Shake it up

• The Fremantle Theatre Company’s 2021 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream featured a caravan and men in pink dungarees.

FORGET about Love Actually, the Shakespeare “banger” Twelfth Night is the perfect rom-com to enjoy with your partner under the stars during the festive period.

A mix of comedy and lust that appeals to a younger audience, the play has been adapted for the big screen numerous times, so it was no surprise that Fremantle Theatre Company chose it for their summer Shakespeare in the Park tour.

Originally written to close the Christmas season in around 1601, Twelfth Night centres on twins Viola and Sebastian, who are separated in a shipwreck.

Viola (who is disguised as Cesario) falls in love with the Duke Orsino, who in turn is in love with Countess Olivia. Upon meeting Viola, Countess Olivia falls in love with her thinking she is a man.

With its messy love triangle and gender ambiguity, the 17th century play is scarily prescient of how online dating would turn out 400 years later.

“[It’s] in tune with a world finally open to a more fluid appreciation of personal identity – something that’s always been up for debate in Shakespeare, but perhaps nowhere more keenly that on the island of Illyria in Twelfth Night,” says Renato Fabretti, artistic director of the Fremantle Theatre Company. “In this work, it is action that matters when the heart is at stake. It’s commitment and loyalty, passion and pursuit…not one’s gender, that decides the outcome.

“And it’s a story that all kicks off on the shores of an isolated island (visited by chance by these Italian mariners) on the heels of a terrible shipwreck…and nothing seems more apt for a Freo crowd on this western edge of Oz, on the heels of a pandemic, we’re we all feel a little more lost and keen to drop anchor alongside a familiar feeling.”

It would be easy for Fabretti to say that Shakespeare’s words still effortlessly resonate with people 400-plus years after his death, but he admits a 21st century audience has to put in a bit of effort.

“I think the work demands that we meet it midway, that we invest a little of ourselves in it, and it is this act of collaborative creation that makes the work sing a new each year,” he says.

“At its best, Shakespeare’s plays take a reading of us…while we read and perform them.”

Formed two years ago at the height of the pandemic, the independent Fremantle Theatre Company has already put on six professional productions including The Other Place and Last Train to Freo.

In 2021 they held their debut Shakespeare in The Park tour, performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream to more than 5000 people across WA, including a show at Walyalup Koort in Fremantle.

A Twelfth Night features nine professional actors and eight designers, and will be performed in stunning outdoor locations in Margaret River, Albany, Bunbury and Perth (Kings Park).

“We’re an independent company, which is tough,” Fabretti says. “But with the support of our incredible sponsors and sublime audiences, we make this work.”

The Company has some exciting plans for next year including staging the hit-show The Effect by Lucy Prebble, who co-produces and writes on the award-winning TV show Succession, as well as I Hate Suzie and Diary of a Call Girl.

But right now the Company is busy preparing for its performance of Twelfth Night at Kings Park Garden’s Saw Avenue Amphitheatre on January 11-21. And if one things for sure, Shakespeare always entertains.

“These stories are sometimes silly, sometimes divine,” Fabretti says. “They cut to the very quick of what it means to be alive, and they’re at the very same time quite epic and convoluted dramas that are over larger than life, that they invite an ambitious imagination to set soar.

“You can’t ask much more from raw material than that really, can you?”

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