How have productions represented the shipwreck that brings Viola and Sebastian to Illyria?
Before Twelfth Night begins, Viola and Sebastian are on a ship which is destroyed at sea and breaks apart. Viola believes she has lost her brother for ever and is now all alone.
In 2012, the RSC staged ‘The Shipwreck Trilogy’ with three of Shakespeare’s plays that begin with shipwrecks: The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night and The Tempest. In the video beneath the picture gallery, director David Farr, and some of the actors in the company, talk about the symbolism of shipwreck and what it means for the characters. Emily Taafe, who played Viola, suggests some of the characters ‘are shipwrecked literally and some of them are shipwrecked emotionally’. What do you think this might mean for the characters in Twelfth Night?
You can take a look at the Things to Consider here and investigate the different ways we’ve staged the moments after the shipwreck at the RSC in this picture gallery.
As you look through the images and photographs from past productions of Twelfth Night, think about:
- How much of the shipwreck itself is shown. Has the director shown the moment before the play begins, when Viola and Sebastian are separated? Or, is the first indication of the shipwreck when Viola is washed ashore in Act 1 Scene 2? How have they chosen to show she is on the shore? Do you think it would be more effective to see the shipwreck or to see Viola for the first time as she comes ashore?
- How the designer has represented the shore of Illyria. What mood is created by this moment? How can you tell she has been washed up and what has happened to her?
- Viola and what you can infer about her character. This is the only time in most productions an audience will see Viola dressed as herself. Even in the final moments of the play, when everyone knows who she is, Viola is usually still dressed as ‘Cesario’. What do you think she is like? Can you tell what kind of life she had before the shipwreck?
How much of the shipwreck would you chose to show? In the 2017 production the play opened with Act 1 Scene 2 instead of Orsino’s court, because Christopher Luscombe and the company felt it was Viola’s story and it was important that she was the character that opened the play. How would you introduce her?