Actors From The London Stage: Can ‘Romeo and Juliet’ be done with five people?

(Graphic/illustration by Catherine Eldridge and Cole Bertelsen | Collegian Media Group)

The McCain Auditorium was filled with love, laughter and sorrow as actors switched between characters, sometimes within seconds. The Actors From The London Stage are a traveling troupe that presents an entire Shakespeare play with only five actors and one suitcase of props and costumes.

The performance on Saturday began with the actors defining the stage area by placing cloth-made roses in a rectangle. When they weren’t actually playing a character, the actors would walk to this border, stop and deliberately step over it, clearly communicating they were no longer a part of the scene. This ensured they weren’t a distraction, even while still visible to the audience.

Before the actual Shakespeare script began, the actors introduced the characters they would play and showed the costume pieces they would wear. Each actor played at least three different parts. 

At times it was difficult to tell which minor character was which, but the costume changes and referencing the program made it easier to keep the story straight. 

The actors played up the humor throughout the performance. It’s strange to think of “Romeo and Juliet” as a comedy, but some parts of this rendition were quite funny. It still ended as a tragedy, though the humorous moments actually made the ending seem sadder.

Surprisingly, there were no swords used during the performance. Nearly all the props were represented by pieces of red fabric. The actors were clever at manipulating the fabric and it was clear what each cloth represented. In addition, the red color was symbolic of how “Romeo and Juliet” ends: in bloodshed. 

Grace Andrews and Thomas Wingfield played the young lovers and were very convincing in their roles. During the final scene in the tomb, audience members leaned forward, completely entranced. In the end, Romeo and Juliet died tangled together in a heap. It was a stunning visual and made the audience sympathize with the pair, whose parents saw them only as puppets to be manipulated.

Kaffe Keating not only took on his share of the acting as Capulet and Mercutio, but he was also the main musician. His designated costume piece was a fedora hat, and often another actor held the hat at head height while he ducked out to play another character. 

Jonathan Oldfield’s characters were the main comic relief within the play. His portrayal of Peter made viewers laugh out loud. He also had the good sense not to overdo it. His serious characters almost seemed to be played by a different actor entirely.

Hilary Maclean had the greatest number of characters to portray. She played the nurse and a few smaller parts. She had to make all the smaller parts different enough to tell them apart without a lot of time to do it. She also managed to hold her own during Peter’s antics and have a completely believable reaction when she found Juliet faking her death. 

McCain Auditorium is large, but because of the play’s intimacy, the performance would have benefited from a smaller and closer audience. Since it is a traveling production, the company has to be prepared to adjust to any size theater, and this they do very well. 

The Actors from the London Stage have moved on, but if they return to Kansas State, they are worth the cost of a ticket.