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Cost £10/£15 for 2 shows (incl. 3 Sisters)
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Illyria, the setting of Twelfth Night, is important to the play's romantic atmosphere. The actual Illyria is an ancient region on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea covering parts of modern Croatia, Montenegro and Albania, and the city state of Ragusa has been proposed as the setting. Alternatively, in the context of allegory, Illyria is thought to be the Roman play Menæchmi, as a place where, as in Twelfth Night, a twin went looking for her brother. Shakespeare himself mentioned it previously, in Henry VI, Part II, noting its reputation for pirates. It has been noted that the play's setting also has English characteristics such as Viola's use of "Westward ho!", a typical cry of 16th century London boatmen, and also Antonio's recommendation to Sebastian of "the Elephant" as where it is "best to lodge" in Illyria; the Elephant was a pub not far from the Globe theatre.

Like many of Shakespeare's comedies, this one centres on mistaken identity. The leading character, Viola, is shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria during the opening scenes. She loses contact with her twin brother, Sebastian, whom she believes dead. Masquerading as a young page under the name Cesario, she enters the service of Duke Orsino. Orsino is in love with the bereaved Lady Olivia, whose father and brother have recently died, and who will have nothing to do with any suitors, the Duke included. Orsino decides to use "Cesario" as an intermediary. Olivia, believing Viola to be a man, falls in love with this handsome and eloquent messenger. Viola, in turn, has fallen in love with the Duke, who also believes Viola is a man, and who regards her as his confidant.
Olivia (1888) by Edmund Blair Leighton

Much of the play is taken up with the comic subplot, in which several characters conspire to make Olivia's pompous head steward, Malvolio, believe that his lady Olivia wishes to marry him. It involves Olivia's uncle, Sir Toby Belch; another would-be suitor, a silly squire named Sir Andrew Aguecheek; her servants Maria and Fabian; and her father's favorite fool, Feste. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew disturb the peace of their lady's house by keeping late hours and perpetually singing catches at the very top of their drunken voices, prompting Malvolio to chastise them. This is the basis for Sir Toby's, Sir Andrew's, and Maria's revenge on Malvolio.

The riotous company convince Malvolio that Olivia is secretly in love with him, and write a letter in Olivia's hand, asking Malvolio to wear yellow stockings cross-gartered, to be rude to the rest of the servants, and to smile in all circumstances. Olivia, saddened by Viola's attitude to her, asks for her chief steward, and is shocked by a Malvolio who has seemingly lost his mind. She leaves him to the contrivances of his tormentors.

Pretending that Malvolio is insane, they lock him up in a dark cellar (a common "treatment" for the mentally ill), with a slit for light. Feste visits him to mock his "insanity", once disguised as a priest, and again as himself. At the end of the play Malvolio learns of their conspiracy and storms off promising revenge, but the Duke sends Fabian to pacify him.

Meanwhile Sebastian, Viola's brother, believed deceased, arrives on the scene, sowing confusion. Mistaking him for Viola, Olivia asks him to marry her, and they are secretly united. Finally, when the twins appear in the presence of both Olivia and the Duke, there is more wonder and awe at their similarity, at which point Viola reveals she is really a female and that Sebastian is her lost twin brother. The play ends in a declaration of marriage between the Duke and Viola, and it is learned that Toby has married Maria. An elegiac song from Feste ("heigh-ho, the wind and the rain") brings the entertainment to a close.
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Title page from First Folio

The full title of the play is Twelfth Night, or What You Will. Subtitles for plays were fashionable in the Elizabethan era, and though some editors place The Merchant of Venice's alternate title, The Jew of Venice, as a subtitle, this is the single Shakespeare play to bear one when first published. The play was probably finished between 1600 and 1601, but was not printed until its inclusion in the First Folio in 1623. The first recorded performance was on 2 February 1602, at Candlemas, the formal end of Christmastide in the year's calendar.

"Twelfth Night" is a reference to the twelfth night after Christmas Day, called the Eve of the Feast of Epiphany. It was originally a Catholic holiday but, prior to Shakespeare's play, had become a day of revelry. Servants often dressed up as their masters, men as women and so forth. This history of festive ritual and Carnivalesque reversal is the cultural origin of the play's confusion. The source story, "Of Apolonius and Silla" appeared in Barnabe Riche's collection, Riche His Farwell to the Militarie Profession (1581), which in turn is derived from a story by Matteo Bandello.

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Impulse Theatre
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Debbie Bridge
Kier Brown
Daisy Brydon

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