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John Knowles, writer, director, actor and ‘Twelfth Night’ explorer

A Twelfth Night double bill

Theatre is back! Two performances in one evening at The Stables Theatre! Two talented, veteran actors! Two solo shows! Both influenced by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Both written and directed by renowned local playwright, John Knowles. One night only! Bringing their brilliance to the stage, Patrick Kealey performs in ‘Fiction Romance’ and Sidney Keane in ‘Toby Belch (is unwell)’. Both have had 5 star reviews and now we have a chance to see them in our own town. Fully accessible theatre. HOT’s Zelly Restorick writes.


27 July 2021 : The Stables Theatre : Starts at 7pm.

Book tickets via The Stables Box Office. 423 221

More information about Theatre Nation here. 

Local playwright, actor and director, John Knowles’ fascination with Twelfth Night, catalysed him to explore beyond Shakespeare’s rendition of the tale. After all, within one play, there are 8 or 10 interesting characters intertwined within the storyline, each with a unique role to play – major or minor – and each with their own life and inner thoughts. John has focused on the side characters in the play, who – like us all – see themselves as the central protagonists on their own life stage. What’s going on for them? What do they have to say for themselves? How does it feel to be a minor character in a play?

The evening will open with ‘Fiction Romance’, a story of unrequited love between Antonio, Shakespeare’s most openly gay character, a sailor in love with a young man, Sebastien, who’s in love with someone else. The evening will then flow from lost love into Toby Belch (is unwell), heartily hailing the audience to love and enjoy life and have a good time. “Rhythmically”, says Patrick, “it works very well”.

Patrick Kealey in ‘Fiction Romance’

Fiction Romance is the second in a planned trilogy by John Knowles, catalysed by Patrick going along to see Sidney’s performance and being, in Patrick’s own words, “knocked-out by the writing and incredible take no prisoners performance. Utterly brilliant. I though to myself: I’d love to do something like that and the next time I  met up with John, I casually mentioned that if wanted to write a piece for me, I’d be very happy. A few months later, John said he’d written something I think would be right for you and sent me the ‘Fiction Romance’ script. It’s quite rare we actors get to do a piece we really want to do, but I really really wanted to do this play.”

Patrick Kealey in ‘Fiction Romance’

Fiction Romance was not just a play, but an emotional rollercoaster that presented a different perspective on love, and left you with a lot of food for thought.”


“… a beautifully redemptive tale… Kealey’s the ideal interpreter of this deeply- wrought, yet respectful riposte to those occasional loose endings of genius…’’


Sidney Kean plays the central role in Toby Belch (is unwell), another Twelfth Night character, who, he says, “is a drunk, a lord who thinks he’s better than everyone else, a gad-about-town, good at being the life and soul of the party and sparking off the fun and games, but is also the one who doesn’t want to go home, because he’s having way too much of a good time and doesn’t want the party to end”.

‘A virtuoso bit of writing with a complex array of themes”

”An imaginative amplification of Shakespeare’s Toby Belch, with moods ranging from the sentimental and nostalgic to envious, funny and sharp”


‘A top performance, mixing spit, sniggers & pathos in equal measure. Acutely accurate acting of an amazingly observed script. We loved it. Pls entertain us again soon.’ 


Toby Belch (Is Unwell) website

And no, you don’t have to be a fan of Shakespeare or need to get out the GCSE notes on Twelfth Night to be in the audience. These are two stand alone pieces. (Although if you are familiar with the play, there’ll be a little extra understanding of nuances.)

Do the characters speak in contemporary language or Shakespearean language? John uses some of both. Antonio, for example, frequently quotes Antonio’s lines from Twelfth Night, “placed in the story in an incredibly clever way”, says Patrick.

Sidney Kean as Toby Belch (Photo Anna Chand)

Inspired by the success of – and the audience response to – oby Belch (is unwell) and Fiction Romance, John is creating a trilogy of plays, all inspired by Twelfth Night. The third character’s life to be explored will be Viola. Putting all three plays on together will be a fantastic future opportunity.

Both shows are solo performances? What’s it like, alone on the stage? “It’s frightening”, says Sidney. “When I was first approached by John to do the read-through, I thought: ‘Whooaaa… this is huge – 45 – 50 minutes on stage alone – my God, what?!’ It is absolutely scary. There is no-one else there… no safety net.”

Sidney Kean as Toby Belch

What do you do if you’re alone on stage and you dry? “You take an interesting dramatic pause, gather your wits and then you carry on”, says Patrick with a smile.

“If you forget the words – that doesn’t matter… whatever comes out of your mouth is the play that night”, says Sidney. “The only people who know the words are the author and yourself!”

Why go along? “Fiction Romance is a brilliant script, witty, poetic, heartfelt – and has a little bit of everything. The theme song of the play for me is Pete Shelley’s ‘Have you ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with?”

Sidney replied as Toby Belch: “You’ve gotta come and see it… as it’s debauched, come along and be insulted – and have a wonderful time… come on… you’ll go out rolling in the aisles”.

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Posted 23:13 Friday, Jul 23, 2021 In: Performance

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