William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
Hudson’s Walking the dog Theater and Chatham’s PS/21 collaborative production with the Gloucester Theatre Company, U.K. (August 6–20)
Sponsored by the ASHA Centre, U.K.
William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
Directed by Adrian Locher
Featuring Eddie Allen*, David Anderson, Benedicta Bertau, Paul Boothroyd, Alexander Gifford, Melania Levitsky*, Ashley Mayne, Wayne Pyle*, Jake Woods. *Member of Actors’ Equity Association
Lighting Design: Christine Wopat
Set Design: Katie Jean Wall
Costumes: Emily Maynard
Music: Jonathan Talbott
It must be very eerie for Adrian Locher getting his bearings in Columbia County. Yes, he crossed the pond, but, no, it didn’t feel like he really left the U.K. Arriving from Stroud, Gloucestershire, to direct the Hudson-based Walking the Dog Theater at PS/21 in Chatham, the surroundings might have seemed a little too much like home for a three thousand-mile flight. After all, Warren Street in Hudson, with its hilly crazy-quilt shopping district, is very like High Street in Stroud. Certainly, the plaid hills and copses of Chatham N.Y., so striking along the Taconic Parkway, are reminiscent of the velvet verdancy of the western Cotswolds in which Stroud is cradled. What will be even more familiar are the people that he directs for this new Twelfth Night at that unique tent space in Chatham, PS/21. David Anderson, executive artistic director of Walking the dog, is quick to point out how this collaborative production reunites the essential aesthetic underpinnings of both Adrian’s and David’s careers.
Adrian Locher and Alexander Gifford, artistic directors of The Gloucester Theater Company, who have now taken up residence in a renovated turn-of-the-century cinema, The Picturedrome in Gloucester (www.picturedrome.org), have been seeking an essence of theatre at odds with the current trends borne of, and catering to, the generation weaned on television. Thus, the venture with Walking the dog (www.wtdtheater.org ) is a conjoining of like minds and “voices.” Instead of a theatre vested in physicality, athleticism, and visual ostentation, these synergistic companies have placed language stage center. Their voyage has been charted by auguries from our cultural past: classical Greek theatre, the art and practice of rhetoric, Elizabethan drama, and the poetic canon. Language, and its transformational power on the imagination, becomes the article of faith that has defined the careers of these artists, as well as their approach to the upcoming Twelfth Night. In 2006, Adrian and Alex’s company, then called TaurusVoice Theatre (www.taurusvoice.co.uk) produced The Gospel of St. John. Only three actors performed all roles of the unadorned Passion text. The incandescence of John’s voice was neither impeded nor adorned by the customary accoutrements of stagecraft. Instead, actors delivered the text with great eloquence and clarity; or, at times when the occasion suited, hissed, or chanted phrases in choral unison. Gestured delivery, seemingly an anachronism from a forgotten or discarded theatrical art, transfixed audiences in the U.K. David, who trained in Australia and Europe, was quick to realize that such an art could find an audience in the States. With a slight change of name, The Gospel of John has been a signature production that has garnered praise here, across the U.S. on tour, and even from those who saw the original production in Bristol.
The magic evoked from language-based productions can occur only with suitable material. The artistic risks of illuminated speech are obvious. Anticipating that the next logical step could exclude the dramatic for the poetic, Adrian and Alexander, working with other like-minded troupes (The Actors’ Ensemble, who march to the Michael Chekhov drum, and Shakespeare Alive, erstwhile collaborators from Australia), began to formulate dramatic repertories that could most convincingly state their case. Thus, Hudson-hosted conjoint productions have included Peter Oswaldexpr’s The Storm; a now legendary Hamlet with David in the title role; and last year’s ensemble hit, Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood at PS/21. The introduction of original music, a subtle addition during silent stretches, became an important element in the latter production. The formidable talents of composer Jonathan Talbott have added a new dimension to the aural-oral approach. When Judy Grunberg, president of PS/21, saw Hamlet, her first encounter with this theater group, she was deeply moved. Theatre had never been a specialty of PS/21, concentrating as it does on modern dance (Parsons Dance Company, Take Dance, etc.), but this kind of theatre, she felt, deserved a larger audience. In 2008, Walking the dog presented Under Milk Wood, starring renowned baritone-turned-actor Benjamin Luxon at the PS/21 Chatham tent. Each of the eleven performances nearly sold out. “It exceeded all my expectations for a theatrical production in my space,” Judy later told me. So, when David conjured the new season, the witty and gender-twisting Twelfth Night was chosen to showcase this now matured theatre. The cross-dressing antics will be a contrast to the melancholy and whimsy of last month’s production, Melania Levitsky’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov stories, Virtue, Desire, Death and Foolishnes.
Added to the mix in Twelfth Night are Walking the dog’s other artistic directors, Benedicta Bertau and Ms Levitsky – both of whom shine in comedy – as well as a host of talent from here and abroad. Mr. Talbott’s Turkish music (a suitable simulation for the play’s setting in ancient Illyria) will be heard as well.
Why will this Twelfth Night be different from all other Nights? Come and see.