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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

Actors From The London Stage perform on stage, in classrooms

The Actors From The London Stage will once again be performing Shakespeare at Notre Dame’s Washington Hall on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. This time, the team will be performing the famous tragedy, “King Lear.”

Actors From The London Stage is a group that has a longstanding relationship with the University. It usually performs on campus once a semester as part of a larger tour of the United States.

Peter Holland, associate dean for the arts and McMeel Family Chair in Shakespeare studies, helps organize most Shakespeare productions on campus. Holland said Notre Dame has been working with Actors From The London Stage, which Sir Patrick Stewart and Dr. Homer “Murph” Swander founded in 1975, for nearly 20 years.

“For the the last 18 years, we have been their U.S. base,” Holland said. “We help organize all their U.S. touring, which schools coast-to-coast they’re going to be visiting.”

However, the group does not host your average play production, because Actors From The London Stage is not your ordinary theater company. The entire cast of the play will be performed by only five actors with no director, minimal costumes and props, a couple light cues and not much else.

“This is theater unlike any other kind of theater — there is no director,” Holland said. “So these actors are basically locked into a room for some weeks and told, ‘Come out with a show.’”

This means the company, made up of actors Richard James-Neale, Ffion Jolly, Tricia Kelly, Fred Lancaster and Jonathan Dryden Taylor, will each be playing multiple roles, splitting a total of 24 among the five of them.

Since there are always only five performers, the company’s approach to the show must be both improvisational and innovative.

Tricia Kelly, who will be playing the major roles in both King Lear and the Duke of Cornwall, said the group relies on “solving problems in an elegant and hopefully witty way.”

She also spoke to the fact that the play presents challenges to the actors because, in many cases, female actors must play male characters and vice-versa, a practice becoming more and more common in Shakespearean plays, offering new takes on old classics.

“I am a female actor playing the role of a king and a father,” Kelly said. “It’s a different, more complicated set of ideas and concepts to deal with as an actor.”

The production of King Lear is not all the actors will be doing with their time at Notre Dame, however. They will also be helping run workshops and teach classes, not just within the College of Arts and Letters, but all across campus.

“They also go into the Mendoza school because, if you’re a business major, think [of] how often you have sat through a Powerpoint presentation by somebody who really cannot talk,” Holland said. “They go into the Law School, they work with some of the law students on how you should speak in a courtroom and how you make sure that people can hear your voice. They go and work in the architecture school because, if you’re designing buildings, actors understand space in a very different way from anyone else.”

While the company has been rehearsing for a while, this will be the second stop for Actors From The London Stage on a 10-stop tour schedule across the country.

Jason Comerford, the audience development manager for Actors From The London Stage at Notre Dame, said while the actors figure out their roles in rehearsals, live performances are different.

“It’s fun to watch them work in front of an audience — the spontaneity of it,” Comerford said.

Having just arrived in South Bend from Rice University in Houston, performances are scheduled for Feb. 6, 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. in Washington Hall. Tickets are available for purchase online at before the shows.