It was July 1971. The 1967 ‘summer of love’ was a fading memory. I had been at Cambridge then, where male students out-numbered females by at least ten to one and a summer of love was something that few of us could aspire to. Instead, studying for a degree in English Literature, I read Shakespeare’s comedies, where love itself is almost always what he wants us to laugh at.
“Lord, what fools these mortals be,” is Puck’s laconic judgement on the young lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, asleep in the forest. Asleep? Or drugged?
Which brings me to Approximately Twelfth Night, the re-imagined version of Shakespeare’s play as a story about pot-smoking hippies that I wrote and directed with a cast of young people in Chester in 1971.
In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night the main plot is about romantic love, told in scenes that are written in blank verse. The sub-plot is about having fun and is told entirely in prose. My version was an approximation to the original in that the poetry remained intact, while the prose was re-written in the language of 1967. Rathmell and Shakespeare in equal proportions.
It was my first grown-up attempt at playwriting and, as far as I know, the first time that Twelfth Night had been re-imagined (as this kind of thing is now called) as a play about sex, drugs and rock-and-roll in a world where all you needed was love. In the decades since then it has been done many times, but not I think in quite the collaborative spirit in which I undertook it, doing as little damage as possible to the poetry, which is, after all, the play’s principal glory.
I don’t say that the later re-imaginings owe anything directly to mine, just that, unwittingly, they all did it my way.