There’s a delicate balance to be struck and maintained with a production of this nature. Some in the audience may never have seen a Shakespeare play before, while others will have seen dozens or even hundreds. It needs to be accessible – and this one is, in more ways than one – a somewhat simplified storyline to accommodate an interval-less performance combines with at least half a dozen wheelchairs on stage during the full ensemble scenes. Of course, not all disabilities are visible, which makes it gloriously difficult if not impossible to determine the full extent of the diversity and inclusivity of this huge cast (I make it 117, plus four musicians and cameo appearances from an additional 25 performers).
It’s easy enough to follow – the surtitles assist immensely when characters are talking over one another, for instance – and the storyline may be somewhat simplified, but all the salient points are there. When Rosalind (Ebony Jonelle) and Celia (Marjorie Agwang) ‘become’ Ganymede and Aliena respectively, their disguises are hardly disguises at all, but Orlando (Linford Johnson) still manages to not see the resemblance until explicitly informed. There are many excellent voices in fine form, though the standout for me was Rohan Reckord’s Duke Senior, leading the many people in the Forest of Arden through what becomes a celebration of humanity. It’s one of the rare occasions when a utopian vision being realised is something hugely compelling to see on stage. “All are welcome here,” announces the banished duke.
It’s Jacques (Beth Hinton-Lever), the (not so) melancholy one, who kicks off the ‘Come on in and join the party’ atmosphere: “All the world’s a stage / And everybody’s in the show / Nobody’s a pro / All the world’s a stage / And every day we play our part / Acting out our heart”. It’s not the only memorable tune amongst the musical numbers. The ‘eleven o’clock number’, ‘Still I Will Love’, is a sound and sight to behold, flanked by drummers from the Dhol Academy.
There’s a wrestling match early on – Rosalind and Orlando lock eyes for the first time, and from a technical perspective, the sound design (Leigh Davies) comes into its own, creating an arena-like soundscape on stage. The costumes (Hayley Grindle) are appropriate for the largely joyful ambience, and Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery’s adaptation ensures that even ‘the bad guy’ (as Curtis Young described his Duke Frederick in the theatre bar after the show) can be a part of this musical’s Very Happy Ending. It’s undeniably Shakespeare and yet undeniably contemporary, with surprisingly smooth and seamless transitions from blank verse to modern vocabulary. Both Shakespeare and Taub’s punchlines get laughs – the latter occasionally for sheer quirkiness: “My love for you is like a hamburger,” warbles Orlando, “rare but also well-done.”
There are different musical styles to enjoy – ‘Will U Be My Bride’ might as well be a tune in the Top 40, and at some point, there’s a rap. To underline the inclusivity and diversity, Silvius is now Silvia (Malunga Yese), and likewise what would be Audrey in a more traditional production of As You Like It is now Andy (Harleigh Stenning), such that there are two same-sex weddings in the final scene – Silvia to Phoebe (Malini Murphy) and Andy to Touchstone (a very likeable Vedi Roy).
This is an Arden that one would count a privilege to be ‘banished’ to. A jubilant knees-up, this is large scale community theatre at its best.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Forced from their homes, Orlando, Duke Senior, his daughter Rosalind and niece Celia, escape to the Forest of Arden, a fantastical place where all are welcomed and embraced. Lost amidst the trees, they find community and acceptance under the stars…
This UK premiere sees more than one hundred community members, professional actors, and performance groups from across London, come together for this magical tale of faithful friends, feuding families and lovers in disguise.
With a score ranging from calypso to pop, Broadway to soul, fall under love’s spell for a landmark moment in the history of Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and London’s summer theatre for 2019, not to be missed!
Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch in partnership with the National Theatre present
A musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s
As You Like It
Adapted by Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery
Music and lyrics by Shaina Taub
Sat 24 – Tue 27 Aug 2019
Running Time 95 Minutes (No interval)