journey?

BB: I read a description of the Twelfth Night celebrations in Elizabethan England and when looking for a more modern setting that would reflect these events, I remembered a novel I had once read in which a group of British artists and writers visited the Weimar Republic and fell in love with its ‘silliness’ and disrespect for authority.

TCR: Can you talk about the parallels between Weimar Germany and now 2023 – South Africa and “freedom and chaos”? As you say, we are in a time of Années folles (the term refers to the ‘crazy years’ – the decade of the 1920s in France). We are in a time of rampant unease, break down in governance etc so this production will talk to people right now?

BB: I hadn’t really thought about this, other than my normal view that most governments are corrupt in various ways and once they have succeeded in their attempt to obtain power they quickly forget about the promises they made to the electorate and, thus, expose themselves to criticism and often violent demonstrations. Today we have much greater freedom in terms of sexual liberation and political satire so behaviour that would have shocked the Elizabethan aristocrats and the German politicians, would probably not even be noticed today. My main reason for choosing this production was because of its wit – both satire and comedy- linguistic and physical. I constantly hear from many friends that life is so complex that when they have a night out all they want to do is to laugh and enjoy themselves and not get involved in psychological dramas.

TCR:  Can you provide insights into the costumes that you are using in your production and the cross dressing?

BB: The play’s heroine, the shipwrecked Viola, dresses as a young man (replicating her twin brother, Sebastian, whom she presumes is drowned) and calls herself Cesario, and take her chances at the court of Count Orsino. This decision presents many complications because Countess Olivia becomes besotted with Cesario and Viola falls in love with Orsino but can’t declare it because he thinks she is a man. Another famous case of dress-up in this play is that of Malvolio, Olivia’s steward, who is fooled into thinking that Olivia is in love with him and desires him to dress-up in ‘cross gartered yellow stockings’, a fashion she abhors – a situation that leads to his downfall.

TCR: How have you constructed the set? Is it set in cabaret venue in Weimar Germany?

BB: In true Shakespearean style there is only one set that is used through the play. The set has been designed by Richard Higgs who has created a 1920s ‘nightclub’ scenario. Orinso has his special ‘venue’ while Olivia has a more lavishly styled one that includes space for Toby’s drunken shenanigans, such as the planning of Malvolio’s downfall. The street scenes take plays in front of these areas.

TCR:  Can you talk about the role of theatre and this production – in drawing reference to our social landscape through image and metaphor- by being subversive and by not being afraid to offend? Shakespeare is universal in terms of his themes but this production sounds like it cuts close to the “crazy years” now?

BB: I do feel, strongly, however that theatre has always had and still does have an important role to play in society – because through the ‘suspension of disbelief’ we are able to distance ourselves from reality for a while and engage in another world in which many issues – both pleasant and unpleasant – are raised. Provided that the production is strong enough, we will reflect on these issues at a later date and maybe even act upon some of them. This is the reason why autocratic governments have always closed theatres and banned performers because they see them as a threat.

TCR: Have you cut the text – shortened and adapted? How long is it?

BB: Yes, I have cut the text considerably and combined various characters so as to ensure every actor has a worthwhile role to engage with, instead of the many ‘one-liners’ that Shakespeare includes in his plays. I think the first half will run for just over an hour and the second half a little shorter. We’ll only know for sure once we had our final run-throughs on the Masque stage.

TCR: What accents do the actors use? South African/German?

BB: Mainly South Africa – but we have worked hard to ensure that they have a good command of Shakespeare’s language and especially his blank verse and that their diction is clear and they project their voices. Our priority is that the audience will be able to follow the dialogue that at times is very different from the English we speak in South Africa today.

TCR: Anything else to add?

BB: Only that I have thoroughly enjoyed the past three months working with such a talented and enthusiastic cast and have received the most wonderful support from my producer and all the members of the Masque Players’ production team.

Twelfth Night by Shakespeare at the Masque Theatre Cape Town, July 2023: Thomas Bowman, Taryn Basel and Codey Ashton. Pic: Christine Kaye. .

✳This interview has been marginally edited. Images supplied.