A repost of my version of Twelfth Night for your delight and delectation
Or possible boredom if you read it before:
Twelfth Night is a Shakespearean comedy. Yes, that does mean dancing. There are no specific instructions on when dances should be inserted, but as the whole play is crammed to the rafters with music (it being the food of love and all), you could throw some shapes anywhere you desire really. It is only a matter of time before someone sets it in a dance studio with Madonna-esque crotch splitting leotards, coffee coloured pop socks and boom boxes the size of Suffolk. I expect I will be away for that performance. Katyboo is unwell. Coffee coloured pop socks always have that effect on me I’m afraid.
It is also one of those comedies where there are hilarious japes concerning cross dressing and twins. In Tudor times a health warning was issued on all the flyers: ‘Groundlings may wish to purchase a ftoute corfette for the prevention of sydes being fplitte due to the frenzy of comedy ensuing from men in frockes pretending to be men in britches and maidens in breeches pretending to be young sirrahs. ‘Swounds’ sayeth Master Shakespeare himself; ‘I chortled so immoderately I filled my codpiece with widdle. Even though I do saye so myfelfe.’ Etc.
The action goes down in the ancient kingdom of Illyria, which is apparently somewhere classical in the Balkans. A watertight, get out of jail free country which nobody now or then has ever heard of, ensuring in the time honoured Shakespearean fashion that he is able to get away with blue murder: ‘Oh! Fancy not knowing that everyone wears their pants on their head in Illyria. Where did you go to school again?’ (you stupid, bloody peasant).
Illyria is ancient Balkan for; ‘land of love sick nincompoops’ and is run by the particularly Fotherington Thomas-esque, Count Orsino. Orsino is madly in love with the Lady Olivia who lives just up the road, which is handy because not only is he love sick, he is also a lazy arse who spends his days lounging about on cushions, plucking flowers, listening to plangent whale music and getting his minions to do everything including eating his tea. He can’t possibly eat it himself, he is wasting away for the love of a good woman. Yeah, right.
He has been in love with Olivia since they were three, and he put a beetle down her vest in nursery school as a gesture of his undying love, affection and total and everlasting misunderstanding of the ways of women everywhere. She has been out of love with him since roughly the same time, and has had a paranoia verging on the hysterical about beetles ever since. She refuses to have anything to do with men with facial hair because they might be a haven for beetles. When that nice man from the gas board came round to look at the lagging on the boiler she stabbed him with a hat pin and then fainted, all because of an unfortunate looking goatee. It’s making her life a misery and she cannot forgive Orsino, who of course, has forgotten all about it and cannot see what all the fuss is about. But then he wasn’t the one who had to switch to electric storage heaters AND do three months community service in the soup kitchen.
Orsino thinks that if he couples the persistence of a particularly stupid ox with the romanticism of a teenage girl who has existed solely on a diet of Mills and Boon romances he will win the day. He spends his days forcing his servants to sing songs of deathless passion like ‘Lady in Red’ and the acapella version of ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You,’ complete with waggling head movements, whilst he weeps gently into vast floral handkerchieves. Occasionally when it all gets too much he sends one of his servants over to Olivia’s with a random jewel or a painting of himself sitting pensively in the moonlight, and a proposal of marriage. All of which are hurled back over the garden fence along with the odd bucket of snails and some dried cat pooh. All is not well in the garden of lurve.
Things are not much better over at the coastline of despair. We arrive for a day of donkey rides and green fly in our candy floss to find that there has been an almighty storm which has blown the Mr. Whippy van right out to sea and left a few mouldering spars from a particularly splendid wreck where the winkle stall used to be. Attached to one of the spars is a young noblewoman called Viola. She has just been fished out of the drink by a friendly sea captain with a shrimping net.
She is not happy. Not only have most of her clothes washed off in the melee, but the luggage she is washed up with appears to be that of her twin brother, Sebastian, who is a) colourblind and b) a man. On top of that Sebastian himself has not been washed up, and just when you could do with some comforting carbohydrates to get you through a particularly trying afternoon you realize that the man with the 99’s is on the horizon, going under for the third time to the strangled sounds of Greensleeves as played through a sieve at high speed.
Thankfully Viola is not weedy, although she is wet. She has had a crappy day, and after vowing never to go on a Club Med cruise again, she decides that the only way she’s going to get a decent cup of tea and a bun round here is to shift for herself. The only way she can think of to do this is to dress in Sebastian’s clothes, pass herself off as a bloke and get a job with Orsino. Not everyone’s first choice for a plan of action admittedly, but then the only decision she’s had to make so far in her young life was which cake to eat first.
She has always hated the name Viola, as would any self-respecting maiden who was named after a short, squat stringed instrument, and is gagging at the bit to try out a new name. She plumps for Cesario, which is not much better but at least it’s not named after something in an orchestra, and given that she’s just coughed up half a ton of sea water and is currently struggling into a pair of lime green breeches in a howling gale, on a beach with only a hand towel to hide her modesty, it’s not half bad. She draws herself a beard with a pen she found in the top pocket of Sebastian’s mustard and puce nylon anorak, and tootles off to Orsino’s, practicing a deep brown voice.
Orsino, who knows nothing about girls whatsoever and suspects nothing, despite the bosom and the fact that her goatee comes off every time she touches her face, hires her immediately. He/she’s got a lovely singing voice and Orsino is impressed by the brave choice of anorak. Clearly not a youth to be trifled with.
Orsino tests this bravery by sending Cesario to plight his troth to Olivia on Orsino’s behalf. He conveniently forgets to tell him/her that Olivia not only hates beards, but actually did bodily harm on the last beardy to pass through her gates. He also omits the small matter of the fact that Olivia is actually in mourning for both her brother and her father who have recently died, and that even if she didn’t hate beards, men in anoraks and Orsino, she probably wouldn’t be up to skipping gaily through the daffodils singing songs of love anyway. Nothing stands in the way of Orsino’s stalking by proxy. He waves Cesario off and settles down to cutting out another picture of Olivia (with the eyes scored in red) for his secret room, singing the Carpenter’s, ‘Close to You,’ under his breath.
Cesario/Viola doesn’t want to go anyway because the lack of buns and the tightness of her breeches have combined to upset her mind into a flurry of passion for Orsino. She is able to overlook his sloth, stupidity, terrible taste in music and the fact that he is about to get a restraining order through the post from Olivia in favour of the fact that he has an enormous cod piece and is the first person to offer her a decent brew in about a week. Any port in a storm.
It takes her about a week to get to Olivia’s, most of which time she spends skulking in the hedge, sulking about the unfairness of being washed up on the beach with only some dubious y-fronts and a Bic razor.
In the meantime Olivia isn’t exactly having the time of her life. Her mourning clothes are itchy, she’s just read in the Illyrian Herald that beards are making a comeback in men’s fashion, her fool has gone AWOL and her disgusting uncle, Sir Toby Belch, who came to stay two years ago for a weekend and is still here, has now invited his feckless and stupid friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek round to play for a month or two at her expense. She has been trying to ignore the fact that Sir Andrew has been trying to play footsie with her under the table for a while now, but things came to a head last night when he accidentally tried to slip his tongue in her mouth. She blames Sir Toby. Mind you, she has nobody but herself to blame for Sir Toby. Surely the name Belch was enough to put most right minded people off at the beginning.
To make matters worse she has the most prudish and sullen manservant in the history of ever, who is so disapproving of everyone and everything, even to look at him gives her a headache. She inherited him with the house, and despite the fact that he is terribly efficient, he is quite wearing. Her only comfort is that Mr. Kipling’s French Fancies were on offer at Costcutter and her servant Maria has just arrived back with a wheelbarrow stacked to the sky. She falls on them like a ravening wolf, although the cake crumbs in her ruff aren’t helping with the itching. Still, it’s a small price to pay.
It is at the point where she has decided to see if she can fit a yellow one, a pink one and a chocolate one into her mouth in one go that her puritanical man servant, the aptly named Malvolio, glides disapprovingly into view and announces that Cesario/Viola wants to see her and will not be sent away with a flea in his ear like all the other suitors. He is so shocked by the sight of his fair mistress with what looks like a pastel coloured tree stump wedged sideways into her gob that he completely forgets to warn her about the oncoming beard situation.
In a moment of sugar induced weakness Olivia indicates to Malvolio that she will see Cesario/Viola. It sounds something like this: ‘mffmmmmsprrrtttthmmminnnokkkkkkkchrrrrk’. There’s no arguing with that really and Cesario/Viola is swept into her crumby presence.
A lot of things happen at once. Cesario/Viola notices the French Fancies and begins to salivate. She still hasn’t had a decent bun since being shipwrecked. This means she has not noticed that Olivia is behaving rather oddly. Olivia on the other hand, has noticed the beard and begins to panic. A French Fancy slips sideways down her gullet. The collapse of her hostess amid a welter of crumbs making a noise like a pelican swallowing a shark alerts Cesario/Viola that there is an issue. Cesario/Viola, much as she secretly would like Olivia to choke to death on a cupcake realises that it’s not going to do her any favours with Orsino either in terms of keeping a job, or in presenting herself as a favourable alternative. The tragic death of Olivia would only mean that he would be creating pastry based shrines and appalling love songs unto death and all hope would be lost.
Cesario/Viola pegs it over to Olivia, and does the Heimlich manoeuvre. The French Fancy dislodges itself from Olivia’s windpipe and catches sir Toby Belch who just happens to be passing through on his way to the cellars in the eye. It is at this point in the action that Olivia falls helplessly in love with Cesario/Viola despite the beard, thanks to the fact that a) he has saved her life, b) he smells nice (unlike any other men she has met recently), c) his beard appears to be coming off all over her vest, and d) he has just inadvertently given Sir Toby a black eye.
Inspired by the passion of the moment and the proximity of a young man’s bosom, which surely should have given the game away, she tries to stick her crumby tongue down Cesario/Viola’s throat. Cesario/Viola removes herself with an alacrity practiced previously only by mountain goats and babies being approached by bearded aunties. In the hopes of distracting her attention she shouts: ‘Look! A giant engagement ring from Orsino!’ and flees the scene. Olivia collapses in a welter of pastry and pink icing. She is undone.
Olivia starts scheming ways in which to entice Cesario/Viola back to her lair for fun, frolics and cakes. Cesario/Viola buries her head in her hands and wishes she had never decided to don the loose y-fronts of manhood in the first place. It is all going horribly wrong.
Over in sub plot land things are unravelling nicely. Malvolio is wandering around with a mouth like a cat’s bum getting on everyone’s nerves. He has burned Feste’s favourite pointy jester shoes, had the locks on the cellar door replaced and put Maria on a disciplinary for overindulging her mistress’s love of Mr. Kipling’s products, almost leading to an untimely death. The only person who isn’t out to get him is Sir Andrew, and that’s because Sir Andrew is always about three script pages behind everyone else.
Maria comes up with a cunning plan. She is, as well as being a purloiner of dessert based wonders, an excellent forger and all round wheeze meister. She decides to write a love letter in Olivia’s hand writing to Malvolio and drop it in his path accidentally on purpose. Malvolio who is as nosey as he is officious, will not be able to resist reading it, and will be lured into a ridiculous pantomime of love sick behaviour which will hopefully lead to his eventual sacking and/or beheading, whichever comes first. The others give Maria the Top Bird of the century award and send her off for a pint of ink and a yard of vellum.
All goes according to plan. Malvolio pounces on the letter and manages to persuade himself that Olivia is not only swoonsomely in love with his bony self, but that she would love nothing better than to see him prancing about being rude to everyone whilst clad in lurid yellow stockings with black garters. Which he promptly does. Olivia, obsessed by luring Cesario/Viola into her bed at the earliest opportunity, has no time for such nonsense and instructs Sir Toby to stick Malvolio in the house dungeon and call a priest, because he is clearly possessed, insane or both.
In the meantime, back at the beach of doom, we bump into Cesario/Viola’s brother Sebastian, who it turns out was not dead at all, merely resting. Viola got washed up in Illyria. He got washed up in Torquay. He’s spent two weeks using all his pennies on What the Butler Saw and now he’s run out of spending money he’s hitch hiking home via Illyria with a besotted old sea salt, Antonio, who is rather hoping that if he’s nice to Sebastian and shares all his sandwiches with him, that he might succumb to a life of homosexuality and piratical nefariousness and settle down with him, happily ever after. Sebastian, as clueless as all the other men in the play, thinks he has just found a lovely friend with a personal space problem, and has absolutely no inkling that if he doesn’t watch his step it’s rum, sodomy and the lash for him. Hey hey.
Antonio is getting a bit twitchy. Illyria does not hold fond memories for him. It holds memories of Orsino brandishing a sharp sword and threatening to have his guts for garters if he sets foot on his soil again. Antonio is only here because Sebastian stroked his beard absentmindedly just as they were crossing the border and he got a bit carried away. He decides to hide in the most notorious tavern in Illyria and hope that nobody notices him blending in with the rest of the criminal element. He tries to persuade Sebastian to come on the grounds that it will be a bit like participating in celebrity adrenaline junkie but with a real risk of death. Sebastian is not sold on the idea. He wants to buy Kiss Me Quick hats and have his photo taken with a monkey wearing a bolero jacket.
Antonio is a total soft touch and coughs up all his money in exchange for a pat on the cheek and rushes off to make like a tree. Sebastian frolics round Illyria spending money like water and standing out like a sore thumb.
Back at the ranch, Sir Andrew is annoyed that Olivia is spending all her time licking pictures of Cesario/Viola. He thinks he’s in with a chance if only this pesky upstart with the strangely runny beard can be removed. He challenges him to a duel. Cesario/Viola is terrified. The most physical he/she has ever got was wrestling with a particularly recalcitrant hamster when it got stuck behind the arras last Christmas.
During the initial fracas Sir Andrew comes to the startling revelation that he’s a lover not a fighter, and the worrying thing is that he’s not a particularly good lover, which means he’s an absolutely abominable fighter. He and Cesario/Viola spend quite a lot of time running away from each other. During one of these whoops there goes my duelling sword type moments, Sir Andrew happens to bump into Sebastian instead, who gives him a bit of a thrashing. Things are not going well.
Shortly thereafter Olivia also bumps into Sebastian, then she bumps on him, then she rubs herself all over him. He is naturally quite delighted at the forward nature of the women of Illyria and compares them favourably with the staid and repressed maidens of Torquay, where he vows never to holiday again. Olivia bundles him off to church where they are married within the hour. She scoots off home with the promise of slipping into something more comfortable and leaves him waiting around gormlessly.
Cesario/Viola is now totally hacked off with being a man. He/she spends her whole life being chased by women who can’t keep their pants on and insist on showing inappropriate amounts of bosom at every opportunity. Random aristocrats seem intent on running him/her through with a sword for no good reason, and Orsino is such a dimwit that no amount of homoerotic sub text has got it into his thick skull that if he undid his/her doublet, he would get his Christmas and birthday present all rolled into one and Olivia would be a dim and distant memory. Plus he/she’s beginning to be allergic to his/her own beard, and it’s all a bit much.
At the point where he/she is sitting on a rock indulging in a gigantic temper tantrum of epic proportions, Sir Andrew turns up intending to have one last go at skewering his love rival. Antonio, who happens to be on his way to the nefarious tavern sees his potential lover at the point of death and steps in. At this point the gigantically muscled rozzers step in and whizz him off for an appointment with Doctor Death. Antonio pleads with his beloved Sebastian to save him. As it is in fact Cesario/Viola she/he just thinks he is bonkers and does sweet F.A. Antonio is heart broken and is dragged off whimpering about love being dead and how all men called Sebastian should be called Sebastiard.
It finally dawns on Viola that if she is dressed as her brother and someone thinks that she is called Sebastian, then her brother might actually have just been in Torquay and not in fact in Davy Jones’ locker. She is a bit slow on the uptake, due to being chased around by desperate housewives and lunatic blue bloods all day. Not her fault.
Olivia is back at home planning what negligee to wear for her night of nuptial passion with the young and lusty Cesario/Viola/Sebastian. This makes her less than attentive to the fact that Malvolio has now been locked up and poked with sticks by Feste, Sir Toby and Maria for the past three days and the joke is now beginning to wear a little thin. Malvolio writes a strongly worded letter in his cell. That’ll teach them.
Orsino has now sung every single love song in the entire history of ever, and has finally been tempted away from the harpsichord by a truly shocking rendition of Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On.’ All his menservants have been driven away by the incessant warbling and there is nobody left to bring Olivia to their senses. He decides that if you want a job doing properly you have to do it yourself and gets off his backside and trips over to Olivia’s house to give her a piece of his mind, which will hopefully lead to giving her a piece of his trousers.
In a spooky twist of fate, everyone in the entire play turns up at Olivia’s house at exactly the same time (possibly a trick achieved with magnets, or trails of cake). Olivia jumps on Cesario/Viola and licks his face passionately. This annoys Orsino quite a bit, but not as much as it annoys Antonio. Finally everyone realises that there are two Cesario/Viola/Sebastian’s in the room and quelling the odd cry of ‘burn the witch’, all is sorted out in record time. Orsino agrees to accept Viola as his booby prize as long as she promises never to be called Cesario and get some cream for that nasty rash on her chin. Sebastian licks Olivia’s face and she swoons with delight. Antonio cries like a girl and goes home empty handed, but Olivia kindly gives him her wedding bouquet. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
Malvolio is finally let out of his cell looking as mad as a wet hen and pointing the puritanical finger of shame. He wears his face like a smacked bottom look and Antonio is at least glad that he won’t be sharing a bed with that. Maria and Sir Toby confess that they have snuck off and gotten married, which is a bit of a bolt from the blue for everyone, including Sir Toby and Maria, who suspect that Malvolio may have drugged the porridge. Sir Andrew goes home alone, but given the cross dressing, homosexually titillating, class barrier mixing mess he’s just witnessed he’s quite relieved.
Feste sings a jolly song about how miserable everyone will be when they realise what a jolly fine hash they’ve made of marrying each other, and they all hunker down at Olivia’s for a belated wedding breakfast of French Fancy surprise. The surprise being that Olivia hasn’t guzzled all the French Fancies before now.