There are all kinds of ways to respond to the world these days; you could be out protesting Trump’s visit, you might take to Twitter and engage in the insult-slinging, you might bury yourself in reality television – or you might consider an evening outside, with a solid comedy.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is, naturally, a stunning backdrop to any performance – but this production of As You Like It is theatre at its most inspired. It would be remiss to start anywhere other than the set. What begins as a stark industrial landscape, in the throes of autumnal rain and winter snow, melts away into the softness and magic of the forest in spring and summer. Naomi Dawson has designed an incredible show, a stage that breathes fantasy into life.
There are only a few small things that pulled me from the fantasy and back to reality – a slightly awkward fake deer, and somewhat unconvincing wrestling at the start – but there are few faults here. This is two and a half hours of pure joy – solidly performed, stunningly designed, executed to perfection.
The performances are a delight; from the charming chemistry of Celia (Keziah Joseph) and Rosalind (Olivia Vinall), to the sweet hopelessness of Orlando’s pursuit (played with equal parts earnestness and silliness by Edward Hogg), even the smallest moments are given sparkle by this energetic and diverse cast. Me’sha Bryan (Amiens) offers up beautiful vocal interludes, and Danny Kirane is a mirth-filled Touchstone, humming recent pop tunes to excellent comic effect and delivering a thoroughly modern take on the language.
The decision to gender-swap a role is something of a trend in theatre at the moment, but in this instance, it’s not just a cheap move; Jaques (Maureen Beattie) becomes a woman who presents as a little masculine, adding a new layer to Jaques, by recognising a fellow woman presenting as masculine. There’s a kinship that adds weight to the playfulness, the moment of realisation Jaques has of Rosalind as Ganymede. And Beattie is an utter force the moment she steps forth from the trees; every swing of her dreadlocks feels profound.
On my viewing, we were met with a pre-show warning about the potential noise of Trump’s low-flying helicopter, due to set down that very evening. The irony of this was not lost on me; the cruel Duke’s (Simon Armstrong) own people arrive by helicopter amongst the rambling freedom of the woods. The presence of Trump just beyond the line of trees in Regent’s Park felt an eerie corollary.
The increasingly organic set moves us from the rigid, capitalistic and industrialised world of the Duke and his minions, into the freedom, serenity and love-filled forest. This is transportative theatre of the highest order, an antidote to the current state of the world.
Review by Christina Carè
Olivia Vinall and Edward Hogg take the roles of Rosalind and Orlando, with Keziah Joseph and Beruce Khan in the roles of Celia and Oliver. Danny Kirrane plays Touchstone with Maureen Beattie as Jaques
With original music by former ‘Noah and Whale’ frontman Charlie Fink, also joining the cast are Amy Booth-Steel (Audrey/Singer), Me’sha Bryan (Amiens/Singer), Joanne McGuinness (Phoebe/Singer), Jacade Simpson (Silvius/Singer), Jack Beale (Le Beau/Actor Musician) and Silas Wyatt-Barke (William/Actor Musician)
Completing the cast are: Simon Armstrong (Duke Fredrick/Duke Senior), Gary Lilburn (Adam/Martext), Kristian Phillips (Charles the Wrestler/Jaques De Boys) and John Stahl (Corin).
In the mythical Forest of Arden, a world of transformation where anything is possible and anything permissible, two young people discover what it really means to be in love. This warm, open-hearted production promises adventure, sibling rivalry, mistaken identity and romance – Shakespeare comedy as you like it.
AS YOU LIKE IT TICKETS
REGENT’S PARK OPEN AIR THEATRE
6th – 28th July 2018