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Preview: BME Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

I sat down with the production team to discuss Shakespeare’s ‘nonsensical, camp and funny’ play


Ahead of opening night this week, I talked with the team behind BME Shakespeare’s production of Twelfth Night. The Marlowe Society’s BME Shakespeare is an annual tradition, bringing together people of diverse backgrounds in an effort to break down the exclusive perceptions of Shakespearean theatre.

Co-producers Qawiiah Bisiriyu and Channan Sangha explained that it not only “showcases the bounds of talent that exist within our community,” but also provides “those marginalised [with] the opportunity to tackle the Shakespearean repertoire in a way that centres our cultures and experiences.”

Image credits: Thea Melton

Twelfth Night, described by Assistant Director Yen Min Ting as “nonsensical, camp and funny,” was chosen for this year’s production as it “encompasses some of the best aspects of what BME Shakespeare is about,” in its comedy, music, and large cast. Referring to popular modern adaptations such as She’s the Man, they emphasise the importance of the production as being a great opportunity to bring people together, providing an opportunity to be playful and fun with the source material.

In bringing the comedy to life, Yen Min explains the process as “throwing spaghetti at the wall, seeing what sticks and what doesn’t,” remarking that the cast’s sense of humour made rehearsal feel like joking around with friends. It is this sense of humour which is found in Assistant Director Ahana Banerji’s favourite scene in which Malvolio convinces himself that Olivia loves him while, in a comedic turn of events, everyone else knows that he really has the wrong end of the stick.

Qawiiah and Channan discussed the show’s central theme of identity. They emphasised in particular just how limiting the imposition of labels can be, challenging this by “having fun with our identities and embrac[ing] the fluidity of human experiences in an uplifting way. The plot relishes in the humorous consequences of this ambiguity and it gives a real scope to actors to explore these characters, challenging binaries and boundaries.

“So much about the show highlights the idea of not always being restricted by tradition, but defining relationships and experiences on your own terms. We believe this rings true today and it is something our entire team has worked incredibly hard to bring to life.” 

Image credits: Zed Brady

In bringing the play to life and exploring the multiculturalism of Illyria, where the play is set, Wahida Seisay (Director), described how the team has been “able to be so free with the exploration of different cultures.” The clever use of music and costume, both utilising BME influences, “invite you to relate to a culture you already know, or learn more about one that you’re not as familiar with.”

An immersive experience is created through exactly this – the audience’s ability to relate to the text. The team has strived to create distinct personalities for each individual character, not only through dramatic techniques such as asides and monologues, but also an “abstract tone” which “draws the audience into the inner thoughts of characters”.

When questioned as to why people should come and see the show, Yen Min explained that “on top of the tremendous acting, there is a palpable, gleeful delight that makes its way through the cast and crew – the joy and revelry of taking back something that was, for a long time, denied to BME people creates an experience like no other.”

I gather that the team wanted to create an atmosphere that would leave the audience with the impression that the “theatre is a space for everyone.” Given that it is one of Shakespeare’s most loved comedies, they promise “a night filled with fun and laughter,” and one that everyone involved is “immensely proud to be a part of.”

Image credits: Keziah Prescod

For both the audience and the team, “as well as being a play, Twelfth Night is a celebration, and that kind of atmosphere and feeling will stay with you long after the production is over.”

Finally, when asked for any Twelfth Night inspired final words of wisdom, Ahana told me that “when you come to watch, don’t forget to wear your yellow, cross-gartered stockings!”

Twelfth Night is showing at the ADC Theatre from 28th February – 4th March at 7:45 pm. Buy tickets here.