Skip to main content

Your First Look at Twelfth Night

Director Martha Henry shares some thoughts about her 2017 production of Shakespeare’s beloved comedy.

Q: How many times have you been involved with this comedy classic over the years? Do you have any favourite standout moments?

Martha Henry: I first saw Siobhan McKenna play Viola here at Stratford back in the '50s, when I was coming to the Festival with my mother. We sat in the far-right section downstairs - one that's no longer there - and our tickets cost $3.75 each. I remember being so impressed with the fact that, even though we were sitting so far over on stage left, I could still see and hear everything; the production didn't leave any of the audience out. And she was wonderful - so dear and funny. I thought she was speaking directly to me!

Then, after my first year at the National Theatre School in 1961, four of us took my car (I was the only one who had a car - a Volkswagen Bug which I'd bought used) and drove to Winnipeg on a tour of the high schools, presenting scenes from Shakespeare - and one of these scenes was from Twelfth Night. I played Maria, along with Donnelly Rhodes (Sir Toby), Gary Files (Malvolio) and Heath Lamberts (Sir Andrew and Fabian).

Later, when I joined the Stratford Festival, I played Viola in David William's 1966 production. I then played Olivia in the Lincoln Centre production in the early '70s, directed by Ellis Rabb with Blythe Danner as Viola. I also directed a production with the 2007-08 Birmingham Conservatory group during my first year with them - and, I must say, they were enchanting!

Alt Text not provided, we are sorry

Q: What do you think will appeal to newcomers to this piece? And for those of us with a long-term love of the play, what will grab us by the heart in this production?

MH: It's both hard and easy to say what people will love or do love about Twelfth Night. First of all, it's not a difficult play to grasp for anyone who isn't very familiar with Shakespeare. The plot is clear: you know from the first scene that Duke Orsino is not only head-over-heels in love with the Countess Olivia, but you quickly find out that Olivia will have nothing to do with him and that he seems to relish this role of the unrequited lover.

Scene Two brings us on shore, rescued from a shipwreck, the enchanting Viola - one of Shakespeare's true heroines (beautiful, smart, compassionate, loyal and with a wicked sense of humour). We sense immediately that we'll follow her into this country called "Illyria" and its populace of dissatisfied, unhappy people, and that she'll bring sense and sensibility to their lives.

We also find out in this second scene that Viola is a twin; her brother Sebastian was with her on the boat, and she fears he is drowned. She disguises herself as a young man (modelling herself after her brother) to find employment in Orsino's court, and the story inevitably progresses from there.

The characters are rich - and eccentric - and although Olivia has imposed a blanket of mourning over the whole country (her father and her brother have recently died), many of the people we meet are determined to escape the Countess's strictures and behave as outrageously as possible. The main offender is Olivia's uncle, Sir Toby Belch, a Falstaffian character: an immense drinker and wit. He chafes at her rules and takes every opportunity to do just as he pleases.
These characters stir the pot at every turn, impeding Viola's attempts to serve her new master in wooing his lady-love - while we soon realize that Viola is falling in love with Orsino herself. And yet, of course, she is thwarted by her inability to reveal her identity to the powerful Orsino.

There's something in this play for everyone, particularly as I think we have one of the greatest casts for this play ever assembled - merely starting with Lucy Peacock, playing Olivia's major lady-in-waiting.

Q: Tell us more about your cast: what is it about this particular mix of performers that you think will make it fun to work on (and for the audience to watch)?

MH: Any production that features one of the strongest and loveliest actresses in the English-speaking world playing Maria is starting out on the right foot. Lucy Peacock - last season's Kate Keller in All My Sons and a Festival leading lady for many years - will bring her grace and wit to steer this enchanting play. I can't imagine a better Sir Toby than Geraint Wyn Davies, who played Falstaff last year in Breath of Kings; now he will embody the comedic side of this brilliant drunkard.

Tom Rooney, of course, can do no wrong, and we're all looking forward to seeing a definitive Sir Andrew Aguecheek - Sir Toby's foil - fleshed out in Tom's head and heart. The brilliant Rod Beattie - back in the company after many years of touring Canada and the States with the Walt Wingfield plays - is returning to play Malvolio, Olivia's late father's steward who fancies himself her husband to-be. The great Stephen Russell will play Antonio, the soft-hearted pirate.

And, wonder of wonders, we have grabbed the only conceivable Feste (the jester) in the genius of Brent Carver. I couldn't be happier with this magnificent group of senior actors who will lead and power this production!

On the younger side, two of the most beautiful women in the company will play Viola and Olivia. Sarah Afful and Shannon Taylor both spent time with the Conservatory, so I can vouch for their talent, their skill and their enormous hearts. E.B. Smith embodies Orsino, the raging, lovesick Duke, and we have the irrepressibly talented Gordon Miller playing Fabian, one of Sir Toby's cohorts. Michael Blake, who made such a mark last season in both All My Sons and Macbeth (as Macduff), again plays Sarah Afful's brother - this time her twin, Sebastian.

Although this cast was hand-picked, the astonishing pool of actors we have to draw from in this company - and in this country - means that it's hard to go wrong. I couldn't be more delighted to meet them all in March, when we begin rehearsals.

Alt Text not provided, we are sorry

Q: What should we know about the design choices regarding the period of the production and its costumes, set, music etc.?

MH: The incandescent John Pennoyer is designing. He devised my Three Sisters, Of Mice and Men and Measure for Measure, and has designed many of the shows that I was in as an actor - specifically Diana Leblanc's courageous and ground-breaking Macbeth in 1998.

John is not only originally imaginative, he is also one of the greatest craftspeople in this business: his costume sketches are works of art and immense beauty. We began trading ideas back and forth over the spring and summer until finally - spurred on by many of his photos and sketches - I said, "It's a fairy tale!" Immediately John began sending renderings of such breathtaking imagination that I was overwhelmed and thrilled. We haven't looked back since. 
Louise Guinand will be lighting Illyria. I have worked with this stunning woman on and off for many years, and I knew that she would understand and be able to translate our vision of a country frozen in time and sorrow which "melts" with the coming of the extraordinary Viola. Louise and I meet regularly for lighting sessions - and a glass of wine!

Illyria is a country encased in grief: Olivia has dictated that everyone be steeped in mourning. Viola brings life, light and colour, a clear head and common sense - along with warmth and passion and love - to Illyria and its inhabitants.





BMO Financial Group, 2017 Season Opening Night Presenting Sponsor

Production support is generously provided by Jane Petersen Burfield & family, by Dr. Desta Leavine in memory of Pauline Leavine and by Jack Whiteside



2017 Tickets On Sale Now

Get ready for another great season of stellar theatre!

Our Pre-Season Promise and other perks
Book now and take advantage of our early-bird savings and Pre-Season Promise, which allows early purchasers to exchange their tickets later without incurring additional costs. If you order before February 7, you get tickets at pre-season prices - and those prices still hold good on exchanges, provided they're for the same performance type and seating zone. Nor do you pay exchange fees!

Early booking also opens the doors to a number of great deals:
• Up to 25 % off tickets purchased before February 7 
• 2-for-1 offers on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings all season long (except opening nights)
• $49 Sundays with the Bard
• $20 tickets for students
• Forum bundle deals
…and much more!

Don't delay - book today!
It may seem like the start of our season is still a long way off, but booking your tickets well in advance means that you have a greater selection of the very best seats on the performance dates that you want the most! And remember: once the reviews are out, many performances of our hottest productions can sell out months in advance.




2017 Season Partners: BMO Financial Group, RBC Royal Bank, Scotiabank and Union Gas Limited


Don’t Miss this Forum Deal!

Bundle a few of our exciting Forum events, and you can save up to 50%!

The Stratford Festival Forum returns in 2017, bringing you a wide range of fascinating guest speakers, special performances, delicious dining events, interactive workshops and much, much more!

Bundle and save!
We're sure you'll want to take in as many of the Forum's offerings as you can during your visit. For a limited time, when you bundle up your Forum seats, you'll save between 30 and 50% on regular ticket prices!

To take advantage of the savings, login using the promotion code FORUMDEAL. But hurry - you must book this deal before February 7.

See you at the Forum!


Stratford Festival HD Anytime, Anywhere!

From stage to screen – our acclaimed HD series is available on demand.

Now you can enjoy our feature-length productions of King Lear, King John and Antony and Cleopatra on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.

Coming soon - just in time for those long winter nights: Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew and The Adventures of Pericles.


Stratford Festival HD is sponsored by Sun Life Financial as part of their Making the Arts More Accessible™ program.

Support for Stratford Festival HD is generously provided by Laura Dinner & Richard Rooney, the Jenkins Family Foundation, the Henry White Kinnear Foundation, Ophelia & Mike Lazaridis, The Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation, Sandra & Jim Pitblado, the Slaight Family Foundation, Robert & Jacqueline Sperandio, and an anonymous donor.

The Festival also acknowledges the generous support of the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

Canadian distribution is through Cineplex Events, which specializes in bringing world-class events and performances to the big screen. Cinema screenings are followed by a broadcast window on CBC-TV, Canada's national public broadcaster.

U.S. and international distribution is through SpectiCast, the fastest growing event cinema marketing and distribution company in the world.


Shakespeare School – Book Now and Save!

Our popular Shakespeare School is the place to be this summer for the aspiring performers of tomorrow!

"The Shakespeare School is still a 'home' for me. A warm community of passionate young theatre artists, working hard to bring their dreams to life. It's taught me to stay hungry and humble in this unique business."

- Alexis Gordon, Stratford Festival company member

Our life-changing summer theatre programs help develop the acting skills of young people in school grades ranging from 5 to 12. Running in July and August, sessions focus on Shakespeare, Musical Theatre or Comprehensive Actor Training.

• Meet students from all over the world.
• See Stratford Festival performances.
• Meet Stratford Festival actors.
• Learn from our expert teaching artists.
• All sessions will culminate in a presentation by the students for family and friends.

Book early and save!
Save up to 10% if you book before February 7, 2017. Space is limited and will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.

For more information on the Shakespeare School, visit our website or contact our Education Department at or 519.271.4040, ext. 2293.




Scotiabank, Education Program Partner


Groundling Theatre: The Winter’s Tale and Measure for Measure

Graham Abbey’s Toronto company pairs its Dora Award-winning hit from last year’s inaugural season with another hard-hitting Shakespeare.

Festival favourite Graham Abbey is thrilled to be revisiting his Groundling Theatre's production of The Winter's Tale. Following the success of last year's sold-out run at Toronto's Coal Mine Theatre, Mr. Abbey is directing a revival of the production in repertory with Measure for Measure at Toronto's historic Winter Garden Theatre. 

"By a miraculous set of circumstances, we have ended up with the perfect venue," says Mr. Abbey. "With its magical beech foliage and lanterns in the ceiling, the space evokes the world of Shakespeare's Bohemia, and we will be able to keep that very intimate chamber-piece feeling which was such a great part of the production's impact last year. The audience will again be in super-close proximity to this incredibly talented company of performers: we're keeping the house capacity down to 150, and almost all of the available seating will be up on the stage."

Many beloved Stratford Festival faces will be back, including Lucy Peacock, Tom McCamus, Michelle Giroux and Brent Carver, along with Patrick Galligan, Sarena Parmar, Charlie Gallant, Roy Lewis and Mark Crawford. Joining the company this season are Karen Robinson and Steven Sutcliffe. Adding to the onstage magic will be George Meanwell, performing live original music to augment the action.

Keeping the show accessible to all budgets is also key to Groundling's mandate: at each performance, 20 stool seats will be available around the apron of the stage, as well as 10 cushion seats.

The two plays are well matched. "The parallels are extraordinary," observes Mr. Abbey. "The themes of justice and mercy echo and resonate in ways I hadn't noticed before we set the two side by side. As well, I'm casting by matching the performers to the same sorts of archetypal characters in each play, so that the audience already has a sense of familiarity between the two - and that will be especially impactful on our two-show days on Wednesdays and Saturdays."

Alt Text not provided, we are sorry

If you're pining for Shakespeare between Festival seasons, this is the perfect way to soothe your soul and enjoy some of Canada's best onstage talent in two of the Bard's most thought-provoking plays. But don't put off booking your seats: Groundling Theatre sold over 400 tickets during the first 24 hours on sale!

The Winter's Tale runs in repertory with Measure for Measure from January 17 to February 19 at the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto.