Shakespeare is back in town

Will Shakespeare is back in town and kicking off the Christmas season with an entertaining new production of Twelfth Night at the Guild. Twelfth Night has been a crowd pleaser since 160.

Will Shakespeare is back in town and kicking off the Christmas season with an entertaining new production of Twelfth Night at the Guild.

Twelfth Night has been a crowd pleaser since 1602. You can have a lot of fun with identical twins, cross-dressing love triangles and viciously hilarious pranks.

Everyone who speaks English enjoys a piece of Shakespeare’s legacy. It’s something we all share. I was reminded how many phrases that we routinely use were first uttered by the Bard’s characters. Twelfth Night also has some rarer gems, such as when the court jester Feste (Nicole Bauberger) remarks that “Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage.”

Eric Epstein directs the Guild’s version of the classic and has freshened the staging with some Yukon colour. Instead of tights and swords, expect mobile phones, community radio and characters dressed in a uniquely Yukon mix of lumbersexual and bush party fashion.

Yes, that means Shakespeare with plaid shirts.

I was skeptical when I first saw it, but soon realized that if Sir Toby Belch (Brendan Wiklund) lived in Whitehorse he would, of course, wear an AC/DC shirt and a jean vest.

And the hipster beards on members of the cast will also remind you that Whitehorse loves elaborate facial hair as much as Elizabethan England did. Sir Walter Raleigh would feel at home at the Woodcutter’s Blanket.

Some of the lines have also been cleverly localized. Clownish Sir Andrew (Isidro Rodriguez) exclaims at one point that he would “rather be a pharmacist than a politician.” This is exactly the kind of joke that was always getting Shakespeare in trouble with the royal censors back in the day. (The original line from 1602 refers to “Brownists,” whoever they were.)

Sir Toby and Sir Andrew play well together as comedic clowns in classic Shakespearean fashion, providing comic relief as the love-triangle-with-separated-twins goes through its cross-dressing progress. They both deliver some very fine lines and grow on you as the scenes pass. Their performance during the cruel prank on Malvolio (Kevin Kennedy) is superb, as is the way Kennedy moves from besotted lover to confused prisoner to wrathful victim.

Viola, or Cesario as she is known when she’s wearing a lumberjack shirt, is played by Krisandra Reid. Reid puts in a strong performance in this key role, which holds the triangle together. Duke Orsino is played by Logan Larkin, who brings a commanding stage presence to the role – exactly what we need from a duke.

Countess Olivia is played elegantly by Sarah Ott. Watch for the part where she figures out she married the plaid-shirted twin who just met her rather than the one she fell in love with.

Clair Mooney plays Viola’s twin, Sebastian. In a reversal of how they did things in Shakespeare’s time, she is a woman playing a man’s role. Mooney rises to the challenges of this role, which include acting out a budding bromance with the pirate and duelling with Sir Andrew.

Despite being a comedy, or perhaps because of it, the play provides plenty of themes to talk about afterwards. The gender-bending roles and love interests can seem remarkably contemporary for a play written more than four centuries ago. The prank on Malvolio is worth bringing up in your next anti-bullying workshop.

The theme of friendship comes up repeatedly. The pirate and Sebastian provide one example, while Sir Toby and Sir Andrew another. The latter seem to be hard-partying pals, but you soon get the idea that one of the friends is more sincere than the other (hint: it’s not the guy paying for the drinks).

A bonus feature of the show is the presence of Nicole Bauberger. In addition to playing the fool Feste with the spirit and energy this key role demands, you can see her ravens painted on the set. During the interval, check out her Twelfth Night-themed raven sketches by the bar.

The show is playing until Dec. 12, so you still have time to get tickets. Who knows when Will’s next visit to the Yukon will be.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He won this year’s Ma Murray award for best columnist. You can follow him on Channel 9’s “Yukonomist” show.