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Music, Love & Mistaken Identity

If music be the food of love, play on. 

The iconic opening line of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night sets the tone of the piece, known as one of the legendary playwright’s most musical. This month, national theatre company Bell Shakespeare returns to Territory stages with performances of the riotous romantic comedy in Darwin and Alice Springs.

By Kate Conway 

Directed by British-Australian stage director Heather Fairbairn, the performance is backed by music composed by Australian singer/songwriter Sarah Blasko. From the lyrical opening line to a main character named after an instrument, music and melody are pivotal to the play.

Actor Mike Howlett plays Sir Andrew Aguecheek – a stereotypical Shakespearian fool whose main purpose is to make the audience laugh – and says that Blasko’s composition adds an extra layer to the performance. 

“She’s really charted what the play is saying throughout the piece, and made sure the songs reflect that. It’s not a just a beautiful song for a beautiful song's sake. They’re instrumental in telling this story.” 

Throughout the play, characters express themselves in lyrical rhyming verses and intuitively comment on how the music is echoing their emotions. It’s all part of the genius of Shakespeare. 

“I’ve always been told, with musicals, characters sing when they don’t have the words to express how they feel. Although this is a comedy and it’s a ridiculous romp, there’s also this undertone of love and the light and darkness that comes with that,” Howlett says. 

“When you sing or speak in a lyrical way, words are secondary. I think that’s Shakespeare being aware that words have power, but music has this ability to connect and get to a deeper level in a relatable, universal way.”

The title refers to the twelfth night after Christmas – a night in Shakespeare's time associated with festivities, revelry and conscious disorder. 

“It’s a night where everything was turned on its head. Servants would dress as their masters, men would dress as women, or people would pretend to be royalty. Things that, at the time, would get you beaten or killed on any other night are allowed for one night only,” Howlett says. 

Full of mistaken identity hi-jinks, unrequited love and a comedic subplot, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is the OG rom-com and one of his most accessible. It’s been adapted into modern operas, musicals and films – notably early noughties teen flick, She’s The Man.

“It’s one of the most easily digestible of his plays. It’s quite easy to follow and understand. There is Shakespearian metaphor but it’s very simple compared to a lot of his plays,” Howlett says. 

“Out of all his plays, this is the one that really has something to offer everybody. There’s a bunch of songs, there’s dancing ... the design is easily one of the most beautiful shows I’ve ever been in. The acting is amazing and it’s a really beautiful love story, or meditation on what love is.”

Embrace the chaos and disorder and step into the weird and wonderful world of Twelfth Night with Australia’s Shakespeare specialists.

Bell Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
WHEN WED 13 SEP | 10.30AM & 7.30PM
COST $25-$50

Alice Springs
WHEN FRI 15 SEP | 8-10.30PM
COST $69 | $67 CONC | $65 MEMB

Photos: Brett Boardman

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