TWELFTH NIGHT, OR WHAT YOU WILL
NOW, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of plums,
Where bean’s the king of the sport here;
Beside we must know,
The pea also
Must revel, as queen, in the court here.
Begin then to choose,
This night as ye use,
Who shall for the present delight here,
Be a king by the lot,
And who shall not
Be Twelfth-day queen for the night here.
Robert Herrick, ‘Twelfth Night’
In celebration of the last day of Christmas, a little retrospective compilation of Twelfth Nights I have known, or indeed played in. In the course of two decades I appeared in three productions of the Bard’s rich and poignant comedy, each time as a different character: Orsino, Feste and Malvolio. In two of these productions, my wife Emily played Viola.
|Pastel by EP
As Malvolio, during the roistering scene, I had a long entrance, appearing on an extensive high balcony in nightgown with candle, skittering appalled down the long staircase, slipping slightly on the bottom step, and then holding a pause in silence staring at the recreants. I discovered a piece of business almost by accident. Holding Malvolio’s lit candle in the wings, I coughed slightly and blew it out. I found a match to relight it swiftly – so as not to be late on – but was keen to recreate the moment in the scene. So at the bottom of the staircase, I did a disgusted, affected little cough before starting on ‘My masters, are you mad?’, causing Malvolio inadvertently to extinguish the candle and thereby puncture his own dramatic moment. This inspired detail drew an appreciative titter, but Dylis Laye, our Maria and the only person on stage who saw it (the others were looking away), thought it was a piece of unfortunate reality and turned upstage, crippled with stifled laughter. By the time Sir Andrew, Sir Toby and Feste turned to me, I had caught the infection and was incapable of speech, though I managed to disguise my mirth so well that Guy Henry’s Andrew Aguecheek thought I was having some sort of seizure.
|Pastel by EP
As the run progressed, the business found its proper place. But then came the night when the computer-governed balcony, which was adjustable at various heights, got stuck in the flies and I was told my entrance in nightgown with candle would have to be made through a stage-level door: a disappointingly less effective entrance, but I did the cough and played the scene and, without thinking, made my exit as usual up the high staircase, only realizing, when I was three quarters of the way up, that there was no way to make my exit, no way down off the steps, but just enough room to perch vertiginously on the top of the stairs, hidden behind a foot of curtain, facing a sheer drop. Of course the others were left to finish the scene as best they could, corpsing at the thought of my perilous position.
|Photo © Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and pastel by EP
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