Delightful “Twelfth Night” at NKU

Review by Bryna Chandler

Guy meets girl; girl falls in love with boy; boy is a girl who falls in love with her boss. William Shakespeare’s timeless classic Twelfth Night is an Elizabethan comedy of mistaken identities and miscommunications. Considered one of Shakespeare’s essential comedies, it covers heavy topics of gender issues, sexual identity, class, and unrequited love with a healthy dose of practical jokes, physical humor, and drunken escapades. North Kentucky University School of the Arts (SOTA), production running February 16th-26th at the NKU Stauss Theatre, takes all of these elements in stride, adds some delightful original composed music, and gives the audience two hours of laughs. 

Cast of
Cast of “Twelfth Night” at NKU. Photo credit: Tammy Cassesa Photography

“Twelfth Night” Production Team

Initially set off the coast of the Adriatic Sea, NKU’s production moved the play to the 1950s on an island in the Mediterranean filled with royalty and movie stars. The sound of crashing waves in the background, combined with a Mediterranean villa designed by Tao Wang & Ron Shaw, helps to set the scene. Jo Sanburg’s original compositions played live on stage by Rachel Gardner, Noah Mello, and Liam Sweeney completes the ambiance. 

Ronnie Chamberlain’s costume design and Shelby Smith’s hair & makeup design transport the audience to the lavish world of 50’s movie stars on vacation. Chamberlain, NKU Associate Professor of Costume Design, and Smith, a senior costume design major, not only transported the cast in time and place but also met the challenges of aging college students and cross-dressed actors. 

The Performances

The minute Hannah Beaven starts the production as Feste, the token Shakespearean fool; she manages to entertain the audience for the entire show through jest, song, and even a rare heartfelt movement with Malvolio, played by Jordan Whittaker. Interpreted as a beatnik poet, Feste helps keep the production moving at a lively pace. 

Beautiful woman in
Cast of “Twelfth Night” at NKU. Photo credit: Tammy Cassesa Photography

Austin Michael Fidler, as Duke Orsino, shows exemplary control of the Shakespearean language while looking dashing in purple. It is not hard to see why Viola, played by Ella Prather, would fall in love with him though she is pretending to be Orsino’s messenger. Viola’s monologue about all hearts being equal in loyalty and sensitivity in Act II is so convincing that the audience roots for Orsino to reciprocate Viola’s feelings.

Natalie Hayslett as the maid Maria, Trey Finkenstead as the drunkard Sir Toby Belch, and Jason Coffenberry as Sir Andrew Aguecheek almost steal the show with their physical comedic relief in an already humorous production. All three demonstrate an understated sense of humor and great comedic timing, yet never upstage the rest of the cast or the production as a whole. 

Cast of
Cast of “Twelfth Night” at NKU. Photo credit: Tammy Cassesa Photography

Those who might be intimidated by Shakespearean language only need to wait for Olivia, played by Ellie O’Hara, to take the stage. O’Hara as love lost Olivia is not only captivating, but her actions, tone, and emotions leave no doubt about what she is saying or feeling. Olivia is a character that often is glossed over as an overly emotional girl in infatuation. However, O’Hara portrays a strong independent woman who knows what she wants and is unwilling to settle for less. 

Director King Retiring

Directed by veteran theatre faculty member Mike King, NKU’s Twelfth Night production has no weak links. King made an often-convoluted piece of Shakespeare come alive for the audience. Twelfth Night marks the final NKU production for Mike King, as he is retiring at the end of the 2023 school year. King is leaving NKU on a high note, and his production of Twelfth Night is a must-see for Shakespeare fans, those wanting to try their first Shakespeare play, or anyone wanting a fun night out. 

Tickets to “Twelfth Night”

NKU SOTA’s star studded Twelfth Night production runs through February 26th at the NKU Stauss Theatre. More information and tickets can be found at

Bryna Chandler has a lifelong love for the stage, being raised in a theatrical family. She attended CCM as well as SIUE for design and dramaturgy. An amateur playwright her work has been performed in OH, CA, NV, and numerous fringe festivals. Her writing and design background led her to marketing, where she is currently the Digital Marketing & Communications Coordinator for the School of Business at UD.

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