Bringing Shakespeare’s winter’s tale to Norwich stage

Theatre company The Movement is about to bring Twelfth Night to the Norwich Playhouse. Artistic director Rory Attwood tells ABIGAIL SALTMARSH why this is a production with a difference.

Rory Attwood is coming home — and with him he is bringing his unique production of Twelfth Night.

The 22-year-old former Norwich School pupil is now artistic director of Cambridge-based theatre company The Movement and next week their production of the Shakespeare play opens at Norwich Playhouse.

'This is a production that we hope will be very different from anything the audience has seen before,' he said.

'Of the plays in Shakespeare's canon, it is one of the most versatile and there are lots of different ways it can be done but I think our presentation of it is unique.

'There are some things we do in the play that people will not have seen before.'

Rory's interest in drama began when he was at school at Norwich and soon grew to be a passion.

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'At school, the plays were always directed by the drama teacher so I had to be an actor but I always knew that acting was not something I was naturally gifted at.

'However, I also knew I had to get over my insecurities and acting could help me with that.

'It was when a teacher made me go on wearing a leopard print leotard and I was able to do it that I think my love of the stage was really born!'

Rory left school and went on to study English Literature at Cambridge University. While he was there, he won the university's Margot Heinemann Prize, awarded to the top undergraduate Shakespeare scholar.

He also joined the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club and, with fellow members, went to Edinburgh, three times with productions.

'Our shows were successful and some us began to think this was something we might like to continue doing,' he said. 'So last year we decided to put on our own version of The Tempest, and we toured with it in London and the South East.'

The Movement today also includes Ben Blyth, the company's managing director, who also plays Malvolio in Twelfth Night. Ben is currently training at RADA. Toby Parker-Rees, who plays Feste in the play, is a freelance theatre writer, who was shortlisted for the RSC Other Prize when still at Cambridge. He has also just been nominated for a Guardian Media Award.

Joe Rubini is the company's musical director. As well as being another Cambridge graduate he is a professional singer-songwriter, who has seen recent success with his show, A Night with Joe Rubini and The Spooks.

'We are not against doing modern plays with The Movement,' said Rory. 'But we have focused so far on classical verse drama and one of the things that drew us together was that we felt a lot of Shakepeare was being produced in ways that tended towards certain kinds of theatrical cliches.

'It seemed to us that there it was either a real hero worship for the idea that it was a Shakespeare play and therefore the production had to be very traditional or there was an insistence on trying to modernise and update it.

'We felt that between those two camps there was a lack of appreciation of character and the human psyche. We wanted to try to go back to the text and to find the essence of characters and really emphasise the kinds of people they were.'

Twelfth Night, or What You Will, particularly lends itself to this approach, he stressed. Like many of Shakespeare's comedies, it centres on mistaken identity. The leading character, Viola, is shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria during the opening scenes. She loses contact with her twin brother, Sebastian, whom she believes to be dead.

Masquerading as a young page under the name Cesario, she enters the service of Duke Orsino through the help of the sea captain who rescues her. Orsino has convinced himself that he is in love with the bereaved Lady Olivia, whose father and brother have recently died, and who will have nothing to do with any suitors, the Duke included.

Orsino decides to use Cesario as an intermediary to tell Olivia about his love for her. Olivia, believing Viola to be a man, falls in love with this handsome and eloquent messenger. Viola, in turn, has fallen in love with the Duke, who also believes Viola is a man, and who regards her as his confidant.

'Contemporary productions often rely for their humour entirely upon self-aware posturing and slapstick,' said Rory. 'We want people to laugh at the characters not the actors and to see more than just cheap jokes.'

This is the first time Rory has brought one of his plays to Norwich and he believes this will give it an added dimension.

'I think people will see something different in this version of the play,' he said.

'There is something exciting in doing a show like this and being able to bring it right back home.'

n Twelfth Night, Norwich Playhouse, January 23-25, �14 (�12 cons), 01603 598598,