Review: Twelfth Night (Shakespeare In Action)

Non-actor volunteers accepted The Shakespeare Challege with Twelfth Night in a fundraiser for Shakespeare in Action

The cast runs down the aisle shouting and dancing their way to the stage. The song “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas is blaring on the speakers. The cast members rifle through a box of costumes, loudly declaring what piece is for them. The giddiness of the actors makes the play feel spontaneous. The production of Twelfth Night by Shakespeare In Action at the Arts & Letters Club changes from a long-awaited gala, to an impromptu comedy.

The play’s title refers to the twelfth night after Christmas. This day was previously celebrated as Saturnalia, an ancient Roman festival full of drinking and switching of social order. So, on the twelfth night servants dressed as their masters, men as women, and vice versa. Shakespeare’s comedy toys with the idea of switching roles through switching gender and status. Costumes, twins, and trickery all help in creating chaos. Watching the misunderstandings multiply is the best part of the play, other than Malvolio’s bright yellow stockings.

The difference between this production of Twelfth Night is that it is performed by amateurs. I am not trying to be dismissive. The cast is not made up of professional actors, but made up of volunteers for the Shakespeare Challenge. Over the course of seven three-hour rehearsals, the cast tried their best to create a professional performance.  With the help of voluntary stage teams and Michael Kelly as the director, the show was ready for the gala. Kelly is the Founder and Artistic Director of Shakespeare in Action and is fluent in all things Shakespeare.

Naturally, there were slip-ups and forgotten lines, but considering the circumstances the volunteers did the play justice. Meredith Phinney does a fabulous portrayal of Malvolio, the pompous servant who wishes to be above his station. Phinney struts around stage, nose in the air, insulting all the other members of the house. The confidence Phinney has with Malvolio is so clear, that at times I’d forget that he was being played by a woman. Other stand-out performances are Jacintha Doner’s delightful Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Anne Goad’s boyish Cesario.

I was impressed by the quality of the performance and inspired by the cause the play was funding. The Shakespeare Challenge is a yearly event, previously putting on A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest. Along with the tickets of the show, funds are raised through a post-show live and silent auction. The funds raised are used to give students in priority neighbourhoods in Toronto access to the arts and to experience Shakespeare themselves.

To find out more about the Shakespeare Challenge and Shakespeare in Action, please check out their website. The Shakespeare Challenge is over for this year, but there is still a chance to donate. William Shakespeare may be a man of the past, but the spirit of his work still inspires a better future. 

Photo of Jacintha Doner, Tina Bates, Suzanne Manvell, and Meredith Phinney courtesy of Shakespeare In Action