Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

The Devil’s Doorbell reinterprets Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

The final part of local writer (and director, actor and producer) John Knowles’ trilogy refocusing Twelfth Night has been performed in Hastings.  Soon it will be performed at the new Shakespeare North Theatre in Prescot, Lancashire. Bernard McGinley saw the play.

The Fetch Theatre company is showing admirable resilience against the pandemic and its many adverse affects. The latest of their projects is an exploration of Shakespeare’s Viola, from Twelfth Night. The Devil’s Doorbell has Viola musing on who she is, and her development. It was performed at the The Beacon (near St Mary’s Terrace) and at the Regency Rooms (better known by many as the Crown House).

Twelfth Night

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was first performed in 1602, a late-Elizabethan seasonal fantasy. In it, Viola and her twin brother Sebastian are shipwrecked. To protect herself in a strange land she pretends to be Cesario, which gives rise to a whole set of separate problems. The apparent loss of her brother is the loss of an aspect of her self. The actor playing the girl playing the boy was himself a boy.  

The performance by Hannah Harris as Viola (and Jackie) builds and builds, a crafted piece of work:  fierce, funny, tender, sad, bleak, savage. Her black and red costume seems to invoke the Commedia dell’Arte (and also perhaps its later erosion by Carlo Goldoni). Attention is repaid.

John Knowles’s play is a celebration of masks and theatrical artifice, and how mask wearers can be free, despite the dangers of the mask becoming permanent. In a whirling dramatic monologue (with intermittent stage business) Viola recalls fleeting details of her experience, including involvement with the Duke Orsino, her role as Jackie, and her friend JoJo who met a bad fate. The account touches on themes of coercion, self-empowerment, theatre, virtue, identity, sexuality, corruption, beauty, empathy, blame, contraries, pretence, prejudice, God-as-a-man, jesting, and loss and discovery. The Devil’s Doorbell is a rich brew.

The invocations include Oscar Wilde on killing what one loves (The Ballad of Reading Gaol), and Jacques Brel’s La Chanson de Jacky on dreams of passing boundaries:

My name would be Antonio
And all my bridges I would burn . . .

Many twins learn early the fun of playing the other. Viola here suggests how even non-twins can have a wild twin in the dark, how her friend JoJo freed her and called her Jackie.


Earlier parts of the Trilogy investigated the insides and ups-and-downs of other characters. Toby Belch is Unwell reflected on the might-have-beens and a misleading reputation.

Fiction Romance considered Twelfth Night’s Antonio, the sea captain, who has an interest in Viola’s brother Sebastian. It won a bursary award at the Brighton Fringe Festival in 2021.

The Twelfth Night Trilogy is being staged by Fetch Theatre in Preston, Lancashire, on 26 and 27 November, including ‘an original sea shanty’ by Bob Tipler.

Creativity in Hastings & St Leonards is impressively high. A prime instance is Fetch Theatre’s work on the personal, the provocative and the imaginative.

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Posted 17:28 Sunday, Sep 11, 2022 In: Performance

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