Twelfth Night takes the stage

Nearly 13 years after first visiting the university with which he shares a name, United Kingdom-born Matt Radford returns to campus as the guest director for Radford University's production of William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night, or What You Will," opening on April 14.

In 2002, Radford was hired to play Theseus/Oberon in "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" as part of a long-running guest artist program. During his engagement at RU, he worked with the students in the cast, participated in some classes and played his role. At the time, that was that.

Last March, however, RU Department of Theatre and Cinema Professors Monica Weinzapfel and Wesley Young recognized Radford in the Atlanta airport while returning from a conference. During the ensuing reunion, Radford revealed that he was teaching just up the road at Mary Baldwin College. Once back at RU, Weinzapfel and Young pitched the idea of having Radford return to direct "Twelfth Night."

Now, Radford is ready to premiere RU’s production of what he admits is one of his favorite Shakespeare plays on the Hayes Stage in Pridemore Playhouse.


Guest director Matt Radford gives a bit of direction to actors Justin Dowdy (left) and James Bristow (center).

This "Twelfth Night," however, takes a slight twist on the beloved romantic comedy. Reset in the Roaring Twenties, it still has the cross-dressing and cross-gartering along with bootleggers and jazz, topped off with Champagne.

"I was looking for an analog that would fit the play while setting it in a recognizable historical time period," Radford said. He felt the 1920s – a time of shifting roles of gender, a freewheeling party attitude and challenges of Prohibition – were a perfect fit.

In the years since his last visit to RU, Radford completed a Ph.D. in Renaissance Drama from the University of Texas, Austin and joined the faculty of the Shakespeare and Performance program at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton.

Radford continues to act and direct widely, recently playing Antony in "Antony and Cleopatra" with Baltimore’s Chesapeake Shakespeare and directing for Heritage Repertory Theatre. He remains active in the Austin theatre scene, where he helped found a company whose works focus on another theatre giant, Anton Chekhov.

"We are extremely excited to have Matt with us as a guest artist," said Carl Lefko, chair of RU’s Department of Theatre. "Matt has brought an energy and excitement to the collaborative process that has resonated throughout the production team. As we are currently working so hard to revive our regular guest artist program it is important to highlight that this most recent collaboration (with Radford) is a direct result of a connection made when that program was flourishing."


Haughty steward Malvolio (Paul Krs) "returns" a ring to a stunned Viola (Grace Ellinghaus).

The department’s longstanding guest artist program had annually brought an industry professional to campus to work with students for more than 30 years. The roster of luminaries who appeared on the Hayes stage includes Academy Award winners Kim Hunter and Eileen Heckart, among others.

Underscoring the value of regular exposure to artists of that stature Lefko said, "For our students, experiences like that are what make the guest artist program so critical to the experiential learning environment."

"Twelfth Night, or What You Will" can be seen at the Pridemore Playhouse Tuesday, April 14 at 7:30 p.m., April 16-18 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, April 19 at 2 p.m. (ASL).

Ticket prices are free for RU students, $10 for general admission, $6 for RU faculty/staff,  $6 for seniors (55+). Group rates for groups of 10 or more are available. Tickets are available online at or the week before the event at the Porterfield Box Office. The box office is open from noon to 6 p.m. and available by phone at (540) 831-5289.

Apr 8, 2015