Spotlight: Shakespeare gets a sexy, clever, afro-punk twist with Twelfth Night at Maynardville

January 10, 2017


You know it is summer in the city when it is time for the annual Shakespeare in the park at Maynardville. No start to a new year is complete without a picnic and a catch-up with The Bard as you indulge in the excitement of seeing his work come to life again in a picturesque setting.


This year is no exception, as audiences are already eagerly awaiting the opening of the Artscape Theatre presented Twelfth Night, directed by Geoffrey Hyland.


As the first performance is only on 17 January 2017, way too long a wait for me as an impatient fan of The Bard, I gate-crashed a rehearsal to ask David Johnson (the love sick Duke Orsino) and Wessel Pretorius (the mischievous clown Feste), what enchanting delights await.


Twelfth Night (or What you Will) is well known as a feast of fools, with passion, betrayal, confusion and love all comically wrapped up in dramady infused, angst driven plot twists and even sub plot twists… terrible for the characters, brilliantly entertaining for everyone else! But for those who haven’t yet had the privilege of enjoying this, one of my favourite, Shakespearean plays, let’s start with some cliff-notes:


Twins (Viola and Sebastian) are separated when shipwrecked. Viola disguises herself as a man (Cesario) and falls in love with the Duke Orsino, who in turn believes himself to be in love with Lady Olivia. The servants and clowns obviously run amuck. Amidst this frolicking about, Olivia falls in love with Cesario. Love triangle, because well, Shakespeare. Pause for dramatic effect. (Re)enter Sebastian who obviously looks like Cesario and even more mayhem and hilarity ensue… What obstacles are overcome? Does love triumph in the end? That my fellow thespians I’ll leave to The Bard to divulge through his masterful scripting when you go see the play…


What I can reveal is a bit of behind the scenes magic ala Johnson and Pretorius!


Director Geoffrey Hyland adds his own twist to this classic by giving it an afro-punk, tropical vibe without deterring from the true Shakespeare charm Pretorius explains. Are the guys in awe of Hyland’s approach and direction style? Definitely! Just listening to them talk about his collaborative conversation like directing technique, makes it clear that his actors truly admire and respect him and his approach to this play.


“I had no idea what to expect,” Pretorius tells of his first time being part of a Hyland cast, “but his work is very much within my taste. It is stylistic, it is clean, it is pure. He is very precise in terms of telling the story and he knows your part better than you do… even parts of my choreography. He is an incredible force to work with, but also very soft spoken.” In total agreement Johnson adds “… very professional and insightful. If they say it is a Geoff Hyland production you want to be there. You work with him and together you build a character and together you find your answers.”


With unique characters clearly and carefully developed within this Hyland specific style of direction, you will find the full range of Shakespearean personas in this play, from the vain and self-obsessed to the dark, comedic and confused. It truly promises to be a vivid theatrical affair.


The guys also assure me that even the costumes (designed by Leigh Bishop) will be very very colourful and edgy. “Beautiful costumes, absolutely some of the nicest things I have ever worn and seen”, Pretorius gushes with a Project Runway glint in his eye, while Johnson energetically adds, “You’ll know exactly who is who. It is bright and it is exciting! Just looking at Feste’s costume, it is really exquisite.”


Add to all this a topless Orsino and Feste in heels, and you definitely have a show that will even have The Bard looking mighty pleased with himself and his ‘vision’! All this edgy brightness will be further illuminated by the lighting design of Luke Ellenbogen, and complimented by a Nicolas Mayer inspired set that looks to be the perfect setting for a whirlpool of comedic intrigue.


Yet I wonder … A modern feel is all good and well, but will there be effortlessly embraced Elizabethan English delivered with iambic pentameter rhythmic flair to delight the traditionalists while also appealing to a modern audience?


“Don’t be scared of the language. Ek is ‘n Afrikaanse laaitie en hier praat ek ‘to be or not to be’. Ons is altwee Afrikaans. It is fun, you’ll hear it, you’ll enjoy it, it is musical”, Johnson explains. “And Geoff has made it so applicable, so accessible for everyone” Pretorius explains, “if you just hang on to the images already, that is a way into the language also”. Then Johnston brings into play that all too powerful modern day carrot, “We are a visual society, you’ll get it, just come along!” *buys tickets*


Personally I think it is also going to be a great treat to see actors with a true passion for all things Shakespeare embrace this classic so wholeheartedly. It is very obvious that Pretorius not only loves Twelfth Night, but also adores all The Bard’s other penned hilarities including The Taming of the Shrew, while Johnson is a big fan of the character Feste in Twelfth Night because of the witty lines Pretorius gets to play with. Then he admits there is also that one classic line that simply makes him (and I suspect most of us) artistically swoon: “If music be the food of love, play on”.


So why come watch this production, besides the fact that Johnson and Pretorius are in it, as they pointed out with just the right dose of Bard approved swag? Because it promises to be a hilarious, sexy and clever take on a beautifully written play. Don't expect the norm, but do expect to be impressed. Book your tickets at Computicket to see Twelfth Night at Maynardville Open Air Theatre from 17 January to 25 February.




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