This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com
Featherweight romantic fantasy that it is, As You Like It is the home for some of William Shakespeare’s most lyrical passages and the perfect production of it is one that keeps the broad comedy bubbling whilst contrasting it with a mood of reflective melancholy. Performed in a studio space with little scenery and a cast of just ten performing all the roles, Derek Bond’s production tackles the play with all the enthusiasm and delight of a child unwrapping a Christmas gift and it hits the right notes throughout. Bond sets the play vaguely in the Edwardian era and gives it it both the briskness to skate over the absurdities of the plot and the comic invention to divert attention from its many longueurs. The preliminaries in court are dispatched quickly and the exiled Rosalind heads off, disguised as a man, to the forest of Arden where a confused reunion with her would-be lover, Orlando awaits. As she departs, a huge curtain swishes away and we are in a glade, adorned by an array of musical instruments. Confetti rains down onto the bare stage almost continuously, firstly as white Winter snow falling on top of orange remnants of Autumn and later as the green leaves of Spring. Visually, this is a production that is bewitching in its simplicity. Sally Scott’s Rosalind is enchanting and Harry Livingstone’s Orlando is heroic, but it is Simon Lipkin playing Touchstone who steals scene after scene. As clown, mime artist and eventually ventriloquist (an apprenticeship in Avenue Q has served him well), he is simply brilliant, aided by the inspired casting of a dummy sheep in the role of Audrey, his sweetheart. For two riotously funny sequences in the second half, Touchstone and Audrey hold the stage and, at one point, they abandon the text for a spot of audience participation. Shakespeare purists may wince, but it all works so well within the spirit of the play that it would be churlish for anyone to complain. Lovely original music by Jude Obermuller augments the production’s rustic charm and Emma Bailey’s simple designs are bathed in sumptuous lighting, designed by Charlie Lucas and Sally Ferguson. As Dominic Gerrard’s Scottish Jacques delivers the “All the World’s a stage…” speech, bright lights turn progressively dimmer for each of the seven ages, exemplifying how the spoken words and the visual imagery work in perfect harmony in almost every scene. Coming after so much hilarity, the final scene of explanation and reconciliation really ought to bring further laughter – that of derision, but the changes of tone are handled so confidently that, instead, the scene is genuinely touching and even Audrey brings a small tear to the eye. Accessible to all age groups, this production is a joyful celebration of Shakespeare.
Performance date: 22 September 2014