The Actors from the London Stage have done it again: their five-person cast performance of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” was nothing short of brilliant. Actors from the London Stage (AFTLS) is an educational program based in greater London and at the University of Notre Dame. The AFTLS theater company is always made up of five British Shakespearean actors from companies such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. Since the AFTLS company only uses five actors, and there is no director, the actors must work together to make fascinating choices when bringing plays to life on-stage.
For those unfamiliar with “Twelfth Night,” Viola and Sebastian are twins who get shipwrecked in the country of Illyria. Both think the other twin drowned in the shipwreck. Upon reaching the shore, Viola takes on the guise of a young man named Cesario to be a page for Duke Orsino. Orsino is in love with his neighbor, the Countess Olivia, so he sends Cesario to woo her on his behalf. Naturally, Oliva falls in love with Cesario and is completely uninterested in Orsino. There is also a subplot in which a handful of Olivia’s court try to ruin the reputation of Olivia’s steward, Malvolio.
With that being said, here is what really matters (sorry, Malvolio, I’m leaving you out): in the beginning, Orsino loves Olivia, Olivia loves Cesario/Viola, and Cesario/Viola loves Orsino — a classic love triangle. But by the end, Orsino and Cesario/Viola are lovingly engaged to be married, and Olivia happily marries Sebastian, Viola’s twin brother — a classic Shakespearean comedy with a happy ending.
Why does this matter? Because in this particular production, Orsino clearly starts to fall in love with Cesario/Viola before he evers realizes she’s a woman. I think it is due to the whole “if music be the food of love, play on” bit. The jester, Feste, sings a lovely song to Orsino and Cesario/Viola. By the end of the song, Orsino is staring longingly over at Cesario/Viola thinking, “Woah, why am I strangely attracted to my page?”. Even Feste takes notice of this and makes an awkward exit to let them have some privacy. Are you following? Orsino is totally gay for Cesario/Viola, and is totally relieved when he discovers she is a woman (even though she is “the man”). I mean, the first thing he does when he comes to the realization that she is a woman is propose to her. But it gets better! Because she gets down on one knee for him. How much do I love that little detail? A whole lot!
Personally, I loved the entire performance and all of its little idiosyncrasies. Viola cross-dressing as the young man Cesario, proudly exclaiming, “I am the man!” — hello, yes! Did I totally see myself manifested in Sir Toby as he sat, near tears, with his hands pressed against his heart as Feste sang a love song with his heavenly voice? Yes! Was Orsino totally gay for Cesario? Absolutely! Oh, and Viola taking the classic proposal kneel instead of Orsino? Heck yes.
Each of the actors played multiple roles, as there are close to 15 characters with speaking roles in “Twelfth Night.” At one point, Kaffe Keating, who played Orsino, Feste and Fabian, had to maintain a three-way conversation with himself. The scene was done with such creativity and dexterity that the conversation between all three of his characters was not hard to follow.
In making these choices as their own directors, the Actors from the London Stage kept Shakespeare’s work relevant and clearly demonstrated the fluidity of love. All in all, the production was musical, lively, inclusive and glorious. 12(th Night)/10 would recommend.