Twelfth Night is upon us! And in honour of that, I present to you perhaps the strangest childhood creation I have yet unearthed. I had a vague memory of making this, but suspected I’d imagined it until I found it in my mum’s house a few months ago. It’s… well, it’s a decorated coat hanger. For reasons that escape me, aged (I believe) about eight, I decided to decorate a coat hanger. It also marks the point at which I first became aware of the writer that I’m now lucky enough to teach. And it’s all thanks to the BBC! Thanks, BBC.
In the early 90’s the BBC produced a series of animated versions of Shakespeare’s plays, entitled Shakespeare: The Animated Tales. Wikipedia informs me that they were written by the children’s author Leon Garfield, and that Stanley Wells was the academic consultant. They were beautifully written, and animated in Moscow using a range of frankly gorgeous techniques (serving rather nicely as an introduction to different styles of animation as well as to the plays). The ones I remember being shown in primary school are the utterly terrifying Macbeth and the stunning stop-motion Twelfth Night, the latter of which grabbed hold of my imagination and never let go of it.
Twelfth Night can be viewed here and I highly recommend it. My dear friend Wikipedia has also informed me that it has a rather astonishing cast, with Fiona Shaw as Viola, Roger Allam as Orsino, Stephen Tompkinson as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Hugh Grant as Sebastian and – my favourite bit of casting – legendary Private Eye satirist Willie Rushton as Sir Toby Belch. Seriously, can you imagine seeing a production with this cast? It’s the stuff theatre geek dreams are made of.
As for my, er, creation – as far as I can remember I drew this on a family holiday, somewhere cold and wet (autumn half term, perhaps?) where I had nothing else to do and so conceived the idea of decorating household objects. I’m not sure where I got the coat hanger from (I suppose it’s better than if I’d decided to use a chair or something) and I remember vague bemusement from my parents. I’ll say one thing: I spelled Shakespeare right, though. That must have taken some doing.
Following this, my trajectory was fairly straightforward. I pestered my mother into taking me to any Shakespeare productions I could ferret out among the (mostly amateur) theatre scene of our corner of south west England (and saw some brilliant productions, I should add), especially of Twelfth Night. I read Shakespeare, and much else besides, thus acquiring a taste for literature and a reputation for nose-in-a-book nerdiness that have proved equally difficult to shift (no matter how many seventeenth century pamphlets I inflict on myself).
My theatre trips with my mother culminated in a trip to London during my A-levels in 2002, in which we saw two productions at the Globe in two days (no shrinking violets, us) – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the cracking all-male production of Twelfth Night. I got to watch Mark Rylance float across the stage a few metres from my nose, his Olivia all manners and feminine wiles and desperation, hilarious, moving, and as much of a game-changer for me as the animated Twelfth Night had been a decade ago. I went to university to study English, of course. Despite vague efforts to get on in the real world, I’m studying still, at a different university this time, working on a time a bit later in the seventeenth century but fortunate enough to teach Shakespeare to first year undergraduates. Twelfth Night is not, sadly, on this year’s syllabus. But the 2002 Globe production is being revived this year – and I’m telling every undergraduate I encounter to book tickets. You can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be there, another decade on, renewing my acquaintance with a play that has shaped my life more than any other work of literature.
And the different bits, parsed…