Interview With… Adam Nichols

The director chatted to Emma Clarendon about his latest production a new take on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Hi Adam thanks so much for talking to me. Could you tell me a little bit more about what audiences can expect from your production of Twelfth Night? We’re setting our production on a cruise liner in the 1920s. We will evoke the period through character, costume and especially music. We have a five piece jazz band who will be playing tunes from the likes of Britney Spears, Radiohead, Lady Gaga and Rihanna in the ragtime and swing styles of the period.

How did you come up with the concept for this production? OVO has a long track record of musical Shakespeare productions. We’ve presented Much Ado About Nothing in a 50s diner, The Merry Wives of Windsor at an 80s rock festival and As You Like it in the summer of love. We pride ourselves on attention to detail to ensure that we’re not overlaying any old concept onto a Shakespeare play, but rather looking for a period and context which aligns with the text and brings it to life for a contemporary audience. In the cast of Twelfth Night, some of the play’s key themes include social class, flexible notions of gender and the hedonistic lifestyle of a group of ‘bright young things’. The 1920s seemed a natural fit and the decision to set the play on a boat ties in well with the play’s original location on the island of Illyria – in our case the SS Illyria.

The Rose Playhouse is such a unique place to perform in – what are you most looking forward to about putting Twelfth Night on there? There’s definitely something very special about this venue. It predates the Globe by 12 years and it’s amazing to feel that we’re continuing a long line of Shakespeare performances on this site going back to 1587 – it is known that several of his plays, including Titus Andronicus and Henry VI part I debuted here. Aside from the history it has an amazing atmosphere and a very unusual setting, featuring medieval remains alongside concrete walls and steel girders, with an indoor lake forming the centrepiece! There’s really nowhere else like it in London.

How are rehearsals going so far? We are having a great time in rehearsal. Twelfth Night is definitely one of my favourite plays, combining – as it does – some of the funniest scenes in Shakespeare, alongside some of his most beautiful poetry. Comedy and pathos in equal measure. It’s been great fun exploring the text with our very talented cast and discovering so many new dimensions of the play that I haven’t seen before, even though I know the play well.

Ovo’s productions rely on in part on audience imagination – why do you think this is so important? All the vastly expensive trappings of the modern British theatre have often made it unnecessarily expensive to stage and blinded audiences to its real purpose and power. We believe that we can create exciting and artistically innovative theatre without financial riches, and that necessity is often the motherhood of invention. We don’t do realism. In the twenty-first century, realism is for television and the movies. Far better to let the audience’s imagination do the work for you.

What do you hope audiences will take away from this interpretation of Shakespeare’s play? Theatre is an entertainment, but it should also provoke its audiences to think. I hope that everyone who comes to see this production will have an enjoyable 90 minutes in our company with plenty of laughter and fabulous live music. However, although a comedy, this play has a sting in its tail and much to say about gender and class. I hope our production will create discussion and debate long after the curtain (metaphorically) falls.

If someone who has never experienced an Ovo production is thinking about coming along – why should they come along to see Twelfth Night? We pride ourselves on making Shakespeare accessible and entertaining. Although the setting, the visuals and the music are important, the language is the most important element. Even if you think Shakespeare ‘isn’t for you’ we are confident that we will bring the text to life and you will enjoy this show.

By Emma Clarendon

Twelfth Night will play at the Rose Playhouse from the 23rd April until the 5th May.

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