Musical vagabond

Brian Protheroe as Feste in Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Brian Protheroe as Feste in Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it...It’s one of the most famous lines from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

And the production opening at the Crucible Theatre seems to be following it to the letter.

Leading the way will be Brian Protheroe in the role of Feste who reveals there will be more music than in the original text.

In particular at the beginning of the second act he will sing a setting of Christopher Marlowe’s Come Live With Me and Be My Love while the ensemble dance an Irish jig around him.

Director Jonathan Mumby has chosen to give Shakespeare’s romantic comedy a 1930s setting and Protheroe will be play guitar and piano.

He brings something of a musical pedigree to the piece, enjoying a brief pop career back in the Seventies. His song Pinball became a “modest hit” in 1974 earning an appearance on Top of the Pops, a tour of America and television shows in France and Germany.

“But it never took me away, I was very much an actor,” he says. “I had already played Hamlet in 1970 so I was hooked.”

His career has brought him to Sheffield a few times, first in 1976 playing an Ugly Sister in a production of Cinderella directed by Mel Smith with Ruby Wax in the cast, then an ill-fated production of Macbeth in 1985 plus touring with Maureen Lipman in Sitting Pretty, a play written by her daughter, Amy Rosenthal in 2002.

“Sheffield has changed so much, the only familiar place is this theatre,”he reflects. “I have vivid memories of coming out after the performance of Madbeth on press night and everyone averting their eyes. It was awful. Fortunately I have been able to have another go at the play at the Derby Playhouse to get the memory out of my system.”

His screen career includes recent appearances in Whitechapel and Casualty. “I’ve done a bit of TV but I tend to get cast as high-end posh blokes, bored bastards or womanisers whereas in the theatre it’s different,” he says. “The last three roles – Feste now, James Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Arthur Birling in An Inspector Calls, it would be hard to find three more different parts.”

The role of Feste, the resident fool in the household of the Countess Olivia, seems to have been foregrounded in this production.

“I think Jonathan’s idea for Feste was that he introduces the characters at the beginning of the play. It’s as though Feste comes back to this old house where these events have happened, conjures up the characters and then comes in and out of the action, in addition to the actual text. So he’s around a lot of the time.

“He’s a mysterious character there’s a sort of mystery about him. He seems to know a lot more of what’s going on than most of the other characters and he’s a philosopher and a wit, a musician and a wandering vagabond.”

A co-production with English Touring Theatre, Twelfth Night is at the Crucible from September 18 to October 18 and then tours.