As You Like It, The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.
Sheffield Hallam University
Wilkinson, Katherine. "Review of As You Like It." Early Modern Literary Studies 9.2 (September, 2003): #.1- <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/09-2/ayli1rev.html>.
With Aaron Neil (Oliver), Edmund Moriarty (Jaques), Martin Hutson (Orlando), Tim Barlow (Adam), Christopher Duncan (Dennis), Michael Hadley (Duke Frederick/Duke Senior), Naomi Frederick (Celia), Nina Sosanya (Rosalind), Daniel Brocklebank (Silvius and, for this performance, Monsieur le Beau), John Killoran (Frederick's Fool), Bradley Freegard (Charles, William and Forest Lord), David Fielder (Jaques), James Staddon (Amiens), Branwell Donaghey (First Lord), Christopher Duncan (Forest Lord), Michael G Jones (Corin), Natasha Gordon (Phebe), Patricia Gannon (Audrey), Walter Hall (Sir Oliver Martext), andAmy Finegan (Hymen).
The emphasis on the pastoral in Gregory Thompson's new production of As You Like It at the Swan is evident from the moment the audience enters the auditorium. The stage has a particularly rustic feel to it with a brick wall backdrop, a white rug covered by sawdust (or is it snow?), and a wood cutting trough and wheelbarrow at the front of the otherwise empty thrust stage. The costuming also highlights the pastoral, evoking a pre-industrial time which gives the piece a period drama feel and has the effect of turning the drama into a piece of escapism. This is also a vivacious, intelligent and highly enjoyable production.
In many ways the production emphasises the simplicity of the pastoral in the play. The stage is very simple, as is the lighting (designed by Judith Greenwood) -- bright in the forest and dark for Duke Frederick. This simplicity highlights the innocence of the play, an innocence which is exuded in the playfulness of the characters, the Robin Hood mentality of the forest in Duke Frederick and his band of merry singing men, and the simple (though complicated!) romances conducted there. However, there is a darker side to this production. One of the comic highlights is the use of the company as trees and sheep. Although very funny and perhaps cheaper than more set design this suggests the manifestation of Jaques' ideas of the men usurping the forest as the Duke has been usurped. If this is so, in light of the evil of Duke Frederick (played very subtly by Michael Hadley), the idea of the tyranny of the 'goodies' is raised. However, Thompson makes little of this idea, which is sidelined by the innocence and playfulness of the production. The use of actors as trees makes Arden a magical place, an enchanted playground that the players race around and hide behind. From the tears of Orlando that open the first act, the audience is shown the cruelty of Oliver and the tyranny of Duke Frederick.
Into this sadness and mood of usurpation Celia and Rosalind bring a breath of fresh air and youth for the story and the production. Naomi Frederick gives a cracking performance as Celia, creating a surprising, charming and funny character; one that is not afraid to stand up to her father and in doing so reveals a strength and irreverence I did not previously believed the character possessed. It is a shame, because she shares a strong chemistry with Nina Sosanya's Rosalind, that this character, from being very prominent before the interval, drops out of focus after. Despite taking a short time to get going, Sosanya is a brilliant Rosalind who is entirely convincing in her gender ambiguity, coming into her own as the suit-clad Ganymede. Sosanya's is a strong performance, witty and intelligent, especially in her 'curing' of Orlando. Unfortunately Martin Hutson's performance as Orlando is slightly wearing; despite an obvious and eager talent, he has a tendency to shout his anguish which is entirely unnecessary.
Michael Hadley is a particular success as both Duke Frederick and Duke Senior, playing the latter as a warm father figure and the former with a quiet menace, creating a convincingly dangerous character. The move between these two is achieved smoothly through a slight costume and more obvious temperament change. There are also strong performances from Daniel Brocklebank as Silvius and John Killoran as Touchstone, although at times these storylines seem stuck-on. Indeed, other than to amuse there is little reason for the Touchstone and Audrey story and Killoran's prancing around, although initially impressive and engaging, becomes slightly irritating.
This is a visual production; a lot of humour is found in the facial expressions of the actors, for example in Celia's stunned disbelief as Rosalind proposes teaching Orlando and Touchstone's pained expression while carrying the weary Celia on his back. This physical humour is an addition to the text, but it is one that supplements Shakespeare's comedy rather than takes away from it. The beautiful singing of some of the male actors is another success that simply entertains. What the audience is left with is an entirely enjoyable evening out, although admittedly one that is not too taxing. The verse is spoken clearly and this company do appear to revel in this Shakespeare and have a lot of fun in the performing of it too.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.
© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).