As You Like It – August 2013

Experience: 7/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Maria Aberg

Venue: RST

Date: Monday 12th August 2013

Our view was completely different again from our previous two visits, as we were up in the circle. Despite having a good view, I did feel a bit distanced from the production as I couldn’t see the actors’ expressions clearly – we’ve become terribly spoilt in recent years. There was more detail in some parts of the performance, but on the whole it was much the same as before, and without the surprise value I didn’t find it as uplifting as last time, hence the reduced rating.

Adam was clearly getting a little fed up with Orlando’s whinging after so many performances, as he joined in the “a thousand crowns” tonight like he’d already heard the story a thousand times. Oliver hit Orlando after the line “What, boy!”, and when he was talking with Charles later, I noticed he wrote something in a notebook after thanking the wrestler and saying he would requite him – a reminder to reward Charles in future perhaps? Charles hit Oliver on the shoulder in a friendly way before he left, but it was still a bit too hard for Oliver’s liking.

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As You Like It – May 2013

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Maria Aberg

Venue: RST

Date: Wednesday 29th May 2013

We were sitting by the left walkway tonight, and although there was a pillar right in front of us, we managed to enjoy the performance as much as before as well as seeing some extra things we’d missed the last time. The performances had all come on, with the first half still being less fun and the second half being really good, and we stayed on for the post-show which added some useful information.

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As You Like It – April 2013

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Maria Aberg

Venue: RST

Date: Tuesday 16th April 2013

My heart sank as we entered the auditorium and I realised they were playing the low frequency torture sounds again, my least favourite start to a performance. I managed to last out without throwing up. The set was a raised square platform within the main stage, with a few feet left free on three sides. It had a chequerboard pattern on it while the rest of the stage floor was blank. A pillar by the left walkway was echoed by a number of other pillars, all square, all grey, dotted around the rear half of the stage and there were dead leaves everywhere. Orlando and Adam came on before the start to sweep them up, making a tidy pile of half of them near the back right corner which they loaded into a wheelbarrow. Along the back of the stage were more grey wooden panels at different angles. Everything looked dark grey to begin with, including the clothes, but when the lights changed for the start, I could see that the pillars were brown.

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As You Like It – September 2012

7/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by James Dacre

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe

Date: Thursday 6th September 2012

I was reminded that this was a touring production as soon as I saw the set. A low wooden platform sat between the stage pillars, with a wooden crate centre front and a much larger box construction behind it, just in front of the balcony. I could see a door on the near side of this homemade portakabin (with the Shakespeare’s Globe logo on it) and I assumed there would be a door on the other side; I couldn’t see any obvious exits/entrances at the front. Four tall ladders poked up above this box, one on each side and two at the back, and there was some luggage sitting on the top of it – a trunk and a hatbox – which suggested the girls’ flight into the forest. A sturdy wooden post anchored each corner of the front section of the platform, and I could also see an old camera on a tripod on the far side of the stage, complete with its black cloth for the photographer’s head. There was also a small brass bowl just behind the near pillar, a wicker hamper lurking on the far side of the stage, largely hidden by the far pillar, and I spotted another box or hamper secreted behind the portakabin on our side of the stage. My eyesight wasn’t up to identifying a small dark shape beside the far front post – no doubt that will become clear in time. Nothing else was visible at this point, and the stage proper had been cut back to its usual size, with steps at each side and two lots at the front about level with the corners of the platform. The costumes were all late Victorian.

The black thing turned out to be the flash gun for the camera, but that came later. To begin with, most of the actors in the cast came out of the box from the portakabin’s side doors, apart from a few who appeared through trapdoors in the roof. They played assorted instruments, not the most harmonious sound, and sang a made-up song to introduce the performance. Touchstone also did a short speech as part of this, and even took a quick turn around the pit during it, which helped to get the audience involved. I didn’t catch all of the words, but there was a fair bit of laughter, so not a bad start.

During the opening song, the cast had brought on the wooden box from behind the portakabin, and I could see it contained apples. At the end of the song, the non-openers stood on stage holding an apple in each hand and gradually raised them up, presumably to represent the orchard setting of the first scene. As Orlando and Adam got the scene underway, the others placed the apples on the ground and left the stage, which allowed Orlando to pick up the fruit and put it in the box during the scene.

For once the dialogue was wonderfully clear and I heard every syllable of these scenes; since the portakabin blocked half the stage and the pillars just about did for the rest, hearing this play was our only hope. Old Adam was doubled with Touchstone, so not only was he wearing a hat and brown coat, he also had tremors in his hands to indicate how old he was. Orlando introduced us to his own situation, and when his brother approached from the pit they had a mighty tussle (behind the pillars) which Orlando definitely won – I glimpsed Oliver kneeling down at one point. Charles the wrestler also approached from the audience but he took a lot longer to reach the stage, using the pretty route to deliver most of his ‘news’. Oliver gave him a banknote as inducement to kill Orlando for him, and I noticed he kissed the rest of the notes before he put them back – mercenary or what? Charles took the hint, and I reflected that his career was almost over, given his promise to quit the ring if Orlando walked away from their fight. Oliver’s description of his hatred for his brother was nicely done and I thought it was worthy of some laughs; not so the audience.

Rosalind and Celia used the camera at the start of their scene. Rosalind was carrying a lily and was handed some grapes to hold in an aesthetic pose while Celia placed the camera on the platform to take her picture. Their conversation was also very clear and for once Celia not only came across as Rosalind’s equal, she was even stronger than her in this scene. When Rosalind suggested they fall in love, she sat Celia down on her knee (I assume she was kneeling herself to do this). Touchstone’s arrival changed the tone, and I could see that the women were keen to make use of his wit to cheer themselves up. Le Beau delivered his message, and then the stage was set up for the wrestling match by threading a rope through the eyes on the corner posts and drawing it tight. The women disappeared off and reappeared on the other side of the stage, Rosalind with a hat and Celia with an umbrella, presumably formal wear for ladies of rank attending wrestling matches. But they were all over the stage during this scene, and when Orlando arrived and stripped off his shirt, they were all over the stage in more ways than one. This Celia was definitely attracted to Orlando as much as Rosalind was, and it was touch and go as to which one would get to him first.

The wrestling took a while, and Orlando was definitely getting the worse of it for a long time. He was banged against the portakabin and fell over the rope onto the front of the stage but still managed to recover and get back into the fight, delivering some nasty blows to Charles and even kicking him in a sensitive spot when Charles was finally on the floor himself. Despite his wrestler being beaten,the Duke was very pleased until he found out who Orlando was. The Duke had taken a bag, which presumably contained the prize money, and was about to hand it over when Orlando announced his parentage. The Duke froze, kept the money and left soon afterwards, clearly angry.

Orlando then had his two ‘conversations’ with Celia and Rosalind. Celia was the first to congratulate him, coming into the wrestling ring to do so, but Rosalind swept past her and gave her chain to Orlando, much to Celia’s annoyance. Orlando, of course, was mute. With Celia beginning to accept that Orlando wasn’t for her, she and Rosalind left the stage by the front steps, getting almost to the exit before Rosalind came out with her pathetic excuse that he’d called them back. It was very funny, and with a courtier watching this going on, I was aware that these actions prompted the Duke’s banishment of Rosalind because he didn’t want his daughter to be led astray by people he regarded as his enemies.

Rosalind’s passion for Orlando was well expressed in the next scene, followed by the Duke’s anger and her banishment. The latter part of the scene was mostly hidden but they got the story across well enough, and again the planning of their flight showed Celia to be at least as strong a character as her cousin. When choosing their noms de fuite, Celia took a little time to get out the “alien” part, then hastily added the “a” to make it sound more plausible, which we found very funny. Orlando was likewise soon on his travels, with the faithful Adam as his companion; I think this happened before the first scene in the forest, but I’m not sure.

Moving on to the first forest scene, where the banished Duke could have been his usurping brother’s twin, we were shown Jacques (played by Emma Pallant as a female character) up on the roof of the portakabin, where she acted out her part while the First Lord (no idea who was doing this bit) recounted the story of Jacques’ musings on the injured deer. Emma spoke Jacques’ own lines for this, so we were familiar with who was playing the part before her proper entrance – a good move with such unusual casting.

I think this may have been the first place where an actor changed character on stage, with Duke Senior turning into Duke Frederick before our very eyes and finding out about his daughter’s flight. The text has the Orlando/Adam scene here – maybe, maybe not – then Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone turned up in Arden and the fun really began.

They were carrying suitcases and Touchstone was also carrying Celia on his back. Ganymede was in workman’s clothes, with a short, waistcoat, rough trousers and a cap, while Celia wore a plain frock. Touchstone was still in his lime green suit, a sight for sore eyes (to make them sore, that is). Corin and Silvius entered by the side stairs and sat chatting in the front corner of the stage on our side; to hide from them the three new arrivals crouched behind the suitcases. Silvius was wonderfully silly, while Touchstone’s comments on the folly of lovers came across very clearly.

After Corin took them away to the sheepcote, I think the next scene started with Amiens singing Under The Greenwood Tree; I forget the style, but it was very pleasant. While this was going on, Jacques sat front right on the steps, irritated by the noise and studying or writing in her notebook. Her discourse with Amiens was nicely brittle, and she gave the impression of being an unhappy woman who had turned cynical rather than being a cynic by nature. The short scene with Orlando bringing Adam into the forest may have come before the singing, but either way Adam was left propped up against the ladder on the portakabin roof while Orlando went to find food. I forgot to mention that, at an earlier point, some panels on the front of the portakabin were swung back to reveal a forest scene, with double doors for access to the stage.

Duke Senior returned to the stage which now had a picnic laid out on a blanket. Jacques also returned, all excited at having met a fool in the forest, and her description of the encounter was very well done. Orlando came through the doors, as I recall, and threatened them with his knife. He grabbed Jacques and held the knife to her throat, which made him seem much more ruthless than usual. He was soon persuaded by the Duke to soften his approach, and after he left to get Adam, Jacques gave us the famous “seven ages of man” speech. It was strange hearing it from a woman, and it gave a more observational flavour to the familiar lines. With Orlando’s parentage acknowledged, the scene was over and they took the interval, with Jacques hanging a sign to that effect on the portakabin door handles.

Act 3 scene 1 may have started the second half, or it may have happened earlier or later; I’m usually happy for directors to change the order of events, but it does give me problems writing these notes at times. The stage had been well papered during the interval, with sheets on the pillars, the posts, the doors, just about everywhere you could stick a sheet of paper. Touchstone sat on the portakabin roof for the first part of his chat with Corin, but came down during it to complete the scene. When Rosalind arrived, he made good use of the audience when composing the string of rhyming couplets; we joined in with “Rosalind” each time. When it came to “must find love’s prick, and Rosalind”, he introduced a long pause while he fumbled in his trousers for a rather squashed rose, then continued the verse; some folk had kept the rhythm going and said “Rosalind” anyway, but we also joined in at the appropriate time.

Celia and Rosalind’s conversation went pretty well and then Orlando turned up with Jacques in tow. The two of them were awkward company and Jacques soon left, which allowed Rosalind to confront Orlando and begin the reverse wooing. I saw very little of the action of this scene, but the dialogue was clear, and there were some laughs which suggested the reactions and business were good fun. Celia sat on the bench during most of this.

Touchstone’s’ wooing of Audrey was next, and again the casting was unusual. John O’Mahony was fine as the fraternal Dukes, but wouldn’t have been most people’s first choice as Audrey. The beard would have put off many a casting director, but once we got over that, his pretty frock and feminine charms completely won us over. Sir Oliver Martext was as drunk as a skunk and played very little part in the proceedings, staggering off the stage some moments after the rest of the wedding party had left.

Rosalind was very put out that Orlando had missed his appointment, and Celia was doing her best to convince her cousin that Orlando was indeed faithless. The encounter with Silvius and Phebe was good fun. Emma Pallant was doubling Phebe with Jacques, and she played both parts very strongly. At the end of that scene she changed into Jacques on stage and continued immediately to talk with Ganymede. I had the impression that Jacques was also attracted to this woman-as-man, and that her unhappiness at Orlando’s arrival was partly because he interrupted their conversation.

The second wooing between the two of them went well enough, with Rosalind being very changeable. They may have had a song in the interlude and then Silvius brought the letter from Phebe. After revealing the contents of the letter, Rosalind sent him packing just as Oliver arrived with the bloody napkin. I couldn’t see all of Celia’s behaviour at this point, but she was clearly taken with this new arrival. When Rosalind fainted, Oliver definitely found out that she was a woman, and Steve reckoned he also realised that she had to be Rosalind (he does know about the flight of Rosalind and Celia after all). I wasn’t sure about that part, and I also wasn’t sure how much Orlando knew later on, but that might have been clearer from a better angle than ours.

With a cast limited in number, William was unavailable for comment in this production, so they went straight into Orlando and Oliver’s conversation followed by Rosalind’s arrival. The quartet with Silvius and Phebe was nicely done, then they skipped the following song and continued with the Duke’s entrance for the wedding scene. Jacques had to miss the wedding, as Phebe was present in her white dress; in fact all the brides wore a similar dress – probably not much choice in the forest’s one and only bridal shop. Audrey was also present, as a life-size cardboard cut-out, and we really enjoyed her performance despite the lack of action. Touchstone carried her on and left on the right corner of the stage, then came across later to tell her to “bear your body more seeming, Audrey”, which was very funny. He also took Audrey off at the end to clear the stage for the dance.

With Jacques missing they dropped Touchstone’s quarrel routine (shame) so in no time at all Rosalind was back in her wedding dress, ready to marry the man she loves. The news about Duke Frederick’s conversion arrived, and with some slipping of coats on and off Jacques finished her part in the play, leaving the rest, including Phebe, to end the show with a happy dance. No epilogue.

It was a lively performance, with some interesting choices and a strong and clear story. There was also a good deal of humour, including some from the invasion of the pigeons! So many of them were landing on the stage that Touchstone had to chase them off before continuing with his lines. At some point he also encouraged us to keep clapping after some business or other; then he told us to stop, then to keep it up – it was all good fun. I would have liked to have seen more of the action, but we did get a good idea of the production despite our side-on view, and I thought the entire cast did an excellent job. There was more music than I’ve commented on, sometimes discordant, sometimes pleasant, and the cast’s interaction with the audience was very good. Their touring venues have been informal, from the looks of them, so presumably they’ve had plenty of practice.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

As You Like It – August 2009

8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Michael Boyd

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Wednesday 12th August 2009

Not the understudies this time. I was a bit worried, as I’d liked several of the performances in the Understudies run, but I was looking forward to seeing Katy Stephens as Rosalind and Maria Gale giving us her Celia – we’d heard them talking about their roles earlier in the day. I needn’t have worried, of course, as the performances were just as good all round, and some were even better. I won’t name too many names, but Forbes Masson was superb as Jacques, especially in his opening scene, whipping us up into a frenzy of audience participation. Katy Stephens had commented on how hard she was finding it to do Rosalind’s intelligence as she tends to come more from the heart, but personally I found the strength of her Rosalind’s emotions helped the part enormously. After all, the woman has just fallen deeply in love, so I’d expect her to be feeling at least as much as she’s thinking, and that came across clearly in tonight’s performance.

I also loved Mariah Gale’s Celia. Her Rosalind was fine, but as Celia she was definitely on a par with Rosalind as a character. Her subtle reactions during Ganymede’s ‘wooing’ scenes with Orlando showed a young woman concerned for her friend and what she was getting herself into, while still being happy for her in having the man she loves present in the forest. She managed to behave girlishly without being silly, and I loved the way she totally joined in Rosalind’s emotional rollercoaster when Orlando fails to turn up the first time. Both actresses have created a very strong relationship between the characters, the closest I’ve seen on stage.

I was also aware from this angle that the Duke was looking at the girls as they applauded Orlando during the wrestling, and it seemed to me that, having discovered who Orlando is, this is what triggers his banishment of Rosalind, as he thinks she’s having too much of an influence on his own daughter. I didn’t spot any significant changes to the staging, although I did see more of some bits, and of course there were more lords both in the court and in the forest. There was an unpleasant smell after the forest feast – presumably something had been spilled while grilling the kebabs – and a couple of Phoebe’s rolls disappeared into the audience, but otherwise all seemed well. In fact, the only minor (and I mean minor!) quibble I had at the start was that Orlando, the youngest son of Sir Roland, looked older than his brother, but I soon got past that, especially as Katy had informed us that Jonjo O’Neill is a great snogger. (On stage, at least, I have no idea what he’s like in real life.)

The rabbit skinning incident drew fewer squeamish responses from the audience this time and I hope we were suitably supportive of the changed epilogue tonight. Katy certainly looked happy at the end, as did the rest of the cast. And so were we.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

As You Like It – June 2009

6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Michael Fentiman

Company: RSC Understudies

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Tuesday 9th June 2009

This was a good performance of an interesting production with some nice touches. The standard was still good, although it’s play that needs sparkle and it’s asking too much of the understudies to produce that level of performance first time out. The introduction by Michael Fentiman warned us that Christine Entwisle would play Phoebe for the final scene as Debbie Korley was doubling both Phoebe and Audrey, making her a potential bigamist without this extra help. As there was a dance at the end, it would indeed have been difficult to get away with just one woman playing two parts.

The set was interesting as well and reminded me of a number of things, particularly the DASH Arts Dream. The back wall was made up of lots of squares of what looked like patterned paper, or possibly wood. The squares looked like they would easily come out or open up to make doors or windows, and it reminded me of the paper-covered back wall in the aforementioned Dream. There were double doors in the centre of the wall and a couple of larger panels above. The floor was likewise made up of patterned squares, all in a light colour. The lighting on this stark set was equally decisive; a stream of white light poured across the stage on the diagonal, matched by another diagonal later on; there were a few gloomy scenes to contend with, but mostly it was fairly bright all over with no specific highlights.

The first glimpse of the wintery forest came with the exiled Duke and his lords appearing through trapdoors. Then Celia, Rosalind and Touchstone arrived at Arden and the plants began to take over. Touchstone was covered in undergrowth (though in his case it’s more like overgrowth) and during the intermission the doors and panels started to come off the back wall, with trees starting to show through. I liked the split personality of the set in the second half; they never quite got rid of the back wall but the bundle of overgrowth stayed on stage throughout. The forest was also liberally peppered with Orlando’s verses. Large bits of cardboard appeared all over the place, hanging from the roof, stuck on the side walls and around the first balcony, stuffed into the foliage behind the wall and just about everywhere you looked there was at least a letter or word. Very effective.

The individual performances were good, with James Howard’s Jacques being excellent. His first entrance was solo, carrying a guitar and singing “Under The Greenwood Tree”, a song normally sung by Amiens. Instead of Jacques asking the absent Amiens for more, he asked us if we wanted more, so some of us obliged him by calling out. He carried on, and finally took lots of bows. At first we applauded, then we laughed, then we applauded again, then we laughed again, then the other lords came on and we laughed at his reaction. Now he could play his musical trick on the other lords and that was good fun too, with entertaining reactions from the lords who sprang apart as if bitten. He also managed a good version of the seven ages of man speech which is normally very boring – he managed to get a couple of laughs – and his character came across very clearly throughout. I was aware of his melancholy, which wasn’t unfunny this time, and how he and Touchstone were so similar; this forest wasn’t big enough for the both of them. One minor weakness – Clarence Smith as Charles, the Duke’s wrestler, was less good in his delivery of the lines. He didn’t project quite enough so that lines said facing away from us tended to get lost, and his diction wasn’t quite as clear as the others, but it wasn’t a bad performance – I’m sure he’ll get better with practice – and he managed the wrestling scene very well which can’t be easy with so little rehearsal.

Staging. During Orlando and Oliver’s first conversation, or slanging match if you prefer, Orlando showed his talents as a wrestler by pinning his brother to the ground. I noticed how well the conversation between Oliver and Charles gave the audience all the background information it needs about the situation at court. When the court arrived it was with a formal dance, more Spanish than French to my mind, with lots of foot stamping. The Duke and his followers swept out, leaving a sad Rosalind to be cheered up by her cousin. Their dialogue came across clearly, as did the banter with Touchstone. He arrived before the girls had finished their bit and took the opportunity to down a bottle of something, presumably alcoholic, which he’d hidden down the front of his trousers. But before he could down the second bottle, similarly secreted, he had to speak to the girls and then it was too late; they kept him talking so long the wrestling was about to start before he could wet his whistle again.

Rosalind was surprisingly keen to see the bone-breaking wrestling match, though her change into love-struck woman was beautifully done, as was Orlando’s smitten-ness, resulting in a lack of dialogue. The wrestling itself involved a lot of banging heads against the back wall, and there was a suitable amount of blood on each contestant’s head by the end. The court was spread around the auditorium with Rosalind and Celia just along from us. I noticed that the court applauded Charles’s successes, while the girls clapped and cheered for Orlando. This may have been what tipped the Duke into banishing Rosalind, not liking the way she influenced his own daughter. The Duke is certainly shown as full-blown tyrant in this production.

The girls were soon planning their trip to Arden. The line referring to Rosalind’s height was inappropriate with this casting but she tackled it head on and we all took it in our stride, accepting the unusual circumstances. They leave by different exits for once, to carry out the various aspects of their plan.

Next was the arrival of Duke senior and his men in the forest. The first lord and Amiens were played by the same actor so he had to indicate someone else when he mentioned Amiens, but it all worked very well. Immediately we were back with the usurping Duke, and his courtiers were informing him about his daughter’s flight. Hisperia, Celia’s woman, was brought on too, but as she was standing right beside us I couldn’t see her face until she turned to leave when it became apparent that her cooperation with the investigation had been obtained by means of violence – her face was cut and bruised. I got a bad feeling about this Duke.

When Orlando returned home Adam warned him to go away, as his brother wasn’t happy with the news of Orlando’s success. When Orlando rushed over to embrace Adam, he kicked the money box into the audience, which caused some laughter. It was handed back readily enough and didn’t hold up the performance at all. I was very aware, as Adam was asking Orlando to take him along, that people in service didn’t have a lot of options in those days. Adam might have saved some money, but he was probably better off with an employer than on his own. And I’m delighted to say that although Adam wasn’t seen again after the forest feast this production didn’t actually kill him off for once. A gentle retirement, then. How fitting.

Next came the main event – the girls and Touchstone arriving in Arden. Celia, poor lass, was so leg-weary she was actually in a trolley being pulled by Rosalind. And she was covered by a blanket. So her complaints about being too tired to go on seemed just a tad selfish and petulant. Rosalind, for her disguise as Ganymede, had a pencil moustache, a hat over her tied-up hair and ordinary trousers, shirt and jacket. Touchstone, apart from the strands of foliage he manages to get caught up in, was still in his fool’s clothes which in his case appeared to be a set of restraining clothes – a pair of trousers with straps topped with the remains of a straitjacket (one of the arms came off later on when he scrambled his way out of the foliage). When Corin and Silvius turned up, they hid; Celia snuggled under her blanket, Rosalind ducked behind the trolley, and Touchstone nipped off to the side of the stage.

Silvius was playing an instrument and singing his love song to Phoebe as he came on, a common practice in this production. The instrument appeared to be a mandolele (a cross between a mandolin and a ukulele) with ten strings. (I don’t know what it’s called in real life.) After Silvius left, Celia, ever practical, was up from her comfy bed in a trice to suggest they ask the remaining shepherd for food.

Next we had Jacques giving us his song, and then Orlando and Adam arriving in the forest with Orlando helping Adam off the stage until he could get him some food. The Duke turned up again with his men who prepared dinner – meat kebabs over an open flame in one of the trapdoor fire pits – yum. Orlando grabbed one of the lords to persuade them to part with some of their food but was soon charmed into behaving nicely, although there was a lord pointing a gun at him behind his back. There were a lot of guns in this production – everyone following the exiled Duke in the forest had one – but fortunately no need to fire any of them. Jacques delivered the speech about meeting the fool very well, with some nice pauses during the time sequence which made it funnier, as he waited for someone to tell him what the time would be an hour after ten o’clock. Amiens’ song was dropped; instead they just had the Duke leaving the stage, Orlando seeing that Adam was well looked after then following the Duke, and the two of them returning to have a few short words before they all left the stage.

The nasty Duke then confronted Oliver about his missing brother in a very short scene, but it was enough to get across his tyranny, and then we had Orlando in the forest, strumming his guitar and singing some of his poetry written in praise of Rosalind. Trust me, they sounded better sung than said. Plus he has a nice voice. We then got the opening lines of Act 3 Scene 2, with Orlando running off past us after “and unexpressive she”. Oliver then appeared at the centre back of the stage, looking around, presumably for his troublesome brother, and then he headed off in the other direction. Interval.

The stage crew then took some time setting up the stage for the second half, what with sweeping away bits of paper, tidying up the foliage nest that Touchstone had deposited on the far side of the stage, demolishing the back wall and plastering the whole stage with poetry snippets (see above). They may have lacked a lot of the comforts of life in Arden forest, but good housekeeping wasn’t one of them. Forest floor swept and washed on a regular basis. One of the trapdoors had a block set up in front of it, over on our side of the stage towards the back. When all the work was done, Amiens?/lord?/Corin? (that’s the trouble with all this doubling) popped in there and began to skin a rabbit. For real. A real rabbit. A real, dead rabbit. And he was really skinning it. EEUUUGGGHHHHH!!!!! At least that’s what Touchstone thought, as he stood or sat on the other side of the stage, preparing to address the shepherd but not quite able to as first one leg, then another, then the whole body was pulled out of the skin (after the head had been chopped off). I didn’t find it all that grisly (she lied) but Touchstone wasn’t the only person who was finding it tough going judging by the noises coming from the audience. Once fully skinned, the rabbit was put in the bucket and was being carried off stage before Corin noticed Touchstone and started the next bit of Act 3 Scene 2. [Found out in 2011 that the rabbit skinning had to be dropped for New York, as there was a huge outcry from animal lovers over there.]

This scene took us through both Rosalind and Celia reading out some of the poetry and into their private discussion of the verse-writer. This time, I was aware that Rosalind was reading these verses as Ganymede, but hearing them as herself. When it comes to the revelation about who has written the verses I always find Rosalind completely obtuse at this point, despite her quick wits. I can only suppose she’s used to people writing fancy verse in her praise, and doesn’t expect to see Orlando again anytime soon which is why she takes so long to absorb Celia’s information. Anyway, this is the first time I’ve seen Rosalind, describing her disguise, drop her trousers and take the padding out of her crotch. Very effective, very funny, and it showed an astonishing attention to detail. When Orlando and Jacques turned up, she and Celia snuck off stage and round the back where they could watch what went on. Orlando had the guitar which he handed to Jacques, who took it off with him when he went.

There was a moment when Orlando first saw Ganymede that told us he saw the similarity to Rosalind immediately. But then he ‘realised’ he was talking to a boy and he snapped out of his romantic dream in a chappish sort of way, becoming brisk and manly, as you do. Their banter was also pretty brisk which got us through the rest of the scene quite quickly. To give them a break, Touchstone brought on Audrey to woo and wed her. Sir Oliver Martext arrived carrying a flaming cross (don’t ask me why). Jacques dissuaded Touchstone from marrying badly in the forest, so off they went and we were back to Rosalind and Celia wondering where Orlando has got to. To pass the time they headed off to see Silvius and Phoebe do their turn, with all the lovesick problems that brings. Phoebe was carrying a tray of fresh baked rolls which she dropped when she laid eyes on Ganymede. Silvius picked them all up again, having previously stolen one to keep next to his heart; he slipped it out of sight quickly when Phoebe looked at him.

Back at the shepherd’s house Rosalind and Celia entered with Jacques, who disappeared quickly once Orlando arrived. The wooing was good fun, and when it came to the end of the scene Orlando headed off to serve the Duke, Rosalind went off to sit somewhere quiet and Celia lay down on the stage to sleep for a while all on her own. The next scene is a puzzling one to us modern folk; Jacques leading the forest court in a stag-romp with lots of horns on view. Here it was done as a dream sequence, with Celia’s father coming on with his court in a reprise of the earlier dance entrance. Then the forest lords came on and the two groups formed into two lines. They danced around, there were lots of horns but no singing, and Celia joined in the dancing. After a short while she dropped back down onto the floor and the rest left, so that Rosalind could come back on and wake her up. Puzzling, but no worse than the original scene.

Next we got the letter from Phoebe declaring her love for Ganymede, followed by the arrival of Oliver to apologise on Orlando’s behalf for his non-appearance and to explain what’s happened. The connection between him and Celia was noticeable, though not so rampant as I’ve seen before. Next up were Audrey, Touchstone and William, with Touchstone making it clear to William that he’d better give up any plans he had to marry Audrey, as Touchstone has first dibs. (Actually William had first dibs, but who’s going to argue with a highly-trained court jester?)

When Orlando came on with Oliver he had his right arm in a sling, and when Oliver clasped him firmly before leaving to arrange his wedding, Orlando winced with pain. Even so, once the marriage arrangements are made amongst Orlando, Ganymede, Phoebe and Silvius, he got rid of the sling so he could put on a jacket for the marriage day. This removed the need for the scene with Touchstone and Audrey listening to a song. As Orlando and the exiled Duke discussed the situation it was clear that neither of them has realised who Ganymede is, despite both of them being strongly reminded of Rosalind when they saw the boy. (Where exactly did Rosalind get her quick wits from?) Touchstone dids his seven points of a quarrel speech, Audrey turned up looking completely different from before (it’s amazing what a wedding makeover can do for a woman) and then Hymen brought on Celia, accompanied by any spare cast members who were done up for a country-style wedding ceremony. Rosalind sneaked on to the stage at the front and all was finally revealed. With the news that the usurping Duke has gone off to be a hermit, and Jacques heading off to wait for the new/old Duke in his former cell, the stage was clear for merriment and dancing, after which they all left the stage except for Rosalind.

The epilogue is one of the best known bits, and rarely dropped. Here she said the opening lines and then sang a verse of The Parting Glass, a lovely old song and well performed but not as much fun as the regular epilogue. Still, we’d all enjoyed ourselves so much that there was rapturous applause, well deserved. Nothing more to add, looking forward to the regular version in August.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

As You Like It – March 2007

6/10

By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Sam West

Company: Sheffield Theatres

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Thursday 8th March 2007

This was an interesting and often enjoyable version of As You Like It, or, given the sheer amount of dressing up opportunities, Hat You Like It. There was a great deal to like about the staging, and the performances, and above all, it was fantastic to see and hear Will’s actual words, and see women playing the women’s parts (even if one did pretend to be a man occasionally) – it’s been so long!

This production opens with Jacques coming into the auditorium, as if at the last minute, and looking for his seat. After worrying some of the front row across from us, he suddenly strides across the stage, declaiming “All the world’s a stage…” and the action begins. Several actors carry on a long oblong form, covered in a black cloth, obviously representing a coffin, while Rosalind and her father, also dressed in black, stand together at the front of the stage. Orlando stands by the coffin, flanked by two umbrella bearers, clearly mourning his recently departed father, while Rosalind’s father takes his leave of her. Both characters are left, alone, mourning their lost fathers. I liked the juxtaposition of these two scenes, and it occurred to me that perhaps they’re linked causally as well as emotionally – perhaps the death of Sir Roland de Boys, a supporter of Duke senior, led to his banishment, as he no longer held the balance of power at the court.

Next comes the opening scene proper, as the coffin is transformed into a bench, by simply removing the cloth covering it. Orlando does this, after removing his own coat, and with Adam, begins to pick up the apples scattered in front of the bench by another actor. Orlando’s complaints came across very well; it’s easy to understand why he’s frustrated and angry, and the following dialogue between Orlando and his brother Oliver makes it clear that they just don’t get on. If only Jerry Springer had been around in those days to help heal their relationship! The scuffle whereby Orlando demonstrates his wrestling credentials was well done, although I did get a bit worried when the carpet they were fighting on got rucked up, in case someone tripped over and hurt themselves. But all was well. Now, where can I find a bookie and get a quick bet on Orlando for the wrestling match?

Charles the wrestler was one of the best I’ve seen, all charming Italian, and apparently willing to help Oliver out by killing his brother. Oliver’s non-explanation of his hatred for Orlando was good. It made me think this was just one of those karmic things – a necessary negative flaw which would help to resolve the situation over time. In any case, he made a good villain, more realistic than some I’ve seen.

There was one line that caused a laugh for reasons other than the text or business. Charles refers to the banished Duke living in the forest of Ardennes (as this is France, theoretically), and compares him to Robin Hood. Given that Orlando is played by Sam Troughton, recently seen in the latest incarnation of Robin Hood on TV, most of the audience spotted the humour.

The next scene takes us to the court, and this is represented by several mounted antlers being lowered in front of the back curtain. I did enjoy this. We could see the Duke in his wheelchair behind the curtain, with his men, but first we get to see Rosalind and Celia, as they slip through the curtain and spend some time away from the company.

These were two very good performances, and once again, we have a Celia who is a good match for Rosalind. I notice when I see such a balanced pairing, how many lines Celia actually has. Often, she hardly seems to speak a line, but in this production, as with Amanda Harris’s portrayal, she came across as a strong character in her own right, at times stronger than Rosalind.

The girls are obviously very good friends, and their teasing of Le Beau is merciless. I often feel sorry for Le Beau, and I was wondering if they would send this one into the forest to find Duke senior. Touchstone is also introduced at this point, and although I enjoyed some of this role tonight, I didn’t feel I really “got” what he was about, and some of his lines were pretty dull. But it is a difficult part, so no criticism of the actor is intended.

The wrestling was reasonably well done, although I wasn’t keen on the “spare” actors stamping on the ground as it was going on. The growing attraction between Rosalind and Orlando was nicely done, even though I couldn’t see all of the expressions from our position. The Duke’s change of attitude when he hears of Orlando’s parentage was very clear, and added even more to the feeling of menace created by his body guards, one of whom had drawn a gun on Orlando when he announced who his father was. We knew something bad was going to happen. Le Beau’s assistance to Orlando seemed pretty full this time, and he’s obviously going to have to leave the court, as he’s overheard by the gun-toting minder. In fact, just about everyone’s leaving the court – Rosalind and Celia disappear with Touchstone, Oliver’s sent a-wandering to find his brother, and we don’t go back to the court after that, so who’s banished whom?

Rosalind and Celia’s leaving plans seemed more mature this time around, more of a plan than just desperation. Adam’s warning to Orlando was OK, but this bit often seems to drag, and this was no different, especially as there were some long pauses between lines. Fortunately, we’re soon off to the forest, and down come the antlers.

This is where it all starts going a bit pear-shaped for me. I did enjoy the staging up to now. The use of the coffin/bench, the apples (the scene is in an orchard), the antlers, etc. Once in the forest, things became a little crazy. In some ways, this is fine, as there’s that magical, fantastical element to the second half of the play. However, I didn’t find the staging giving me the sense of letting go so much as annoying and distracting me. Some elements were just plonked down on the stage without being related to the performance in any way I could fathom (what was that massive bird all about?), while some aspects worked really well for me, for example, the silver cut-out tree, raised up by Corin and Silvius. I didn’t entirely go for ribbons being draped on it instead of sheets of paper, but at least it looked pretty. At the end of the first half, either Audrey or Phoebe came on while the Duke is threatening Oliver, and placed a tiny sculpture on the far side of the stage, towards the front. She then sprinkled some sand(?) over it. Why? During the interval, this was replaced by short sticks, with hats sitting on top of them. I guessed this was a bigger version of the sculpture, though it was just a guess, but I still didn’t have a clue why this was on the stage. Some characters used some of the hats during the second half, admittedly, but not enough to justify it, given how it got in the way of some of the action. There was also a huge balloon, which lit up. Hooray. God bless modern art, and preferably bless it as far away from me as possible.

Enough of the ranting and raving, on with the production. The character who tells Duke senior about Jacques and the stag by the river is…. Jacques. His disguise is pitiful, though the way it was played, he apparently fooled the Duke, but not his followers. Puzzling, yet sadly not inspiring. By the time Orlando waves his large sword (now how did he come by that in the middle of a forest when he didn’t bring one with him?) at the Duke and his men to get some food, I was getting a little tired of Sam Troughton’s tendency to bellow his lines most of the time. I know I’m usually complaining about lack of volume, so this should make a pleasant change, but I did find myself longing for a remote so I could turn the sound down a bit.

As a boost to the cross-dressing theme, Orlando is wandering round the forest wearing a double string of pearls. Instead of the usual pendant which Rosalind gives him, she’s handed over her pearl necklace, and this, together with a stronger than usual hint of eye makeup, gives Orlando a distinctly feminine appearance. [P.S. Also, Steve spotted his painted toenails.] What with Celia and Rosalind’s own wrestling match and kiss, there’s a strong sense of sexual non-conformity here. Jacques is wearing high heels and a feathered toque, and eventually I realised his shirt was actually a silky slip or dress top. For the final scene, hats and aprons are exchanged between the couples, and a feeling of Saturnalia rules – Hymen has to come in and break it up! Again, all understandable given the nature of the play, but I felt it was overdoing it – underlining, bold type, and an exclamation mark! Trust the text, it’s worked well for many a year.

This is making it sound like I didn’t enjoy the play at all, so I’d better redress the balance. Rosalind and Celia were excellent in this half of the play. Rosalind’s expressions as she deals with the incredibly complex situation she’s in, were worth the price of admission alone. Celia’s reactions to her cousin’s outrageous behaviour were entertaining in themselves, and served to remind us how far Rosalind/Ganymede is going in her pursuit of love. I was aware that Rosalind finds herself trapped by her own disguise. She’s safely in the forest, both her father and the man she loves are here with her, yet she doesn’t know how to reveal herself to them, so she plays the game of wooing. It’s not absolutely clear here whether Oliver, having discovered Rosalind’s secret when he helps her recover from her faint, tells Orlando; at times I thought he might have, then I thought probably not. I do like it when Orlando knows, as otherwise he, and the Duke, seem such dimwits for not recognising her.

The Silvius/Phoebe scenes worked very well. Again, I didn’t see all the expressions, but I saw enough to enjoy it. William proves more than a match for Touchstone, though not for Audrey, who puts her knee to good use. The cow or goat being wheeled around after her was another enigma; best not go there.

All in all, it’s the performances I enjoyed most, and I felt they worked remarkably well in a staging that didn’t always help them. I was relieved when the end came, partly because the boring bits were over, but more because of the epilogue, my favourite of all Shakespeare’s. They teased us though, disappearing off together as if they were done. Eve Best delivered the epilogue beautifully, and so I left the theatre happy, though not elated. Better luck next time.

P.S. A couple of points I missed – the hailstones(?) pummelling Jacques’ umbrella, and the orange dropping from the sky. We liked the long pause Christopher Ravenscroft held before “More villain thou.” It suggested to Steve that this usurping Duke had actually loved his own brother, but that the relationship had soured, and at some level, the Duke has his regrets over it. He played the contrast between the brothers very well.

On the strange manifestations mentioned above, Steve also came up with the idea that this production was paying homage to other, well respected director’s stagings {sorry, didn’t mean to sound so bitchy}. The white, box-like nature of the set echoed the Richard II in the Other Place, which had been transformed into a white box, while the wheelchair for Duke Frederick picked up on John of Gaunt’s wheelchair. The big bird may have been a nod to Ninagawa’s big white wolf, while the falling items, such as the orange, and the sand, may have referred back to Ninagawa’s King Lear. Still don’t know what the big balloon was about, but if the other ideas are valid, I’m not impressed. I did get the feeling this production might be trying to be too clever, and this would confirm that opinion.

When Rosalind sits down with Celia and Corin to watch Phoebe and Silvius, Eve Best borrows a program from someone in the audience. A nice touch, done before, but still good fun. (She does give it back.)

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me