After assistant directing Macbeth and Bunny at the Stratford Festival, artistic director James Wallis is back for a new season of Shakespeare BASH’d, with his reimagining of the Bard’s most popular romantic comedy, Twelfth Night.
Of course, in BASH’d fashion, this rendition of Twelfth Night will be paralleled with a historical era that helps to enhance the mood and themes in the play: the “années folles” in Paris, France. Jade Douris, who plays Viola in the production, tells us about why this setting decision feels appropriate for the show.
Many lives were lost during World War I and young people living in 1920s Paris felt the need to truly cherish their lives. As a result, they adopted highly exciting, passionate and creative lifestyles, Douris said.
“Viewing Twelfth Night through this lens, the setting starts to feel incredibly appropriate,” she added. “Just look at the first scene of the play: ‘If music be the food of love, play on.’ Enjoyment of music, poetry, wordplay and art are themes throughout, as well as the consuming nature of romantic passion.”
This definitely isn’t the extent of the parallels, however. In light of the recent Women’s March, where women worldwide were voicing their demands, Douris details the feminism behind Twelfth Night, and how its women, particularly Viola, Olivia and Maria, feel extremely relevant today: “In the 1920s, women's suffrage is occurring all over the world. Things are changing so rapidly, and while noblewomen are still bound by monarchical structures they were born into, they are discovering their own agency and power.”
While Twelfth Night was written hundreds of years before the Roaring Twenties, Douris says it nevertheless depicts these women as “true to themselves, unafraid to open their hearts, unafraid to lead, unafraid to question, far more insightful than the men (and) always right in the end.” This is made apparent by the strong characterizations of Viola, Olivia and Maria, with Viola described by Douris as the “touchstone and truth-teller,” Olivia as the “wiser and more mature” counterpart of Orsino and Maria as “the mastermind behind the prank on Malvolio, who is far more pragmatic and proactive than the men around her.”
Speaking of Viola, Douris has plenty of interesting reasons for being so drawn to her. “Like Hamlet, or Richard III, (Viola) shares a secret with the audience for most of the play. The truth is important to her; she doesn't want to mislead anyone, she struggles with her own agency, and through all of that, she is very much in love.”
However, there is a very important aspect of Viola’s character that Douris wants to convey to the audience. “(Viola) connects with people, because she sees them for who they really are. Even though she spends most of the play in disguise, she's all about empathy and honesty, and my biggest goal is for that to come through.”
Douris says that Hallie Seline’s portrayal of Olivia has helped her discover even more layers to Viola that she “didn’t know were there.” Specifically, she cites the relationship between Viola and Olivia as more “than a simple mistaken identity. There's a connection, empathy, debate (and) a push and pull throughout the play.”
Her hope for the audience is that they will share the same optimistic, humorous and passionate vibe of the 1920s Parisians, and that “they'll feel inspired by the way Shakespeare talks about love.”
Twelfth Night will open on Jan. 31 at the Monarch Tavern. For more show times and ticket information, visit http://www.shakespearebashd.com/.