Why Luke Adamson’s Twelfth Night will be at sixes and sevens on a Selby rugby field

Director Luke Adamson and actor Martha Godber in rehearsal at Selby RUFC for JLA Productions’ Twelfth Night

“I’M just getting in touch to announce that we’re doing some Shakespeare on a rugby pitch in Selby in August. Crazy? Perhaps. But it’s going to be fun!”, teases the email from Luke Adamson.

The Selby actor, writer, London pub theatre boss and son of former England squad fly half Ray Adamson will be returning to the scene of his “greatest triumphs” – two times winner of Selby Rugby Club’s Stars in Their Eyes competition, no less – to present Twelfth Night on August 20 and 21.

Adapted and directed by Adamson, his raucous musical version of “Shakespeare’s funniest play” will be staged on Selby RUFC turf by JLA Productions with Adamson as the foppish comic foil Sir Andrew Aguecheek in a cast rich with acting talent from York, Selby, Leeds and Hull, who began rehearsals at the rugby club on Monday this week.

Luke’s good friend from York youth theatre days, John Holt-Roberts, frontman of boisterous York band Hyde Family Jam, will play Sir Toby Belch; Millie Gaston, Maria; Martha Godber, playwrights John and Jane’s daughter, Olivia, and Imogen Ruby Little, Viola.

Emilio Encinoso-Gil and Imogen Ruby Little in a tender scene in rehearsal for Twelfth Night

Double-barrelled Emilio Encinoso-Gil will be on double duty as Feste and Orsino; likewise Aidan Thompson-Coates, for Sebastian and Malvolio.

Twelfth Night is the Shakespeare one where identical twins Sebastian and Viola are separated at sea after their ship sinks. When Viola washes up on the shores of Illyria, she must disguise herself as a man to gain employment with the local Duke, Orsino.

In a nutshell, as Luke puts it: “Orsino is in love with Olivia; Olivia is in love with Viola (who she thinks is a man called Cesario); Malvolio thinks Olivia is in love with him; Viola is in love with Orsino (who also thinks she is a man called Cesario).

“Antonia is in love with Sebastian; Sir Andrew is trying to woo Olivia; Feste is stirring the pot and Sir Toby Belch and Maria are getting drunk and making mischief.”

Millie Gaston, as Maria, and John Holt-Roberts, as Sir Toby Belch, in rehearsal for Twelfth Night

Ah, yes, that one! “Out go pantaloons, cross garters and big fluffy collars,” says Luke. “In come yellow and black rugby socks, cricket jumpers and questionable facial hair for a fast, funny, family-friendly show filled with slapstick comedy, famous songs and more than a few modern references.”

Luke, artistic director of JLA Productions and The Bridge House Theatre, in London SE20, is no stranger to the Selby RUFC pitches. He once played scrum half alongside his formidable fly-half father Ray, who toured Australia and Fiji as part of England’s squad in 1988.

“It was for Selby fifth team,” recalls Luke, who later returned to the ground on a Sunday afternoon in July 2017 as part of the squad for Leeds company Slung Low’s free Selby Arts Festival performance of Lisa Holdsworth’s Rugby Songs: the show with headsets for the crowd, first staged at assorted Yorkshire grounds during the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Ray reached the rugby heights, not only as a player for Wakefied but also as a referee, and Luke showed promise too. “I played in the North Yorkshire squad for one season in my age group, but by then I was starting to go to youth theatre in York and I knew that was the route I wanted to go down, but I did still play that season with the Selby fifths with my dad in 2006-2007,” he recalls.

Ray Adamson, Wakefield and Selby fly half, 1988 England squad member and actor Luke’s father, in his playing days

Now he will return to Selby RUFC for all the fun and games of Twelfth Night. “Initially I was contacted by Selby rugby club because they were looking at diversifying their programme after recent events,” says Luke.

“During the lockdowns, the bar couldn’t open for hospitality, and there was no rugby being played, but they still had to support the clubhouse, the ground staff, so they were looking at fundraising.

“They asked me if I’d be interested in doing a show and I said, ‘Absolutely! Yes!’. My mind went straight back to when I’d done Permanently Bard pub theatre in collaboration with Fullers.”

Over three years, Permanently Bard took Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night to pubs in London and the south. “I just thought it was a very informal, very relaxed and anarchic way to perform, giving the opportunity to play with people, when normally they would never go to their local theatre, but hopefully they would go to their local pub, and if something was on, they’d happily pay for it,” recalls Luke. “They loved it!”

Aidan Thompson-Coates having a Malvolio moment during rehearsals for Twelfth Night

Rather than performing in the Selby clubhouse, Luke and his company will be taking to the grass, entering the pitch from exactly where the first XV does. “The outdoor show will suit all ages,” he says. “There’ll be stuff for older ages, and stuff that children will like as Twelfth Night is the perfect starter play with a lovely plot and fun characters.

“We’re trimming it down to 90 minutes plus interval, and we’ll be performing with our native accents, but the key thing is to do it with clarity, cutting out the things that may have been clever wordplay in Shakespeare’s time but don’t work now.

“There’s room for adlibbing with the audience too, certainly for Feste; we’ll be adding original music by Stefan Galt to complement Shakespeare’s songs, and the scale of the show will be epic but simultaneously intimate!”

As for giving a nod to the rugby setting, “We might even have some tackle shields as part of the set,” promises Luke.

JLA Productions in Twelfth Night, Selby Rugby Union Football Club, August 20, kick-off, 7.30pm; August 21, 2.30pm, 7.30pm. Tickets are on sale at jlaproductions.co.uk with discounts available for family bookings.

Perfect pitch! Luke Adamson, left, and fellow Slung Low cast members Sally Ann Staunton, Nadia Imam and Tyron Maynard for Rugby Songs, performed at Selby RUFC in July 2017

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