Interview: 'It's Going to Feel Like A Festival in A Few Hours': Director Jimmy Fairhurst and Actor Les Dennis on TWELFTH NIGHT at Shakespeare North Playhouse

‘It really will be a 360 degree experience’.

By: Apr. 05, 2024
Interview: 'It's Going to Feel Like A Festival in A Few Hours': Director Jimmy Fairhurst and Actor Les Dennis on TWELFTH NIGHT at Shakespeare North Playhouse
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Not Too Tame return to the Shakespeare North Playhouse this summer, with an exciting new production of Twelfth Night.

Directed by Jimmy Fairhurst and starring Les Dennis as Malvolio, Not Too Tame’s Twelfth Night is inspired by the world of the music industry. Promising to turn the story ‘up to 11’, Broadway World sat down with Jimmy and Les to find out more.

Jimmy, you previously directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Shakespeare North Playhouse. How does it feel to be back at the theatre directing Twelfth Night?

Jimmy: Incredibly exciting. With A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it really was a dream. The cockpit theatre in the Shakespeare North Playhouse is the world’s greatest playground for theatre and designers. The team there are brilliant. I’m delighted, because as soon as we figured it was going to be Twelfth Night, my first point of call was that I wanted Les Dennis to play Malvolio. Very rarely you think of that and get the person you’ve got in mind.

Wow, that’s amazing! How does it feel for you to Les, to be performing in this brilliant new production?

Les: This is my first Shakespeare [play I have performed in] and it was the first Shakespeare I saw onstage when I was 17 years old. I went with the school, as we were doing it for A-Level. When I saw this production, which had Judi Dench as Viola, it blew me away. I thought, ‘I want to do that one day. I want to get to Shakespeare.’ I’ve gone from 17 to 70 to get to Shakespeare. I love this play, it’s a wonderful play and I’m so excited about Jimmy’s idea for it. It’s going to be set - and I don’t think this is giving anything away - in the music industry.

Interview: 'It's Going to Feel Like A Festival in A Few Hours': Director Jimmy Fairhurst and Actor Les Dennis on TWELFTH NIGHT at Shakespeare North Playhouse

I’m so excited for the production to be set in the music industry, as it has been described as ‘like going away for a weekend to a festival’. Can you tell us a little bit about what the audience can expect?

Jimmy: This is Shakespeare’s most musical of comedies. When we came out of research and development (R&D) with The National Theatre - it was kindly supported by them - I wanted to see how much music could sit within the show, but how much could sit within the lens of the music industry…It’s going to feel like a weekend festival in a couple of hours. They’ll [the audience] experience it in that - the way the company will work with the audience. I’ve been watching lots and lots of artists in Glastonbury footage. It needs to feel like these artists and performers [in the production] could step out and own the Pyramid Stage…It’s going to be a lot of fun and there’s some stuff that is going to make people immediately go, ‘we’re at a festival’.

Are there going to be any original songs and Les, will you be performing any?

Les: I don’t know yet. We performed some Rolling Stones stuff at the R&D, and that was great.

Jimmy: Yes, there will be original compositions. There will be a fair bit of music that people know too.

Interview: 'It's Going to Feel Like A Festival in A Few Hours': Director Jimmy Fairhurst and Actor Les Dennis on TWELFTH NIGHT at Shakespeare North Playhouse

You’ve mentioned the space at the Shakespeare North Playhouse - how are you going to use that amazing theatre in the round space for this production? It seems perfect for a festival setting…

Jimmy: We always say in everything we do, that the audience can interact as much or as little as they want. That’s what’s great about this space - it’s transformative. It can be a music studio, it can be a musical tent at a festival and it can be the Pyramid Stage. Because it is such a beautiful space, you can get around the back of the audience. When Sir Toby and Maria are causing havoc with the letter, we want the audience to be complicit in the mischief - With that space, we’re able to do that. It really will be a 360 degree experience.

Les: I’m really excited about working in the round. I hadn’t worked in the round and I was very nervous of it until I went to the Bolton Octagon last year. I love it. My instinct as a performer is that you have to be out front and centre, but in the theatre in the round production, there’s something going on and you can see every angle. It’s real life.

Jimmy: For us, it’s always about the audience first - who will this work for? It’s all led by the text and the audience are mining what is there. Shakespeare’s text is beautiful, it’s lyrical, which is perfect for music, but it’s Shakespeare’s understanding of human nature that makes it so relevant and still so relevant now. He understood human nature better than any writer before or since. That’s what allows us an audience to go, ‘oh that’s me’ or ‘I know someone like them,’ - particularly when love comes up, it ‘makes fools of us all.’

Les: When you play with Shakespeare text and you don’t think, ‘I’ve got to do it this way’, - when you excite an audience, that’s when the text comes alive. That’s what excites me about what Jimmy is doing, to bring it into the music industry, is such a great analogy.

It’s such a brilliant interpretation - and speaking of which, Malvolio has been interpreted and performed by lots of people including Sir Ken Dodd. Les, what are you going to bring to Malvolio to make the interpretation your own?

Les: I’m excited to follow in Doddy’s shoes. I didn’t see that production. I loved Ken Dodd. Ken Dodd was the first show I saw when I was a kid, at the Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre. My mum and dad got tickets to see The Ken Dodd Laughter Show and it stayed with me to this day. It made me want to do what I do. In the rehearsal room, we started to see glimpses of Malvolio when we did the research and development at the National, but I just want to work with the other performers and find him [Malvolio].

I hope there’s going to be a photo of you in your Malvolio costume in the Sir Ken Dodd Performance Garden at the Shakespeare North Playhouse. That would be be amazing.

Les: We will definitely make that happen and hopefully we’ll get Lady Dodd there as well. I know she has given us the thumbs up for it.

Twelfth Night is at the Shakespeare North Playhouse from 7 - 29 June 2024.

Production Photo Credits: Patch Dolan


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