Twelfth Night written By William Shakespeare, directed By Ed Wightman Canberra Repertory Society Theatre 3 March 28-april 12, Wednesday-saturday 8pm Matinees April 5, 12 and 6 At 2pm Tickets Adult 40, Concession 35 Bookings Canberrareporgau Or 6257 1950.
Ed Wightman says he and his cast began rehearsing Twelfth Night ''412 years to the day'' of its first recorded performance, on February 2, 1602.
''I'm hoping that's a good omen.''
And he's discovered a lot in the play, which he had never directed or acted in before.
Twelfth Night is, Wightman says, ''quite a chameleon of a play'' that is ''a comedy and a work of substance''.
It moves from mirth to melancholy, silliness to seriousness and the romantic aspect of it is quite cynical, he says.
The play is set in Illyria (near modern-day Croatia) where Viola (Eleanor Garran) comes ashore after a shipwreck believing her twin brother, Sebastian, to be dead. She disguises herself as a man, Cesario, and enters the service of Duke Orsino (David McNamara), who is infatuated with the wealthy countess Olivia (Lainie Hart). Orsino uses ''Cesario'' as a romantic intermediary but Olivia falls in love with the disguised Viola, not realising she is a woman, while Viola falls in love with the duke.
Meanwhile, Olivia's uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Sam Hannan-Morrow) and his friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Peter Holland) and Olivia's jester, Feste (Tim Sekuless) are among those who conspire to humiliate the countess' pompous steward, Malvolio (Jerry Hearn), by making him believe she is in love with him.
Wightman, a former Canberran turned professional actor-director, has returned to Rep after directing The Book of Everything there last year.
He says Twelfth Night is ''a much more complex play than I'd anticipated'' that still has contemporary relevance - being set in a place where there's an obsession with youth, beauty and social status, some people are wowsers, and others are seeking asylum in an unlikely land.
''It's not too dissimilar to aspects of Australian society today.''
And, he says, it's also a play exploring the notion of love and its effects.
The production will have a bit of a Mediterranean feel, in keeping with the location, he says, and has been given a 1930s setting with music from that era.
''The challenge with Shakespeare is always trying to make sure the play speaks to a modern audience,'' he says. The 1930s, he thinks, are modern enough for audiences to relate to but appropriate for the issues of social hierarchy to seem natural.
Malvolio is one character at the heart of the latter issue, Wightman says, sinking to ''the most extraordinary depths of vanity and self-delusion''. But, he says, Shakespeare is too good a dramatist to make the ambitious but socially inferior steward a one-dimensional character: ''even given his huge character flaws, it's still possible to feel empathy for Malvolio''.
Hearn says, as an actor playing a role, ''you never ever judge your character'' but thinks reactions to Malvolio have quite possibly changed over time. In the past, he was ''a figure of fun'' but nowadays people might be disturbed by the way he is treated despite his unpleasant qualities.
''A modern audience might ask questions about whether he really deserves it.''
But there's no question about his own feelings performing in the part.
''It's such a delight to play with this type.''
And, he says, Wightman's production will give people a fresh perspective on Twelfth Night.
''It'll come across as light, energetic, very fresh, with light and dark.''