Review: As You Like It

Written for The Stage

Since they took over the idyllic garden of St Paul’s Church in 2009 Iris Theatre Company have proven themselves to be masterful Shakespearean promenaders. This year they are putting the ‘Arden’ into Covent Garden in a robust production of As You Like It.

Daniel Winder’s cast lead us with typical dynamism through this pastoral comedy. It’s a confident display that is pure entertainment. The actors focus damp audience members’ attention from the start with laughing winks, and their earnest speeches keep it there.

Emily Tucker and Joe Forte have real chemistry as cocky Rosalind and heroic Orlando while Fiona Geddes is charming as the put upon Celia. But occasionally Winder over-eggs the pudding. For all Matthew Mellalieu’s natural comic ability, making him a drag Audrey feels superfluous. Diana Kashlan’s Touchstone puts the Grotowski into grotesque to the expense of the comedy and it is hard to connect with this fool.

Planted around the garden, Tessa Battisti’s sets spring up like wild flowers from the lawns and trees of this bucolic haven. Sophia Anastasiou’s extraordinary costumes, which flip from the twisting bustles of the city to the gypsy flare of the country, bring a dose of existentialist style to this English country garden.

Runs until 4 August.

Review: As You Like It

Written for The Stage

While the big boys are wowing us with the World Shakespeare Festival and Globe to Globe, it’s great to see smaller venues doing the Bard proud too. Rae McKen’s boisterous production of As You Like It takes a suitably light touch to one of Shakespeare’s frothiest comedies, drawing plenty of giggles from this jam-packed audience.

What this cast lack in age they more than make up for in youthful energy. If they are unable to fully convince as fathers, it is in the boyish scenes between banished lords or flushed moments of twirling sisterly affection that they excel.

Oliver Mott’s Orlando would make Justin Bieber fans swoon, while Rebecca Loudon marries a handsome girl and bonnie youth together beautifully as Rosalind, although perhaps she throws her arms out in joyous abandon a little too much. Wild At Heart’s Olivia Scott-Taylor makes a lovely Celia, a role where the devil really is in the detail and perfect for an actress straight from the telly.

But it is Fred Gray as the melancholy Jacques who most impresses, bringing some much-needed gravitas and delivering a truly compelling “All the world’s a stage” speech – definitely an actor to watch.

As You Like It @ The Roundhouse

Written for http://www.fourthwallmagazine.co.uk

Review: As You Like It – RSC @ Roundhouse ***

There’s something very adult about Michael Boyd’s smooth production of As You Like It, currently wooing audiences at The Roundhouse. Boyd takes Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy and turns it into a corseted lover; inside this sophisticated production there’s an exuberant play wriggling to get out.

It all looks and sounds gorgeous of course with Tom Piper’s design and Struan Leslie’s delicate choreography gracefully encasing this genteel beast. It’s a floating concept and you feel in a bubble as our characters traipse Piper’s minimalistic set, their clothes shifting from period to modern dress. This is perhaps to reflect the magic environment of the forest of Arden but it’s all terribly cerebral.

The performances are all also set squarely above the shoulders. This is a consummate company with each performer playing their role prettily, but in this firmament of well-crafted souls only a few truly shine. In a show that prizes earnestness over frivolity it is perhaps fitting that Jaques should be one such star. Forbes Masson has a stunning alto voice and a beautifully neat ankle. Masson languishes around the stage wittily and pointedly highlighting each ridiculous moment with Byronic flair but his purple eyes reveal an oddly moving anguish.

Katy Stephens’ Rosalind is vivacious and bold if a little hyper, her constantly glistening eyes betraying an anxious nerviness at odds with this light hearted romantic comedy. She and Mariah Gale play like tiger cubs and their love for each other is palpable. If Rosalind and Celia are usually sun and moon, here the pale moon shines just as brightly as it’s brash cousin with Gale turning in a complex, moving performance as the loyal sidekick.

That Boyd has given us an intelligent As You Like It cannot be denied.  But it never transfers from the head to the heart and though there are laughs to be had here, there is strangely very little joy.

Runs until 5th February 2011.

I’ve fallen in love and it’s with a long dead Elizabethan playwright.

It’s easy to skim the surface with William Shakespeare and miss all the nourishment beneath.  Rather capriciously if you’ve seen even one or two productions done very badly then it’s very easy to begin to think (somewhat treacherously) that maybe he’s not so ‘towering’ after all.

But then you see one show which makes you realise why the British are so proud of this  National Treasure and it’s like falling back in love with an old partner, suddenly all the annoying things that they do (the protracted verse, the ‘hilarious’ out of context social comedy) are transformed into actions and moments of delight.

And so it was for me.  Just as Rosalind falls so marvellously for Orlando in As You Like It, so I fell head over heels in love with Shakespeare after seeing a superlative production of this text which is currently on at the Globe.  My interest had previously been moistened with a little light flirting in the form of Timothy Sheader’s very sweet Much Ado About Nothing at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, but it wasn’t until I sat in the Globe earlier this week that I was once again hopelessly enamoured with the Bard. 

Director Thea Sharrock and her superb cast have an immense understanding of As You Like It, and what can often seem like a string of famous quotes is woven together with great humanity and sparkling wit in an enrapturing production. Out for all to see is Shakespeare’s inherent humour, the liveliness in his characters (in both villains and heroes) and his timeless empathy of the human condition all burnished with the richness of his beautiful language. 

Shakespeare then is daring, funny, lively, empathic, poetic, and elegant; it’s no wonder that I feel like a flushed school girl eager to see the next play from my long forgotten crush (I have already watched an outdoor promenade version of Romeo and Juliet, and still the flame burns for more).  But I’m not a jealous lover and there’s plenty of Shakespeare to go around this season for everyone, if that is, you fancy it.