Theatre Ins Blau
December 8th-9th 2012
Directed by: Catrin Simons
Starring: Kala Hartman Anaya, Anna McGrail, Bodwin Simons, Lotte Lemstra, Marijn de Jong, Lotte Stolk, Rose Stegeman, Jonathan Todd, Jozef Majernik, Myrthe Bouwhuyzen, Amber de Graaf, Demetra Hadjiyiannis, Shelby Ueckermann, Eva Wijman-Forbes
Photos by Patrick Schneider
“Twelfth Night” was the fall production of the Leiden English Freshers (LEF) in Theatre Ins Blau. This is the theatre group of the English Department at the University of Leiden who have produced English plays for over ten years. Their choice of Shakespeare’s famous comedy warmed up the crowded audience on the first snowy day of winter in Leiden.
The earliest recorded staging of the play was in 1602 in Middle Temple Hall, London. The language used in this latest production was of course a little simplified for the contemporary audience to follow the storyline. Yet an acquaintance with the script or the plot would be helpful in grasping the idea. In Shakespeare’s time, both male and female characters were played by male actors because women were not included in the acting companies. The funny reversal of LEF’s production to that of Elizabethan tradition was that there were mostly cross-dressed female actors on the stage. It was most probably due to the female population of LEFfers exceeding the number of male members. There were only three male characters in the play – Duke Orsino, Feste the Fool and Fabian the servant – played by actors. The rest were all cross-dressed actresses. This fact was the most striking feature of the play. It makes one wonder why male students are less interested in theatre production. Is this due to the fact that Humanities Faculty is crowded with girls? Or does stage performance need some courage and girls are more apt to that?
Appropriately, the central theme of the play is also cross-dressing. The protagonist Viola (Kala Hartman Anaya), a young noblewoman, survives a shipwreck and finds herself on the shore of Illyria. She is not sure if her twin brother Sebastian (Amber de Graaf) survives the disaster. Nevertheless she has to make a living without her brother’s protection and thus disguises herself as a eunuch, under the name of Cesario, because her physical appearance lacks masculine features and asks to work as a servant for the ruler of the country, Duke Orsino (Bodwin Simons). She falls in love with him but he is wooing Countess Olivia (Anna McGrail), who mourns the death of her brother and rejects all potential lovers. Orsino sends Cesario/Viola to woo Olivia on his behalf. Viola accomplishes Cesario’s duty but an error occurs: instead of becoming interested in the Duke, Olivia falls in love with Cesario! Viola questions her gender, duty and emotions in her soliloquies throughout the play.
The other conflict in “Twelfth Night” takes shape around Malvolio (Lotte Lemstra), Olivia’s servant and another wooer. He is egotistical and once harshly warns the household to keep quiet when they are drinking and singing with Feste the Fool (Jonathan Todd). After this incident, Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby Belch (Marijn de Jong) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Lotte Stolk), just another wooer, decide to take revenge on Malvolio with the help of her maid Maria (Rose Stegeman). Maria writes a letter dictated by Olivia in which she declares her love to Malvolio, asks him to meet her with a constant grin and to wear yellow stockings –– in her mourning period of blackness! This of course adds color to the comic effect of the play. She decides Malvolio had gone mad and sends him into jail. This is unexpected by the audience because the consequences of a fake love letter does not usually lead the victim to be sent into seclusion. Meanwhile Sebastian also reaches the shores of Illyria with Antonio (Demetra Hadjiyiannis), a pirate, who plays the crucial role of making Viola realize Sebastian is alive. Things get mixed up after this epiphany. As a remark on cross-dressing, the characters’ confusion based on gender in the play is doubled with the casting choice.
On theatricality, comic relief was established through the characters of Feste the Fool, Malvolio, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. Feste entered his first scene standing on his hands making the comedy remarkable. The audience immediately differentiated his role as the Fool from the rest. The physical appearance of the veteran LEFfer, Jonathan Todd, also fit into the perception of this particular character since he was not very tall and light in weight. Lotte Lemstra, as Malvolio, deserves the highest praise in the play due to her ability to immediately change her voice, facial expression and gestures in the scene when she gets mad at Sir Toby and Sir Andrew for breaking the peace of the house. Malvolio’s dialogue with Feste in the prison scene was noteworthy when Feste changes his voice to a Sea Captain and deceives Malvolio. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew were like Laurel and Hardy double of the play, complementing each other all the time with Sir Toby taking care of Sir Andrew when he does something foolish. Marijn de Jong, as Sir Toby, was one of the most talented actresses on the stage.
The play began and ended with songs by Shelby Ueckermann and this established the fictional atmosphere for the audience. Acting out with the period costumes was a success in displaying the essence of this atmosphere. Suspension of disbelief was made possible easily. Her mimic of confusion at the end of the song gave away the core of the play. It was apparent that Illyria was a distinct setting than the waiting hall of Ins Blau and everything was possible on the stage. As you crossed the rainbow gates of the theatre hall, gender became a problem. The subject of this promising play by amateur actresses of LEF emphasized the confusion experienced by the Elizabethan audience in a reversed manner. The round of applause the director (Catrin Simons) received at the end of her very first production confirms positively her hopes about it not being the last. Honestly, I am looking forward to LEF’s May performance!