An intoxicating comedy with gender, identity and love at its centre storms onto the Royal Exchange Theatre’s main stage this spring. TWELFTH NIGHT is directed by the award-winning Jo Davies who makes her Royal Exchange debut with Shakespeare’s whirlwind comedy. Faith Omole, Kevin Harvey and Mina Anwar return to the Exchange as Viola, Orsino and Maria, Kate Kennedy takes on the role of Olivia and Anthony Calf is Malvolio. Award-winning Manchester-based transgender artist and activist Kate O’Donnell makes her Royal Exchange debut in the role of Feste, the wise observer in this foolish, lovesick kingdom.
Live music for the production comes from the critically acclaimed folk musician Kate Young (Kate in the Kettle, Songs of Separation, Carthy, Hardy, Farrell & Young), and lap-tap guitarist Joe Gravil (Mex.fS) who add to the complexity of this intricate comedy which probes gender-politics and ideas of belonging. The play runs from 13 April – 20 May (see details below).
We recently caught up with Kate to talk about her involvement.
Is this your first involvement in a Stage production?
Yes. But I did Sweeny Todd at university in my first year. Does that count?! I have studied a little bit of physical theatre and movement before in Prague but have never worked on a production of this scale.
How did you become involved?
Someone sent me an email out of the blue. Apparently, I was recommended as someone who knows a bit about Eastern-European fiddle playing!
What has the experience been like?
So far we have been working on voice training, movement, music and reading through the script. We’ve just completed the first week of rehearsal work together with the cast in London, and I am really excited about Jo Davies’ approach to the rehearsal structuring as it seems in her interest that the musicians are involved with the actors’ work right from the beginning. From what I gather this means we have the opportunity to play a more integral part in not only the music but staging of the production – than would normally be expected in a traditional theatre setting. We have been exploring other Shakespearian texts and translating this into movement, exploring with vocal sounds. This is something new for me, and I’m really enjoying the multi-disciplinary challenge!
Who is composing the music for the production?
Alex Baranowski is our composer. Although again from what I gather, while Alex is composing some set pieces and songs, it is very much about collaboration, improvisation, experimentation between musicians and actors as we will collaboratively discover our roles on and off-stage as the actors work through the scenes. We will also have our own characters and costumes as we will be part of some of the scenes. I’m really looking forward to working with Leslie Travers our set-designer – we were given some sneak preview of the concept of the set and costumes – shant spill the beans on that though!
Does this production differ from other Twelfth Night productions you’ve maybe seen?
I have very little knowledge of classical plays, but I can just say that together with the vision of Jo, our director, set and costume design and wide variety of the cast’s ethnic backgrounds, there is a very fresh and modern approach going on. It’s exciting! Also, there is a particular focus on diversifying roles in terms of gender, for example, one male role has been reworked and split between other characters to give more precedence to a female character. I gather that this is partly due to Shakespeare traditionally giving less prominent roles to the female characters (who would have been played by men originally anyway). The play itself throws up a lot of questions about those roles, and androgyny (the ‘third sex’ as apparently believed by the ancient Greeks) and pokes fun at it all.
What has been the most rewarding experience for you on this?
Getting to be part of such an amazing crew of people! I mean we’ve only done week one, and already I feel there is a really great energy going on between the cast, and today was our first day in the theatre in Manchester, and it was so exciting to see it! Such a brilliant space. For me, I am particularly interested in watching how the set comes together over the next few weeks, and to have the opportunity to use a stage – and not just any stage, in such a way that we musicians do not usually go near in regular music gigs. The Royal Exchange is a round – we will use the stage in its entirety and have will be completely surrounded by the audience, so it’s a really intimate space although I believe it seats around 750.
Any final words?
I really love to get my teeth stuck into a new project and feel like I am about to learn a lot from this experience. I have sought ways of integrating what I do as a musician with a variety of art forms, particularly with theatre, so this one’s right up my street. Do come along!
TWELFTH NIGHT– Listings Information
13 April – 20 May – The Theatre
Press Night: Thursday 20 April 7.30PM
Standard tickets from £16.50
Half price previews from £5
Banquette tickets £10
Monday – Saturday evenings, 7.30pm
Saturday, Sunday and Thursday matinees, 2.30pm
Saturday 13 May, 2.30pm
Wednesday 3 May, 7.30pm
Thursday 18 May, 7.30pm
Thursday 2 May, 2.30pm
Box Office: 0161 833 9833
ROYAL EXCHANGE THEATRE
St Ann’s Square, Manchester, M2 7DH
Box Office: 0161 833 9833