Last night I saw As You Like It, the 25th Summer Shakespeare. There are some significant challenges in reviewing any performance of The Bard. Firstly, it’s Shakespeare, so you can’t pan it. 🙂 Secondly, it’s Shakespeare, so 90% of the cast will sound like they’re reciting Shakespeare. Thirdly, it’s Shakespeare, so even someone like me who’s a bit of an Elizabethan specialist doesn’t understand the occasional word or reference…
As you like it isn’t a play I’ve studied, so I came to it knowing only what everyone else did: the plot, and the majority of the jokes. Cross-dressing and improbable marriages all round! With a wrong eventually righted and a giant plot-crane sorting out any little inconsistencies or unresolvable dilemmas.
So, given those parameters, any reviewer is left with critiquing the choice of play for a particular audience, trying to nit-pick dialogue changes and trying to look deeply into the characterization of stereotypes and mannequins being manipulated for comedic effect and a certain plot shape. This is especially true in As You Like it, which is pretty much the boilerplate Shakespeare comedy.
Well As You Like It seemed like a perfectly fine choice, though if you’re going to do a lesser comedy, why not try something rarely seen, like Two Gentlemen of Verona or one of my favourites, The Merry Wives of Windsor? Neither of which is especially funnier than As You Like It but the scope for doing your own production is much greater, you won’t be constantly compared with other productions, and the audience is more likely to be seeing something new to them.
The staging was fine actually. I did like a couple of things especially. One was the very bare set, which is at least slightly traditional for Shakespeare. On the other hand, given the location of the play (the Dell in the Botanic Gardens) this may have been a simple logistical decision rather than a stylistic one. However, all of the fight scenes were also highly stylized, which I think worked very well. The other thing I liked was that they didn’t cut the musical interludes. And I also liked that they recycled cast members, though the total number of lines and characters were not evenly distributed (a bigger part for I say! Or a sequence of bigger parts. However it works out that we get more.)
The acting was just as I’ve described above, with the exception of the Rosalind and Touchstone, who were both very lifelike and funny. Others had occasional moments, but I found a couple of key characters especially flat.
My main gripe was that it was damned cold, which isn’t really in the purview of the director to fix. I felt bad for the cast whose attire was definitely on the summery side. I would also have liked it if the cast had been a bit closer to the ages they depicted, or at least some gestures towards their ages made in costuming. It looked like only Duke Senior was older than about 30.
In summary then? This was a perfectly acceptable production, with a couple of nice touches and I look forward to seeing certain cast members in better material. 🙂