The title Twelfth Night already alludes to the true protagonist and driving force of the play: time. Twelve nights is the interval between Christmas and Epiphany, the festive period par excellence in Elizabethan England. Period is a word that has many different meanings in the Italian language, but specifically alludes to a specific section of time, which therefore has a beginning and an end. We have recently come across a period that gives us a taste of the suspended and bitter taste of the time interval: a quarantine. The twelve nights, on the other hand, have a sweet and festive taste, but seasoned with a mild poison: that time is extraordinary but destined to end. The result is an urge to use it to the full in order to achieve the desires that the exceptional nature of the festival promises to fulfil.
The characters in this play are therefore in a hurry. Duke Orsino is in a hurry, waiting too long for Olivia to accept his offers of love. The shipwrecked Viola is in a hurry. Separated by the storm from her twin brother Sebastian, she is anxiously awaiting the moment when she can shed her disguise and become a woman again under the protective wing of a powerful man capable of loving her. She is in a hurry Olivia, who after two bereavements that have forced her into loneliness would like to know a moment of life and joy for her last years of youth. For this reason, rather than the obstinate Orsino, she prefers the graceful young page who opens up a horizon of novelty and brings a different wind into her life. Malvolio, the formal head of Olivia’s household, is in a hurry. In order to move up the social ladder, he has no choice but to run towards the trap that gives him a glimpse of the possibility of marrying his mistress. All the other inhabitants of the house are in a hurry, driven by overlapping desires: to get their hands on the girl’s fortune and to punish Malvolio for his excessive rigidity and arrogance, by organising a bitter joke that takes place at the time of the party and will end with its conclusion. And the twins Viola and Sebastiano are in a hurry to find a new identity in the world that separates them.
This passage of time is embodied in a structure similar to that of a Renaissance clock. The character of Feste, the Fool, whose philosophy is tinged with spleen and preludes to Hamlet’s much more complex reflections, gives a movement of charge and pause to the staging. It is he who sets in motion the initial storm from which the turn of the dial develops. The castaways find themselves pushed by the waves on the shores of an Illyria that has the colours of a dream or a drunken party with an oriental flavour. In homage to “quel che volete” (what you want) of the title, different and contaminated materials are mixed, accentuating the dreamlike key of the play that favours confusion and gender ambiguity in a free play of feelings and actions. The wave of the sea is echoed in the music and dances that accompany the time of the story, marked by twelve stations that rotate throughout the story. Twelve chairs occupy the stage, along with a few props that define each character. They are the only elements that support the actors in the staging, apart from the costumes, which are entrusted with the task of defining and amplifying the atmosphere and charm of the place: a space of the mind, where heterogeneous musical and visual elements meet in a “wonderland”. Physical contacts are rarefied, movements are highly formalised and, as in Bollywood films, dances and courtships take place at a respectful distance.
From the quiet dawn ripped apart by the storm and the shipwreck, time takes us on an increasingly accelerated journey towards a frenetic midnight when, as in all fairy tales, the party ends, the wishes come true – at least in appearance – and with the cards changed, the round starts again.