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.
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.