Shakespeare’s As You Like It is perfectly titled for a reviewer to open with a predictable, and probably mediocre, pun. I’m loathe to do so, but when it comes to Polyptych Productions and Christ Church Dramatic Society’s performance, I really did like it.
This Shakespearean pastoral comedy follows the journey of its heroine Rosalind, banished from court by her uncle, and her companion Celia, disguised as a man and poor woman into the Forest of Arden. With Orlando (Rosalind’s lover) close behind, they meet a variety of unforgettable characters and amidst confusion and hilarity, romance blossoms.
Christ Church gardens provided the perfect setting for the Forest of Arden. The stage, naturally framed with leafy bowers, twinkled with fairy lights and as the sun set it bathed the actors in a warm glow. The set was, thankfully, kept simple, allowing the natural surroundings to transport the audience into the forest. While I appreciated the attempt to provide a rural soundtrack of acoustic folk, the music was probably one of the weakest points of this performance. When the whole cast joined in it wasn’t too shabby, but some of the solos made me squirm a little in my seat.
The acting from the main characters however was in a different class. Rosalind (Jessica Bailes) and Celia (Zoë Hare) were strong and played off one another well: their friendship was utterly believable. Similarly Will Yeldham played Orlando with a youthful air, which was quite charming. Perhaps the show was stolen by James Waddell’s embodiment of Touchstone, the court fool. Of course he milked the role for all the laughs he could get, and whilst some might have found his constant striking of poses and prancing across the stage a little grating, I felt that was almost the point he wanted to make. A special mention must also go to Christian Bevan for his portrayal of Jacques, an unmitigated cynic and deliverer of Shakespeare’s famous “All the world’s a stage” speech. Mysterious, snarky and unfailingly scornful, his melancholy provided a cutting contrast to the giddy delight of the other characters.
If there’s a criticism to be laid on this performance it would be the lack of depth in the supporting cast and maybe that it was all a bit too twee. Perhaps it was the off-the-shoulder floaty lace dresses, garlands and braces, though I must confess stifling a chuckle at Touchstone’s costume – decked out in dungarees and a gaudy shirt (and minus the bowtie) he was a 21st century hipster’s dream. The modernisation worked particularly well with the addition of choice modern-day colloquial phrases to the Shakespearean language, which always won a laugh.
A picturesque setting, some stand-out performances and constant chuckling ensured this Christ Church garden production had all the comedy, whimsy and playfulness that Shakespeare’s As You Like It should delight with.
As You Like It was performed in Christ Church Cathedral gardens from 3rd-6th June.
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