As You Like It at Nottingham Castle, 15 July - 10 August 2003, and on tour, performed by the R.J. Williamson company
Sheffield Hallam University
Gibbs, Samantha. "Review of As You Like It." Early Modern Literary Studies 9.2 (September, 2003): #.1-<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/09-2/ayli2rev.html>.
Co-Directed by Robert J. Williamson and Frank Jarvis. Set design by Mark Baldwin. With Gary Tushaw as Orlando, Martha Swann as Rosalind, Robert J. Williamson as Touchstone, Jenni Bowden as Celia, Darrell Brockis as Oliver, Jonathan Coope as Le Beau/Sir Oliver Martext, John Ioannou as Duke Frederick/Duke Senior, Richard Keynes as Jaques, Lincoln James as Charles/Corin, Natasha Kemball as Audrey, Michael Gabe as Adam, David Patterson as Silvius, Annie Rowe as Phebe, Dan Woods as Jaques de Boys/Amiens, Sarah Douglas as Hymen, Callum Hayes as William/1st Lord.
It may seem a gamble to attempt to defy the typically erratic weather of a British summer with a touring production covering four open-air venues around the country, but the R. J. Williamson company, in their seventh year at Nottingham's annual Shakespeare festival, are well practised in challenging the elements. This is a production that relies on the good fortune of a warm July evening and its idyllic Castle setting to distinguish it from the spate of performances of As You Like It this season, and it takes full advantage of both to present an exceptionally entertaining and hugely likeable performance.
A production performed beneath the magnificent Nottingham Castle needs little in the way of props, and Mark Baldwin's simple set design, stone steps leading to leafy trellises scattered with barrels of hay, sets off the backdrop perfectly. Doubling as the Court and the Forest of Arden, the uncluttered space is necessary for the lightning-quick scene changes and fast-paced action. The spacious grounds allow for many of the highlights, including the exceptionally well orchestrated wrestling scene between Charles and Orlando, who draw gasps from the audience as they throw punches at each other in the most realistic fight scene I have ever seen on the stage.
Only here, at a place steeped in the history of local hero Robin Hood and a stone's throw from the statue which represents his link to the City, does Charles's telling Oliver that the Duke has "a many merry men with him, and there they live like the old Robin Hood of England" have such resonance, and he winks at the audience and mimes shooting an arrow to an appreciative round of applause. This is a production which relies on audience interaction and the apparent spontaneity of the actors for much of its humour, and the cast are obviously enjoying themselves: Duke Senior takes great delight in pushing Oliver's head into a barrel of water, Touchstone is wheeled around in a cart so vigorously that he falls into a haystack, and the loudest laugh of the evening is courtesy of Adam's dog, who proves the old adage of never working with animals when he decides to wander off towards the Castle in the middle of a scene.
The cast are mostly strong, and some are excellent. Gary Tushaw is beautifully cast as Orlando, and the scenes where he and Rosalind fall in love have a genuine tenderness. Martha Swann is a spirited Rosalind, authoritative from the start and with superb comic timing. She advises Phebe, "Sell when you can, you are not for all markets," with the wry wit that makes Rosalind one of Shakespeare's most endearing female characters. Her relationship with Jenni Bowden's Celia - played effortlessly, despite the fact that she stepped in for the high profile actress Tracey Shaw at the last minute - is touchingly affectionate.
Company manager Robert J. Williamson plays Touchstone with his usual enthusiasm and energy, but his over-emphasised sexual innuendos, while rarely failing to raise a laugh from the audience, are more characteristic of an idiot than a learned Fool. Richard Keynes as Jaques is more cynical than melancholic, and his choice of costume puzzling: his dazzlingly bright white suit is conspicuous against the simple nineteenth-century dress of the other characters, and, with his slick blonde hair, it is impossible to avoid the connotations of Branagh's Gilderoy Lockhart in the recent Harry Potter film. He is certainly comical, and his flamboyance works for his charismatic delivery of the "Seven Ages of Man" speech, but it is hard to find him believable as someone who would weep over a wounded deer.
As You Like It has been criticised for the disproportionate amount of time devoted to its sub-plots, but in this production the smaller parts are a major strength. Silvius is delightfully dopey as he chases Phebe through the trees with a sunflower in his outstretched hands, and Phebe's exuberant delivery of Marlowe's lines capture the infectious spirit of the whole performance, when she clasps her hands together and excitedly proclaims, "Who ever lov'd that lov'd not at first sight?" As so often with a small company, the doubling of cast members is problematic: John Ioannou commands the stage as the tyrannical Duke Frederick, but a subtle costume change -- a blanket slung hastily around his shoulders -- does not distinguish him enough to convince as Duke Senior, while Lincoln James, splendidly menacing as Charles the wrestler, fails to impress as a bespectacled Corin the shepherd.
- This is an audience-pleasing production of the perfect outdoor play, and even the odd irregularity -- trouble with the roaming microphones and the occasional police siren sounding from neighbouring Maid Marian Way -- cannot shatter the illusion of having been transported into the Forest of Arden on a balmy July evening. The spectacular firework display finale is a charming end to an irresistibly likeable performance.
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).