Shakespeare director thrilled to be back in Sheffield

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Jonathan Munby is really pleased to be back at the Crucible with Twelfth Night after he directed the musical comedy Company there two years ago.

He said that he had a long-held ambition to direct the comedy, which is a riot of mistaken identities which begin when twins Viola and Sebastian are separated when they are shipwrecked.

Viola disguises herself as a boy to enter into the service of the Duke, Orsino. She soon finds herself falling for him. Meanwhile, the Duke is infatuated with the Countess Olivia.

However, the Countess has recently sworn off men – although the new ‘boy’ in the Duke’s service has just caught her eye…

“Twelfth Night is a play I’ve always loved and one I’ve been waiting to get my hands on since I studied it at college,” said Jonathan.

“I think it’s one of Shakespeare’s best plays with a perfect balance of amazing comedy, wit and heartfelt melancholia. It’s as funny as it is sad.

“It’s a play about very human things like falling in love and it’s the play in Shakespeare’s canon that mentions love more than any other – more than 80 times.

“It celebrates love in any form, from transformative to obsessional love and different kinds of relationships. You see the difference in generations with the love between Toby and Maria as a counterpoint to the love between the youngsters in the play.”

Jonathan said he was also fascinated that Shakespeare presents different types of sexuality without judgement, which makes the play feel relevant today. It is something he has underlined by setting the play in the 1920s.

“The characters are falling in love with people regardless of gender. They’re falling in love with a person rather than someone of a particular gender.

“Sexuality is a sliding scale and it’s not clear cut and black and white,” he said.

“A character like Antonio in a completely unashamed way falls in love with Sebastian and doesn’t question it. No other character in the play questions it either.”

As he points out, some of Shakespeare’s love sonnets are thought to be written to a man, and others to a woman.

In Shakespeare’s time, the Twelfth Night of Christmas was also a time for bawdy revelry which included cross-dressing. The play was first performed in Queen Elizabeth’s court.

Jonathan has great memories of his last time working at the Crucible, directing the Stephen Sondheim show Company, which starred Francesca Annis and Sheffield Theatres artistic director Daniel Evans.

He said: “It was a big deal and most amazing cast. I think Daniel feels passionate about getting his work seen by as wide an audience as possible across the country.

“I absolutely agree with him and that is sort of why this is an important show.

“It is a collaboration with English Touring Theatre, which is about taking the drama out on the road.”

Twelfth Night goes on a national tour after its Sheffield run.

Jonathan added: “I love Sheffield and I love coming back here. I love the people here. The Crucible is one of the best spaces for Shakespeare in the country.

“This is my fifth show and I don’t want that relationship to stop.”

Twelfth Night opens at the Crucible tonight, Thursday, September 18, and runs to October 18.

Tickets from the theatre box office, online at http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/ or by calling 0114 249 6000.