Review: ‘Twelfth Night’ Was so Shakespeare, in the Worst Ways

From left to right: Maria played by Harvey, Sir Toby played by Christian, Sir Andrew played by Addison and Fabian played by Marquette junior Kat Voogd. This is one of many scenes in the play where these characters come together to develop their scheme to embarrass Malvolio (Photo courtesy of the Albion College Theatre Department).

As an English major, I am perfectly content admitting that I hate Shakespeare. Albion College’s production of “Twelfth Night” didn’t change this sentiment. 

However, my enjoyment of the actors’ performances made “Twelfth Night” a tolerable endeavor. I firmly believe that every actor did the best they could with the characters they were cast as. 

In the opening scenes, the audience is introduced to the main plot; Viola, played by Columbus senior Orion Hower, cross-dresses as their presumed-deceased twin brother Sebastian, following a shipwreck at sea. 

Midway through the first act, the audience learns that Sebastian, played by Hamilton junior Hannah Fathman is, in fact, alive and present in the same town as Viola. This dramatic irony triggers a cascade of mistaken identity scenarios amongst the other characters. 

The set-up of the main plot hinges on the separation and eventual reuniting of Viola and Sebastian after thinking they had lost the other. This is perfectly fine, but pretty typical from Shakespeare.

Despite the twists and turns of the main plot, I found the B-plot more interesting. The comedy and plotting of the side characters is what drew my attention.

Shakespeare’s Complexities in Speech and Song

Though I found the side plot compelling, it wasn’t easy to understand the dialogue in either part of the story.

Shakespearean language is a complex concept to comprehend in today’s world for many – myself included. In “Twelfth Night,” the audience is expected to translate Shakespeare’s early modern English into something we can understand today. 

Thankfully, Director and English Professor Ian MacInnes was aware of the struggle for some cast members to get into the Shakespearean language.

Brownstown sophomore Jillian Bentley, who played Countess Olivia, said MacInnes and the English department provided resources that were helpful when delivering her character’s complex lines.

Yet, for some actors, other parts of the play required more attention. 

In one of the most memorable scenes in the first half, three of the characters – Sir Andrew, Sir Toby played by Dallas sophomore Alexander Christian  and the Fool, played by Ortonville sophomore Seph Cartier – have a party and start singing a song titled “Catch.” Marquette junior Ian Addison, who played Sir Andrew, said this required a lot of thought from the cast members on the delivery.

“There was a time we were trying to get ‘The Catch’ to be actually harmonious and melodic like it was a well-sung piece of music,” Addison said. “Then we realized, ‘wait a minute, these guys are drunk. They’re not gonna sound like that.’”

In my view, the scene comes off exactly as they intended. The singing is perfectly terrible – certainly not harmonious or melodic. The three are just in sync enough to make sure the audience can understand what is being sung, but nothing more. Knowing their poor singing is because they’re supposed to be drunk makes it more bearable.

The Malvolio Plotline

Though I certainly didn’t expect any singing in this play, I soon learned to expect the unexpected. In “Twelfth Night,” the audience witnesses a type of character not normally seen in Shakespearean productions; Maria, a lady in waiting – played by Coldwater senior Alison Harvey – brings something new to the table in her role. Maria is smart and devious, a role Shakespeare doesn’t typically write for women.

Maria isn’t falling in love with the first man she meets or going through some personal tragedy, which Harvey said gave her the chance to work with a multidimensional character. Her acting was stunning and demanded my attention, even when she wasn’t the main character in the scene.

With their mutual dislike of Countess Olivia’s servant Malvolio, played by Marysville first-year Brady Zalac, Maria, Sir Andrew and Sir Toby concoct a plan to embarrass him. They plant a letter in Olivia’s handwriting that says she wants to be with him – stating that if Mavolio agrees, he should come to her in yellow stockings and elaborately present himself before her.

“I like that she is able to kind of show these guys up. They’re partying, and they’re like, ‘we don’t like this guy, he’s such a buzzkill,’ and she’s like, ‘Well I don’t like him either,’” Harvey said.

This scheme results in Malvolio absurdly presenting himself to Olivia. I couldn’t help but laugh with the rest of the audience as he talked himself into doing exactly what Maria instructed.

“Malvolio isn’t a silly guy. It’s just that he’s so far out of reality, this seems right to him,” Zalac said.

While Malvolio sees Olivia as a potential lover, she sees him as nothing more than her servant. 

“I think just figuring out what exactly my character would feel in this moment, like ‘Oh my God, I haven’t seen this man’s legs in all the time I’ve known him. What is happening?’” Bentley said. “There’s also genuine concern there because you think he’s insane, and I don’t want him to be insane, this is my right-hand man.”

It was hilarious watching the mini-tragedy of his overly ambitious declaration of his love for his boss, only to be rejected. Throughout the scene, I could see the strength of the involved characters’ emotions.

Concluding the main plotline, Olivia ends up with another character who doesn’t have a large presence within the story, Viola’s brother Sebastian. Approximately 15 minutes after meeting, they appear to be head over heels in love with each other. 

The Dull, Yet so Shakespearean Ending

This is where my annoyance with Shakespeare comes in strong; this romance comes entirely out of the blue. I tried to make peace with it when I learned that Olivia was happy about her decision, but I was left feeling unsatisfied with the resolution of the Countess’ romantic dilemma because of the haste.

Countess Olivia thinks about the possibility of her future love life while Viola, disguised as Sebastian, observes. This is one of the scenes where the A and B-plot overlap, though the author was still drawn to the B-plot (Photo courtesy of the Albion College Theatre Department).

Bentley’s character wasn’t the only one dealing with romance in the play. We get a quick comment about the fate of Maria at the end of the play when almost everyone gets their happy ending. Her fate is that of marrying one Sir Toby in another example of a whirlwind romance within this play. However, once Toby’s real emotions come out towards the end of the play, one of his other relationships, his bromance with Sir Andrew, breaks down.

“When Toby’s true colors finally show at the end of the play, Andrew’s basically whole world caved in. The entire reason he was there in the first place, in a matter of a couple hours, just shatters,” Addison said regarding Sir Andrew.

Addison plays Sir Andrew wonderfully. Outside of his comedic moments, the audience gets so many emotions — joking, embarrassment and sadness — from his character. I would say this makes Sir Andrew one of the most interesting characters in the play. Especially with the extreme emotional damage his character feels at the end, it’s incredible how Addison portrays it.

“Even now, one performance in, I’m still not sure I have it. I’ll probably try to change it tonight when we go back,” Addison said. “I’m always in the pursuit of perfecting it.”

“Twelfth Night,” is it Worth it?

While nobody today can ever fully identify Shakespeare’s intentions with this play, I am impressed by how these students have interpreted their characters and been able to truly embody them to the best of their abilities. 

Even if Shakespeare isn’t my favorite, I still found myself caught up in the drama and silliness of it all. With whirlwind romances, drunken scheming and comedy, “Twelfth Night” has something that everyone can invest themselves in for the two-hour production. The acting is truly phenomenal. 

If you can act in a Shakespearean play and still have people enjoy it, that’s a win in my book. As Christian said:

“If you can do Shakespeare, you can do anything.”

The Albion College Theatre Department will be running three more shows this week: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. 

Lindsay Ratcliffe has a major in the English department. Hannah Fathman, an actor in the play, is a member of the Pleiad.

About Lindsay Ratcliffe 9 Articles
Lindsay Ratcliffe is a sophomore from Flat Rock, MI. She is a Political Science and Creative Writing double major. Lindsay loves journalism because it gives her a chance to write about things she cares about in ways that can really affect people. When she's not writing, you can find her jamming out to music. Contact Lindsay via email at lr10@albion.edu.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*