Twelfth Night


“… utterly beautiful to watch”   ★★★★★ Whatsonstage

Propeller’s Twelfth Night played in a double-bill with The Taming of the Shrew. Both these plays present families in crisis and each puts domesticity under the spotlight. The image of home, something we cherish and regard as a sanctuary, provides a scenic framework to present both plays: in ‘Twelfth Night’, a house deep in the stagnation of limbo and in ‘Shrew’ an arena for inter-generational, sex-fuelled pyrotechnics.

Both texts also offer interesting scenographic challenges for the Propeller ensemble, both apparently present self-motivated characters, each carving out their existence despite circumstances – each fighting for the dunghill. In amongst the mayhem however, and behind our mirrored façade, are subterranean forces that can be personified by a choral idea, bound together by a design idea or visual aesthetic. Feste’s ‘Zanies’ in ‘Twelfth Night’ are opportunist gremlins and in ‘Shrew’, the Lord’s ‘Induction’ sets the scene for Christopher Sly, caught in a self-induced, seductive but punitive, party game-come-morality tale.

The Zanies shroud their individuality behind a reveller’s semi-transparent, glib, half mask. The service staff of the Lord’s household, dressed initially in their uniform livery, are let loose on the narrative, fools for a day and in a cavalcade of collective motley, they join their employer’s penchant for corrective revenge with a dash of mischief.




Olivia’s household is air space for a family suspended in the holding pattern of liminal mourning, stalked by deadpan satirical comedians and Uncles preferably edged out of the family snapshots. For me it conjures the existential books, films and dramas of the 1950’s, of the Parisian chic intelligentsia, of Cocteau or Satre. The perfect reference point for our scenic world surfaced early on in my design process, a film that had got under my skin 30 years ago, the enigmatic and claustrophobic black and white classic, L’année dernière à Marienbad (below).




De-saturated of colour, Feste’s followers, our masked chorus, put on a face, revel and delight in oiling the whirligig of time – they constitute the “pack” that bedevils Malvolio and perhaps anyone else who dares to dream. They’re cool, sometimes menacing. Their clothes could be equally at home in a Tarantino movie.

The play asks us to reflect on the ironies of life and the characters are given chances to scrutinise their attitude to love in all its guises. Illyria is shaped and re-shaped by the strangely absent adult generation’s wardrobes. After the possibility of childhood fables in amongst the mothballs, furs and dinner suits, encounters with lions and witches, the occupants have now degenerated into darker recesses where adolescents and young adults question themselves before enginnering transformations and springing revelations. I looked to the personas projected by 20th Century artists. Their images and mythologies may have become more firmly fixed in our consciousness than the work they produce: René Magritte, Gilbert and George, Joseph Beuys and others.

Three Twelfth Night costume designs with reference points