sat 25/05/2024

As You Like It, The Savill Garden, Windsor | reviews, news & interviews

As You Like It, The Savill Garden, Windsor

As You Like It, The Savill Garden, Windsor

All the garden's a stage for an appealing Shakespeare staging of romance and spectacle

Kissing cousins: Anna Lukis (Rosalind) and Molly Hanson (Celia)Images by Richard Davenport/Watch Your Head

How often are you charmed by one of Shakespeare’s sylvan romances while literally under a greenwood tree? Even if this summer is proving rather generous with the rough weather, it is an unusual pleasure to wander around a fine woodland garden while Rosalind and Orlando pursue their light-hearted crossdressing courtship in the forest of Arden, and white sheets inked with bad love poems flutter from the trunks of many oak trees.

The Crown Estate's Savill Garden in Windsor Great Park is worth a trip for itself, but for the past two midsummers it’s had the additional treat of evening performances of, last year, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and this year As You Like It. The audience (choose your clothes with care – this is a garden, currently well rainsoaked, and there are midges about) is led through the grounds from scene to scene, each having its own setting, here a green sward by a pond, there a group of ancient oaks. 

In effect, the performance leaves after-images for the visitor to the garden, Shakespearean ghosts

And it’s the most subtle, though I hope not least noticed, virtue of the enterprise by the young Watch Your Head company that their directors Sasha McMurray and Sara Langridge have an excellent eye for the dramatic use of the huge and varied green spaces. They have not only a theatre sense but also that theatrical sense that fine garden design stimulates, seeing how a slope with two vistas, one uphill to the sunset, the other down to a gigantic display of gunnera in a pond, can become two stages if the audience simply turns around between two scenes. They also seize the chance of more spectacular surprises – how dramatic a great oak tree becomes when Phebe is a circus performer, dangling from a branch upside-down on a rope to tease dull-witted Silvius. In effect, the performance leaves after-images for the visitor to the garden, Shakespearean ghosts in its hedges and dells.

The setting's greenwood intoxication helps to amplify the performances by young actors who were not all as vocally commanding on their first weekend as they could be, given the sporadic challenge of aeroplanes overhead. However, out in the open they behave with instinctive physical naturalness that makes the wooing scenes of Rosalind and Orlando, and Phebe and Silvius, fresh and spontaneous-seeming – it’s not quite so helpful to Jaques, nor to the singing Audrey and her musicians (the actors multi-tasking), who are encumbered with some dull folksy music when one’s longing for something of 17th-century genius. But the costuming is nicely Glasto-folkloric, odd bits of brocade applied here and there to modernish dress in a motley, festival way. Celia has a darling mustard-yellow ballerina dress, while Jaques looks like a Che Guevara harlequin. 

Molly Hanson's Celia enjoys the perfectly staged romantic climax in the gorgeous rose garden, ablaze with white, yellow and magenta

Molly Hanson’s Celia shines not only via her dress but through her superior vocal power and her ability to draw one’s attention even when off the ball. Hanson enjoys a perfectly staged romantic climax at the end when the repentant brother Oliver comes across Rosalind and Celia in the gorgeous rose garden, ablaze with drifts of white, yellow and magenta. She stands on the ship-shaped steel balcony like Kate Winslet on the prow of the Titanic, pressing her full skirts tantalisingly against the rails as she leans over to catch Oliver’s attention. Not hurrying her speech, weighing her timing – which Anna Lukis's under-projected Rosalind could use more of – Hanson makes Celia an intriguing character.

Phebe the aerialist is another eyecatching subsidiary character, egged with rumbustious Essex girl allure in Josie Beth Davies’s ballsy blonde personage, and there are more circus acrobatics and physical exertions from Jonah Russell’s tumbling Corin and Luke Chadwick-Jones’s fit Charles - though you have to laugh when the robustly muscular Charles is vanquished by an Orlando whose arm is in a sling. Unlucky Lewis Goody damaged his arm the day before the show opened, but he makes up for his temporary handicap with a well-spoken and attractive performance as the lovelorn Orlando.

Jack Bannell’s skinny, floridly bearded Jaques looks the part, folding himself down on the ground in crumpled, melancholy heaps, and speaks "All the world's a stage" with the bitter fatalism of a man sunk in permanent hangover. When all the garden’s a stage, and the grass is sodden from last night’s rough weather and beerfest, he signals, you just have to put up with the inevitable consequences.

I like many of the cunning extras to this outside performance - as you walk from one scene to the next, you see characters in the distance, continuing their backstories, squabbling on a bench, or lying under a tree with a guitar, or dozing on a rock. It's very entertainingly and creatively sewn together as an experience, a charming fusion of garden walk and play. And, as you like, you can buy a delicious Leith's picnic dinner during the wedding feast for all the couples and immerse yourself still further. Shakespeare's comic delights feel perfectly enhanced by such an imaginative approach. 

How dramatic a great oak tree becomes when Phebe is a circus performer, dangling upside-down from it on a rope to tease dull-witted Silvius


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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