As You Like It @ Barons Court Theatre

With its mistaken identity antics, banished kings, hilarious clowns, musings about love and the theatre, As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s most fun and enjoyable plays. But unfortunately director Hugh Allison wasn’t able to bring this pleasurable play to life as much as I would have hoped in this adaptation.

The play begins with the banishment of Duke Senior (Richard Ward) by his sister Duke Frederick (Joan Plunkett). Duke Senior’s daughter Rosalind (Louisa Tee) is allowed to stay at court with Duke Frederick’s daughter Celia (Jessica Lowery) in order to keep her company. When Rosalind meets young Orlando du Bois (Ben O’Shea), who is running away from his brother Oliver (Michael Black), she falls in love with him. In a seemingly random act of anger, Duke Frederick also banishes Rosalind. Not wanting to leave her cousin alone, Celia decides to hide in the Forest of Arden with Rosalind. The two disguise themselves as brother and sister Ganymede and Aliena, and meet a number of hilarious characters. The play ends in song and dance and as with all romantic comedies, love triumphs.

Shakespeare’s play does have a large amount of characters in it forcing some of the actors to double up, and on this occasion, Allison decides to remove some characters completely. I must say I did miss Jaques and his brilliant “all the world’s a stage” speech, especially as he is my favourite character in the play. But what Allison does do is mix the genders of the actors and characters, which is a commendable choice. This allows some great women to play great parts.

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I did like costume designer Linda Large’s decision to separate the characters by grouping those from the same family and area in the same colour. In a play with a confusing number of characters and emphasis on mistaken identity, the different colours made it easy to understand who was who, and keep up with the action. But that said, I felt the costumes were put together quite badly, with no consistency or an apparent theme (apart from colour) in the decisions. They did however bring colour to an otherwise bare stage.

Louisa Tee’s Rosalind was great to watch. Her speech was very eloquent, and I felt the poetic language rolled off her tongue effortlessly. One scene I did really enjoy was between Charles and Orlando, who wrestle with each other. Peter Moore is an excellent Charles, and the scene was hilarious, especially with the involvement of the rip-away trousers.

I think Barons Court Theatre is a great venue, and perfect for a small adaptation of a Shakespeare play. But for this adaptation, it did not seem to be the right choice. The stage was not lit well enough for the play’s more pastoral scenes in the second half of the play, so the change in setting did not reflect the atmosphere of the stage. I think this is one of the reasons the play falls flat. On this occasion As You Like It would not be my first choice for an evening of Shakespeare.

Trois Ruptures @ Chelsea Theatre

I’m continuing my foreign language theme this week with Trois Raptures (Three Splits). The play is part of En Scene! which is a series of performances in French presented by the Institut Français. Directed by Marianne Badrichani, Trois Raptures brings together three different scenes which focus on relationships between men and women. Writer Remi de Vos uses the couple to explore gender equality, ideas about sexuality, and the dynamics of a relationship when a child is added to the equation. What is brought to the stage is an hour of comical dialogue which brilliantly bounces back and forth between two performers.

Christopher Campbell; Edith Vernes

Christopher Campbell; Edith Vernes

The small space of the Chelsea Theatre allowed the performers to engage well with the audience, so even though there were only two actors, they commanded the stage very well. Edith Vernes was superb, and her comic delivery was brilliant. Equally Christopher Campbell was very entertaining to watch. I think the two had great chemistry on stage which made their characters’ struggles believable and genuine, and the play engaging as a whole. My favourite scene has to be the one with the discussion about a fireman named Steve. The comedy was perfectly presented by the subtle gestures and correctly times pauses, which made this scene hilarious.

The simple presentation of the stage is very effective and avoids any distractions. This allows the great performers to bring to life De Vos’ humorous writing, drawing the focus onto his darkly comic language – sometimes we really shouldn’t be laughing be we just can’t help it. Trois Ruptures is a very enjoyable piece with excellent actors and a perfectly written script. With its satisfying running time, the show is a burst of comedy that is easily digestible, and I would definitely recommend it.

Mahmud and Yezida @ Arcola Theatre

Described by the theatre company as a Turkish Romeo and Juliet, Arcola Ala-Turka’s Mahmud and Yezida is a stunning adaptation of Shakespeare’s play. Writer Murathan Mungan uses the story of the lovers as a way to comment on issues surrounding religion and tradition in Turkey, bringing to the stage a great piece of theatre.

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Photo: Arcola Ala-Turca

The story follows Mahmud and Yezida, two young lovers who are from two different villages separated by a river. Yet their love is kept a secret because their relationship is forbidden – Mahmud is Muslim and Yezida is Yazidi. When the leader of the Muslim village decides to take over the swamp behind the Yazidi village, a plan is made to start a feud between the two. While intolerance spanning from generations of traditions is ignited once more between the two villages, Mahmud and Yezida fulfil their tragic fate.

Photo: Arcola Ala-Turka

Photo: Arcola Ala-Turka

The performers were superb. In particular, Serpil Delice is brilliant as Yezida’s mother. She overlooks the action on the stage with her constant presence, and with the tattoos of feathers on her hands and feet, she is an allusion to the Peacock Angel, the sacred entity worshipped by the Yazidi religion. Delice composes herself perfectly, and it is difficult to take your eyes off her when she is pleading for her daughter’s well-being. Ozan Atmaca is also great as Abid Emmi, a member of the Muslim village. The character embodies the mind of the villagers, presenting to the audience the real reason why the Yazidis are persecuted – they are believed to be devil worshippers. Atmaca’s portrayal was exceptional, and at times quite unnerving to watch, perfectly capturing the character’s hatred.

Photo: Arcola Ala-Turka

Photo: Arcola Ala-Turka

Aylin Bozok’s direction is superb, and she includes references to Shakespeare’s work throughout the play. I particularly liked the scene in which two guards are appointed to watch the village borders at night, which mirrors the beginning of Hamlet. Combined with the lighting designed by Jamie Platt, the presence of the ghost creates a very eerie atmosphere in the auditorium.

Mungan has successfully created a play that explores the consequences of not wanting to go against customs and traditions. Mahmud and Yezida is not just a love story, but delves into wider soci-political and cultural issues, especially relating the current conflicts in the Middle-East. Mungan’s writing is beautifully poetic, which unfortunately is not transferred into the English surtitles – as is always the case with foreign language plays. Nevertheless, non-Turkish speaking viewers will still appreciate the striking movement and direction when watching this performance. It is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet worth seeing.

King Charles III @ Wyndham’s Theatre

King Charles III is Mike Bartlett’s modern-day Shakespearean history play, exploring the British monarchy, politics, democracy, and questioning who really is in charge. With recent political activity, the play fits in perfectly with current issues, especially with its bold and humorous approach.

Photo: Tristram Kenton

Photo: Tristram Kenton

The play begins with the death of the Queen, making Charles the King of Britain. Straight away he is faced with a political dilemma. Parliament want to pass a law which would prevent the freedom of the press, and they need him to assent. However King Charles disagrees, leading to his family, the government, and his public to turn against him.

Tim Pigott-Smith’s outstanding portrayal of the King brings to the stage an eager yet austere Charles, who struggles with his purely ceremonial power. Prince Harry, performed brilliantly by Richard Goulding, is also an intriguing character. Bartlett presents him as an outsider, finding it difficult to fit in with his family. Even though it’s exciting to watch Harry steer away from his usual surroundings, he is still a prince, and has to make a choice.

Photo: Johan Persson

Photo: Johan Persson

Bartlett’s Shakespearean language is interesting to hear mixed with modern and colloquial speech. The play is written in verse, complete with soliloquies and audience asides. He even throws in a ghost who whispers ominous fortunes like the three witches in Macbeth. I loved the references to the different Shakespeare plays, and my favourite has to be the parallels between Lady Macbeth, and Kate Middleton (superbly performed by Lydia Wilson), showing the audience a manipulative and cunning side to the character.

Though an interest in politics and democracy would help the understanding of the play, it’s not necessary to enjoy the performance. The play is thought-provoking and cleverly written, and full of f-bombs and kebab shops, so is guaranteed to make you laugh.