Newly renovated and seriously striking, Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres (AGAC) are throwing one hell…
How do you like your Shakespeare?
In a theatre in the dark? On a blanket in a park? Maybe by a lake? And with a slice of cake?
Okay, I sound more like Dr Seuss than the Bard but if you liked the last three choices, then I have good news for you.
For the second year, local theatre company Lakespeare & Co is performing one of Shakespeare’s best-known comedies in outdoor, public spaces around Canberra. After their successful 2018 run with Much Ado About Nothing, the company is putting on Twelfth Night, audiences can relax on a blanket with a picnic and settle in for an evening of romance, mistaken identity and gender fluidity.
The start of Twelfth Night, Or What You Will sees heroine Viola separated from her twin brother Sebastian after a shipwreck. Coming ashore at Illyria Viola dresses as a boy, calls herself Cesario and enters the employ of Duke Orsino. The Duke is in love with Lady Olivia, a noble and wealthy woman grieving the loss of her father and brother who spurns the Duke’s romantic overtures.
Olivia’s household steward Malvolio is a dour character who rules her estate with a stern hand. Olivia’s mischief-making uncle, Sir Toby Belch, and his drunken friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek (great names!), are determined to have some fun and convince Malvolio she is secretly in love with him and the way to win her heart is by behaving badly.
Meanwhile, the Duke’s plan to send Viola to woo Olivia’s heart, goes amiss when Olivia falls for this pretty young man. How can this be resolved, and will the reappearance of Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, just add to the confusion by being mistaken for Cesario?
As Lakespeare & Co prepares for its first performances this week, I spoke to Lexi Sekuless who plays Viola and Joel Hutchings who plays Sebastian. Having seen Lexi perform as Marilyn Monroe in her 2017 one-woman show and Joel in 2018’s Strictly Ballroom, I know there is a height difference between the two and am intrigued about how anyone would mistake one for the other.
“I know,” Joel says, “I keep wondering if everyone in the play has glasses they’ve forgotten to wear. We’re doing a lot of work with costumes and also studying how the other moves, although Lexi has the biggest challenge as she is creating movements for both Viola and then Viola/Cesario.”
Lexi explains the approach is less male versus female movements and more Lexi and Joel movements, although both agree it requires the audience to really come on board with suspension of disbelief.
“The funny thing is that my actual brother, Tim, is also in the cast,” Lexi laughs. “Early on we considered him playing Sebastian, but Joel is very suited to the role.” Joel adds that he and Lexi actually look more alike than Tim. “Although it’s hilarious, the last time Lexi and performed on stage together we played lovers.”
It’s a reunion for several of the cast members, in Twelfth Night Olivia is played by Ylaria Rogers, who Joel performed opposite in Strictly Ballroom last year, “We have great such chemistry and it helps when I have a limited amount of stage time to create this character.”
As Lexi is also one of the principals of Lakespeare & Co, along with Duncan Driver (who plays Orsino), Taimus Werner-Gibbings and Paul Leverenz, I ask how they settled on Twelfth Night after the success of Much Ado.
“We conducted an audience survey and that was the clear winner,” she says. “It was Shakespeare’s most popular and successful comedy in his lifetime and it stands up to our interpretation. The text is stretchy enough to handle all kinds of interpretations.”
Lexi has previously performed in Richard III at London’s Globe and sees the outdoor setting as the direct successor of how the play would have been performed when it was first written. “In Shakespeare’s day audiences would have been very involved in the action, shouting, foot stamping, not sitting in reverent silence.
“It’s wonderful when you feel that same energy in these outdoor performances. Our actors can sit down and start sharing a picnic with an audience member, all the while delivering their lines. It’s intimate and immediate, you have to absorb the audiences’ discomfort and take them along with you.”
It’s a feeling Joel understands well as an audience member. “I remember seeing an outdoor Shakespeare performance in Oxford a few years ago. It started to rain and people were hurrying off, but I made my friends stay, after all it was no worse for us than it was for the actors.”
Performances next week at Patrick White Lawn in Barton, Glebe Park in Civic, and Tuggeranong Town Park are free, while the season kicks off with a special ticketed event at historic Lanyon Homestead this Friday 15 February.
The very themes of Twelfth Night made it right for relaxed setting. Historically, Twelfth Night was THE big Christmas booze-up of the year, twelve days after Christmas and a time when merriment abounded (yes that’s what the carol with partridges in the pear tree is about).
With Yuletide now behind us, now we can see lords and ladies falling for their staff, sisters and brothers being mistaken for each other, and pranks galore all played out against Canberra’s summer evenings.
What: Twelfth Night, Or What You Will
Who: Lakespeare & Co
When: 15–24 February 2019
Where: Various parks and lakesides around Canberra
Tickets are available from Eventbrite
Feature image: Joel Hutchings and Lexi Sekuless. Credit: Esh Photography