The Austin Chronicle

Actors From the London Stage

Five Bard Studs

By Jillian Owens, September 23, 2011, Arts

Austin suffers from no shortage of Shakespeare. Summer brought us the Winedale repertory, Young Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, Austin Drama Club's Hamlet, and the Weird Sisters' A Midsummer Night's Dream. Now fall approaches with The Tempest from the EmilyAnn Theatre, Hamlet from Austin Shakespeare, Henry V from the Baron's Men, The Winter's Tale from the Present Company, and Titus Andronicus from the Last Act Theatre Company. Fine as these may be, my favorite Shakespeare in Austin will sweep through town next week. Enter Actors From the London Stage.

Boasting an elegant simplicity, AFTLS productions are unlike almost any other Shakespeare you'll see: The self-directed troupe performs each play with five actors who never leave the stage and play all the parts, using minimal props and no set. According to University of Texas English professor Alan Friedman, who has coordinated the English company's annual weeklong residency at UT since 1999, this starkness is AFTLS' greatest asset, "rendering the language and action startlingly clear and compelling .... The results are powerful and irresistible, even magical, for audiences of all ages who gain understanding of and access to a Shakespeare play they might never have thought possible."

In the last few years, the arrival of AFTLS has become a sort of Christmas morning for me. As a UT student and Winedale alum, I get the thrilling opportunity to meet the actors, guide them around Austin, and participate in the engaging classes they teach on campus. But, of course, the best part is their dynamic performances. Like a kid speculating on the gift underneath the wrapping paper, I love guessing how roles will be distributed among the five actors. In this year's staging of The Tempest, will the actor who plays Prince Ferdinand also play the monster Caliban? Will King Alonso double as mischievous Ariel? Though this overlap may sound like a gimmick – one actor playing two parts winds up in a conversation with herself; hilarity ensues – the actors slide in and out of different roles so seamlessly that I always end up wondering why all Shakespeare isn't done this way. In 2009's King Lear, for example, Richard Neale was incredibly moving as the diametrically opposed half-brothers Edgar and Edmund, and having him play both roles added a surprising layer to their fraught relationship. AFTLS' simple, textually based approach breathes freshness into plays that may seem overdone or unapproachable. These are such stuff as dreams are made on.

Actors From the London Stage will perform The Tempest Wednesday-Friday, Sept. 28-30, 7:30pm, at the B. Iden Payne Theatre, UT campus, and Saturday, Oct. 1, 7pm, at the Winedale Theatre Barn. For more information, visit

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