DRAMA= Red Deer College theatre students Chantelle Zimmerman and Christoper Levann run through a scene of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night which continues through this weekend at the Arts Centre.

DRAMA= Red Deer College theatre students Chantelle Zimmerman and Christoper Levann run through a scene of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night which continues through this weekend at the Arts Centre.

Red Deer College charms audiences with Twelfth Night

From a first look at the extremely unusual but fascinating set designs for Red Deer College theatre studies’ rendition of Twelfth Night, there’s no question audiences are in for a unique experience.

Twelfth Night continues its run to Feb. 18 on the Arts Centre mainstage. Curtain is 7:30 p.m. There is also a matinee on Feb. 18 at 1 p.m.

Fueling the power of what has been described as one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays and one of literature’s best-loved comedies are strong performances by an outstanding cast. Delightful twists and turns abound via mistaken identities.

The leading character, Viola (Natascha Schulmeister), is shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria, and loses contact with her brother Sebastian (Bryan Mildenberger). She then masquerades as a page by the name of Cesario, entering the service of Duke Orsino (Derick Neumeier).

Meanwhile, Orsino is convinced he is love with Lady Olivia (Tori Grebinski), and he cooks up a plan to use ‘Cesario’ as an intermediary to tell Olivia about his love. But Olivia falls for ‘Cesario’. Viola then falls in love with the Duke, who seems to him simply a chum and confidante.

All the while, other characters are tricking Olivia’s staunch head steward Malvolio (Riley MacDonnell) into thinking Olivia is in love with him. Rounding out this batch of quirky folks are Sir Toby Belch (Dan Vasquez), the flamboyant, zany squire Sir Andrew Aguecheek (masterfully performed by Chris LeVann), a couple of Olivia’s servants Maria (Chantelle Zimmerman/Meg Webster) and Fabian (Jordan Galloway). Olivia’s jester Feste (Chantelle Waschuk) is also in on the fun, and provides several scene-stealing moments of her own throughout the show.

Of course, everything falls into place by the place’s final scenes, with well-made matches all around.

As Viola, Schulmeister is simply terrific. Her versatility at conveying a range of expressions from heartbreak to frustration to joy are a pleasure to watch, as is her gift of making it all seem so natural. There are no jarring transitions – Viola is a character we can connect with and that is thanks to Schulmeister’s ability to bring the character to life.

Also outstanding is Tori Grebinski as the lovely Olivia. Grebinski pours her heart and soul into a terrific performance; Olivia is a bold, unapologetic and brassy individual in some ways, yet a tender, vulnerable young woman in others. Also strong is Derick Neumeier as Orsino – some of the best scenes are between him and Viola (who he thinks is his buddy Cesario). It’s hilarious to watch Viola’s longing for Orsino surfacing as she works so hard to ‘be a man’. The interactions between the two offer some of the play’s funniest moments.

Others performances are certainly worth pointing out – as mentioned, Chris LeVann is a blast as the goofy, always-entertaining Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Riley MacDonnell does a superb job as the crusty Malvolio who is ultimately brought down a peg or two, being on the receiving end of the group’s schemes.

Each member of the cast, whether featured prominently or in more minor roles, squeezes all they can out of their characters – each are convincing, real and just plain fun and engaging to watch.

Guest director Duval Lang has done a tremendous job in crafting a production that moves along briskly, is always entertaining and never loses its momentum. The comedy shines through at every turn (even if the Shakespearean language at times gets in the way), and that’s testament to the actors’ skills at offering spirited and energetic performances. His skills at unifying his cast are also obvious – everyone is having fun with their characters, but they are also aware of the greater vision of pulling together a seamless show. There’s really little to complain about or fault.

Set designer Carrie Hamilton has unleashed her astounding imagination in terms of coming up with the country of Illyria. Costume designer Bryan Bast opted to inject elements of steampunk into the characters’ garb – it’s described as a ‘sub-genre of speculative fiction’ used to feature futuristic innovations as the Victorians might have envisioned them.

For those who steer clear of Shakespeare because of difficulties with the language, I would encourage you to give Twelfth Night a try. The cast in this particular production convey what is going on so well there is rarely a moment when a person feels like they don’t know what’s unfolding.

As for the set, traditionalists may not be impressed, but the bold and strikingly original concepts work well, which are a reminder of how universal and timeless the themes of Shakespeare’s tales really are.

Tickets are available through the Black Knight Ticket Centre at 403-755-6626 or at www.bkticketcentreca.