The Beatles and The Bard collide in Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’


This summer the Duluth Playhouse Teen Summer Performance Intensive is producingChicago: The Musical and William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night from August 11th to the 21st. Both shows have fascinating concepts. We’ve already shared Chicago’s criminal justice-themed concept.  Today we would like to introduce the world of Illyria; the fictional setting of Twelfth Night, Or What You Will.  This year the Bard celebrates the art and culture of the 60s, a time of transformation, revolution, mod fashion, freedom, love, and the iconic music of The Beatles.

Major cultural concepts at play in the 60s – creativity, art, fashion, gender identity and the rising importance of music and pop culture – can all be found in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.  Viola disguises herself as a boy to protect her identity, and Duke Orsino finds himself falling for the androgynous servant much to his confusion; Malvolio struts around the stage in an outrageous outfit of yellow stockings with cross-gartering; Feste educates the other characters through song; and even the foolish night Sir Andrew Aguecheek states the importance of art and knowledge, exclaiming “O, had I but followed the arts!”   The play is ripe with self-referential humor, eccentric characters, and hijinks.  Fans of the Beatles and Shakespeare will find much to love and a lot of laughs.  With all this, plus compelling love stories, an Illyria caught in the turmoil of the 60s makes the perfect setting for Shakespeare’s madcap comedy Twelfth Night.

This production approaches the concept in two ways: with costumes, and with music. The costumes of the show take on the trajectory of memorable, innovative fashion styles of the 60s. The show begins in darkness, with the tragic shipwreck separating the twins Viola and Sebastian, the sadness of a lovelorn Duke, and the grief of a countess who is mourning her brother and father. Fittingly, the show starts with the mod fashion of the early to mid-60s. Mod fashion started as a sub culture in London, with mod being short for the modernist. Based on Italian and French styles, mod fashion focused on sharp, clean lines, geometric shapes, and bright, clean colors. For men, this meant tailored suits with narrow lapels, thin ties, button-down shirts with collars, fashionable shoes, and haircuts in the style of French Novelle Vague film stars. Women dressed in androgynous styles, with men’s pants or shirts, short haircuts, flat shoes, and a little makeup to go with false eyelashes.  The icon of this female androgynous style was Twiggy, a British model known for her slim figure, pixie cut, and big doe eyes accentuated with long, false lashes. This androgynous style was also taken by some men, with some wearing eyeshadow and lipstick.  As the decade moved on, mod women wore more mini skirts, along with using color more boldly. The designs of designer Mary Quant and the company Marimekko became largely influential, appearing in magazines, on TV, and on celebrities such as Mia Farrow, Audrey Hepburn, and First Lady Jackie Kennedy.



As Twelfth Night goes on, characters fall in love, and comedy ensues as the show is overrun with mistaken identities, pranks, and misconceptions. Similarly, the tight suits and skinny ties, sharp lines, and clean, bright colors of early 60s fashion give way to unbound love and the flower child “hippie” style of the late 60s.  Men and women alike adopted bell-bottoms, tie-dye, and flowing garments with floral and natural patterns dominating.  Styles in the later 60’s became more global, with influences from all over the world, abandoning the structure and uniformity of the early mod style.  Instead of bright, clean colors, there were polka dots, cross-cultural and gender norm styles, and psychedelic prints.  It was a time of the civil rights movement, celebrating peace, love, and freedom, and that explosion in style fits right in with the burgeoning love, blooming joy, and madcap party like atmosphere of Twelfth Night.



The other key concept for Twelfth Night is the music.  The 60s was significant in music and culture as the decade of the British Invasion, where British bands that were inspired by US rock and roll and blues musicians of the 50s took over the charts. Groups like the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, and the Who created music that would define a generation, and influence the music we hear today.  One group reigned above all, however and continues to be considered the greatest band of all time: the Beatles.  They changed music with their songwriting, talent, and use of studio music techniques. Their music covered many themes, styles, and genres, evolving through their career as art, and political and cultural changes transformed the 60’s.  This also mirrors the growth and change of the works of Shakespeare through his career. This production mines similarities in lyric and poetic structure between both the Beatles and the Bard.  Shakespeare often used music in his shows, with Twelfth Night being especially filled with songs. These songs are used to convey the feelings of the characters, and to allude to greater themes in the show. This makes it perfect for this 60s production of Twelfth Night pairing Beatles hits to complement the text while giving the audience a window into the souls of the characters.  Songs like “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” “Blackbird,” and “The Fool on the Hill” are able to convey the ideas of deep yearning, sadness, and the genius of an overlooked fool, and characters navigating the complex emotional paths of love.


At first glance, the Beatles, 60’s art, fashion, and William Shakespeare may seem an odd fit, but closer inspection finds that marrying these elements in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night couldn’t be a better match. Much like our mismatched characters, mistaken identities, and lovelorn fools, we ended up with a modern-classic comedy made in heaven.  It’s a special show, and you have from August 11th to the 21st to come down to the Duluth Playhouse to experience it. Don’t miss your chance!



What: Chicago and Twelfth Night
When: August 11-21, 2016
Time: Thursday-Saturday @ 7pm, Sunday @ 2pm
Tickets: Adults – $17, Youth/Students – $14
Purchase: Online (click Chicago or Twelfth Night) or call 218.733.7555