One of Shakespeare’s most beloved romantic comedies, As You Like It tells of the trials, tribulations and loves of Oliver and Rosalind. Despite his father’s wishes Oliver is treated badly by his brother while Rosalind’s father Duke Senior has been overthrown and banished by his brother, Duke Frederick. A wrestling match sees Oliver and Rosalind first meet and fall in love. And then Rosalind is unjustly banished from the Court by Duke Frederick for treason. She decides to dress as a boy, calling herself Ganymede and flee to seek her father in the Forest of Arden (created on stage with hanging ropes, covered with paper flowers). Joining her is Celia, her cousin and best friend, who poses as Ganymede’s sister, Aliena and Court Jester Touchstone.
At the same time Orlando has also headed to the forest with his faithful manservant Adam. In her disguise as a boy Rosalind encounters the shepherd Silvius who is in love with the disdainful Phebe. Things get complicated when Phebe falls in love with Ganymed. She also comes across Orlando who, in her disguise as Ganymede,she coaches in matters of the heart. Naturally all ends happily ever after!
This new production has played to mixed reviews in Sydney before coming to Melbourne. All agree the performance of John Bell who delivers the Seven Ages of Man speech (All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players) is outstanding. Tony Taylor as Adam and Gareth Davies as Touchstone, the court jester, have also played to critical acclaim.
Opinions were divided on the performances of Zahra Newman as Rosalind and Charlie Garber as Orlando.
Having not seen this play performed previously, and thus having nothing to compare with, I thought their performances were good and particularly enjoyed Kelly Paterniti as Celia.What I didn’t expect were the songs, provided by singer and actor Abi Tucker.Again critics are divided on the effectiveness of this addition.
My companion thought it added to the experience and introduced a contemporary feel. She felt Shakespeare himself would have enjoyed the performance, the sets were minimal but the actors did justice to the meaning of the play, even though some of the script was left out. She was particularly taken by Davies’ clowning together with the performances of Newman and Paterniti.
It would seem those who are new to, or can’t remember studying , As You Like It may enjoy this production more than those who have a greater knowledge of the play and have seen it performed regularly.
Jenny Burns attended the opening night of As You Like It on Friday April 24 as a guest of Bell Shakespeare.