One of the Bard’s best-loved comedies returns

Sheffield Theatres and English Touring Theatre's production of Twelfth Night. Picture: Mark Douet
Sheffield Theatres and English Touring Theatre's production of Twelfth Night. Picture: Mark Douet
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Twelfth Night is coming to the stage – again. Nick Ahad talks to the cast of the Crucible’s latest version and finds out why it’s still relevant.

Auditioning for drama school has got to be pretty terrifying. What most do, once they have prepared their audition speech, is ask a friend in the theatre world for feedback. Some will ask friends with a bit of directing background.

Those who are really serious might even shell out for a professional director. Not Ben Hall. He asked his granddad. Although to you and I “granddad” is one of the twentieth century’s greatest theatre directors.

Ben Hall, grandson of Sir Peter, had plenty to live up to.

“It was absolutely bloody terrifying,” says Hall, who, obviously, got into drama school. “He’s my granddad, but still.”

You can imagine. I mean, this is the man who directed the premiere of Waiting for Godot, founded the Royal Shakespeare Company and directed the National.

Hall the grandson graduated this year from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and has racked up some pretty impressive credits already – he’s been in Henry V, Uncle Vanya, The Seagull – but none of them were professional productions. The debut professional show for Hall belongs to Sheffield Crucible.

“Before I called I was literally just standing on the stage and looking out at those 800 seats, thinking about the fact that I have never been in front of an audience that size,” he says.

“It’s an absolutely amazing place with an incredible history. It is pretty amazing to be here.”

Hall is at the Crucible to play Curio in Jonathan Munby’s Twelfth Night, a co-production between Sheffield Theatre and English Touring Theatre. Munby, a highly regarded director, has worked previously in the region when he staged ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore at West Yorkshire Playhouse and is making a welcome return to Yorkshire.

Hall is delighted to be in esteemed company for the production.

“Watching these incredibly seasoned actors up close has been an incredible experience,” he says.

“Working on a tour for this amount of time is the closest thing that British theatre has to the old rep system. At drama school we were constantly told that a career has nothing to do with fame and everything to do with doing the work. Your career will hopefully span many decades and for me right now the best way to learn is to see these actors who have been doing it for 30, 40 years, up close. Their technique is flawless.”

There are probably few better places to learn your craft that in a Shakespeare play. Twelfth Night, a story of shipwrecked twins, mistaken identities and love, is one of Shakespeare’s best known comedies. Why are we still watching it after all this time?

“It feels like there is a lightness and a darkness to this play that simply reflects humanity,” says Hall.

“The plays are so malleable to an idea that if it is intelligent and well thought out, it can feel like a new play. It feels like people seeing our version will see something they have never seen before.”

It sounds like Hall is embracing his new career. “I reckon I was always going to become an actor, director or rocket scientist,” he says. “Coming from my family, it was always going to be the theatre, or I was going to run as far away as possible.”

It transpires it was a trip to the theatre that sealed Hall’s future fate. “I was eight and we had gone as a whole family to Glyndebourne (where Sir Peter Hall famously directed a number of operas) and we saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I remember Puck was brilliant and he had spiky ginger hair. Afterwards, we went backstage to meet the cast and I realised Puck was wearing a wig. I have ginger hair and I remember, as an eight year old boy, praying that when he took his wig off he would have ginger hair underneath – and he did. I was so pleased.”

And so Hall’s future career was sealed. Clearly, the family background was always going to be a help. As well as the patriarch, there are various aunts and uncles, from Rebecca to Edward Hall.

“Nepotism is a tricky topic – I’d never want to be offered a part by my family just because I’m family, I’d want to apply to audition. It is always a profession first. I don’t exactly keep it a secret, but it’s not something I particularly talk about unless people ask me. It’s difficult when people start speaking to me or treating me differently, yes, my granddad is who he is, but he’s also just my granddad.”

Making your debut on a stage as big as the Crucible means two things – there’s nowhere to hide and if a director as respected as Jonathan Munby has faith in you, chances are you have the chops to take on the task. It might not be too long before people stop asking Ben about the famous family.