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Puppets take on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Canada’s National Arts Centre and Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop reimagine gender-bending classic

Celebrated actor Bruce Dow plays Malvolio in National Arts Centre’s Twelfth Night. Credit: Bruce Dow

National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa and Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop  are completely overhauling Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Directed by Jillian Keiley, the campy re-imagination of the classic comedy features the NAC’s 2015/2016 ensemble and intends to stun audiences with its innovative use of puppetry, props and lighting.

The play has also been shaved down to a single act and uses pop music and live actors interacting with the Old Trout Puppet Workshop’s inventions.

Celebrated actor Bruce Dow will play Malvolio. The veteran thespian, who has four seasons on Broadway and 12 seasons in Stratford under his belt, says NAC’s staging of Twelfth Night is a totally new challenge.

“I’m a little prepped for it because I did Humpty Dumpty and Alice Through the Looking Glass in Charlottetown. But seeing Jill’s use of props, this is a totally new experience,” Dow says.

“Visually, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s what excites me about working with Jillian Keiley, which is that she takes the core of a play and moves it to the furthest possible visual level she can go for,” he says.“I think every actor found themselves challenged by interacting with props. This is a totally new challenge.”

Working in the queer arts world isn’t new to Dow. His two seasons with Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre earned him two Dora Mavor Moore Awards as well as the Toronto Theatre Critics Association Award.  

Dow, who has been openly gay since his start as an actor, says progressive ideas concerning sexual orientation and gender identity is a thread that weaves itself through most Shakespeare works. He says the NAC’s production of Twelfth Night is no exception with the current cast using costume as a tool to bend gender.

Twelfth Night is about boys dressing up as girls and girls dressing up as boys. There is that layer of sexual ambiguity that Shakespeare put into most every play he wrote,” says Dow.

There’s a real queer element to the piece just in the writing itself. That’s not the intent of this production, but you can’t miss it. It’s right there. And it’s a fuck load of fun.”