wed 24/04/2024

As You Like It, Shakespeare in the Squares review - an exuberant celebration of the Summer of Love | reviews, news & interviews

As You Like It, Shakespeare in the Squares review - an exuberant celebration of the Summer of Love

As You Like It, Shakespeare in the Squares review - an exuberant celebration of the Summer of Love

Infectious fun delivered by a cast bursting with boisterous talent

Rock on: Jack Brett as Orlando in 'As You Like It' James Millar Photography

Gender-bending, confused identities, and hedonistic anarchy go together as naturally in summer Shakespeare as strawberries and cucumbers in Pimms, and in Tatty Hennessy’s exuberant alfresco version of As You Like It, touring to squares across the capital, the mix proves an appropriately heady combination.

It’s the Summer of Love in the Forest of Arden, and Joni Mitchell or Jimi Hendrix are as likely to appear as any of the traditional characters, so get your flares and your yellow-tinted sunnies on and prepare to party.

The production opens with the entire cast delivering a rousing serenade in the form of "Big Yellow Taxi", followed in quick succession by a "Proud Mary" that makes the branches of the trees tingle. With singing this good, you wonder, do we really need the Shakespeare – but then Jack Brett’s pugnaciously charming Orlando kicks off the action, and it becomes clear that the fun will be just as infectious here. 

Gender-blind casting is all the rage, and Hennessy’s prime innovation is to make both the dukes women, so that in the Forest of Arden, in place of Robin Hood-style merry men, the trees are alive with feminists. A wonderfully imposing Julia Righton doubles as both Duchess Frederick and the exiled Duchess Senior, barking out brisk hostilities in jacket and corduroys as the former, while benignly holding court in the woods alongside her lesbian lover as the latter.

While the overall concept is well-realised, it’s in the individual performances that this production really comes alive, with a cast bursting with boisterous talent. As Orlando, Brett – in grass-stained flares, and with attitude that seems to raise him another foot – shows quickly that he will give as good as he gets, not least in the hilarious wrestling scene. Fight director Yarit Dor sets him up against Lamin Touray’s comedically authentic Charles, the court wrestler, for an encounter in which, shockingly, Charles threatens to win (an upset that would be surely as bad as Spain exiting the World Cup). Every macho posture is satirised before Shakespeare’s version of the fight is acknowledged, and Orlando, as the victor, escapes to the forest with Rosalind’s heart.

As Rosalind, Katharine Moraz delivers a boldly mischievous performance: when she dresses up as Ganymede to escape into the woods, the spirit of Blackadder seems to hang over her gender transformation. As she spars with Comfort Fabian’s Celia, one of the great highlights of the evening emerges in the form of Sydney K Smith’s Jimi Hendrix-style Touchstone (pictured above). It’s a stroke of genius to put one of Shakespeare’s fools on drugs, and Smith is a wonder to watch. He is the embodiment of funk – not least when a fly assails his cool, and he claps his hands to obliterate it. The dance with his bride Audrey (Jodie Jacobs, pictured below left) is also well worth waiting for.  

As the summer breeze blows through the bright yellow and shocking pink rags hanging like psychedelic leaves on either side of the grassy stage, Stanton Plummer-Cambridge is another cast member who marks himself out. Orlando’s villainous murderous brother, Oliver, is a difficult role, and he embraces the severity amid the dope-fuelled hedonism. The same actor really comes into his own in one of the play’s minor roles – that of Le Beau, a courtier in the service of the Duchess Frederick. Suddenly, Plummer-Cambridge is all urbane New York camp, and his speech about how Charles the wrestler maims his opponents is taken to a whole new level with his lip-curling innuendo-filled delivery.

It would be impossible to deliver a proper account of this evening without paying tribute to the considerable musical talent, not least in the form of Emmy Stonelake’s lilting lyrical singing. Musical director Richard Baker presides over a cast in which it seems pretty much anyone can pick up a clarinet, guitar, or – at one point – an accordion, and make it sound as sweet as a summer breeze. Tribute should be paid, as well, to Emily Stuart’s design, which is full of delightful detail – not least in the feminist stickers including "Women against nuclear energy" emblazoned proudly on a trunk. This is Shakespeare at his most escapist, and you’d be highly advised to get on the love train and check it out.


In place of Robin Hood-style merry men, the trees are alive with feminists


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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