A fresh approach to Shakespeare

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It’s crucial to get great plays out to the regions, believes Jonathan Munby.

He’s delighted to be bringing his production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to Brighton Theatre Royal from November 25-29 – particularly in view of the response it’s just had in Sheffield.

“We had great reviews and great feedback, which is fantastic with a play that people might feel has been done and done. Creative teams probably feel that pressure, and there is certainly the baggage of previous productions, especially previous very successful productions. I have very fond memories of seeing Mark Rylance at the Globe last year.

“But I think as a director you have just got to try to look at each play completely fresh and try to leave as much of that baggage as you can at the door. My starting point is the play itself, and I sit down and I try to read the play with fresh eyes.”

Freshness also comes from just where you are in your life when you encounter the play again. As Jonathan says, the play is about your relationship with it: “This is a very different production to one I would have done ten years ago. I am more experienced in life perhaps.

“But also, this is a play about love. This is a play about sexuality. This is a play about the bitter-sweetness of being in love. I have been in love. I am able to connect with what it is saying.”

And so can millions of others.

The play comes from English Touring Theatre who did a survey of the nation’s favourite plays: “This one was in the top 20. It’s a much-loved play, and what has been interesting – and I am thinking of the audience reaction we have had in Sheffield – has been people coming back to see it two or three times. I think people see themselves in it.

“The play has a melancholy heart to it and there is unrequited love, and it is very moving at times, but at the same time, it is huge comic fun. There are great comic characters in the play. You have even got a prototype of Laurel & Hardy.”

Jonathan is a creative associate with ETT: “That means that I advise on the plays. I help with artistic policy, and I get invited to direct when I am available. This production sprang out of a real passion for getting theatre out into the country and to as wide an audience as possible.”

As Jonathan says, there can be huge economic barriers to getting a play on the road: “But at ETT we are blessed with Arts Council funding. But it is still a costly business.

“But it is also about getting to do the kind of work that we want to do. Fortunately, this production is a co-production with Sheffield. That has enabled us a scale of production that you might not get to see on tour. We are able to take this Shakespeare play on the road without having to scrimp and save. We can deliver a full bells-and-whistles production with great music and a full cast. We are able with Sheffield’s help to do the kind of production that Shakespeare commands and that regional audiences deserve.”

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