Saturday 9 February 2019

As You Like It - Theatre Review

What: As You Like It
When: 8 - 10 February 2019
Where: Alistair Knox Park
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed and designed by: Meg Deyell
Composed by: Remy Chadwick
Performed by: Matt Bertram, Remy Chadwick, Louise Cocks, Meg Deyell, Tref Gare, David Harris, Shae Kelly, Josiah Lulham, Renee Mackenzie, Christina McLachlan, Dana McMillan, Francesca O'Donnell, and Dean Robinson
Stage managed by: Seinnah Kaylock
Christina McLchlan, Tref Gare, Josiah Lulham, Dana McMillan, and Louise Cocks

Some four hundred years ago in England William Shakespeare wrote three plays and then wrote them over and over again, and, like a virus they have invaded our psyche and we keep putting them on over and over again. For those of you infected, you can see one of the last of this Summer's garden Shakespeares in Eltham this week (and Diamond Creek next week) with In The Park Productions' version of As You Like It.

As these things go, this version of As You Like It has the notably unique characteristic of actually being the play Shakespeare wrote which is refreshing. Deyell has not manipulated the text or language in any noticable way (for better or worse) and the performers give an energetic rendition to one of many plays the Englishman wrote which involves girls dressing up as boys, people living in the forrests, exiled sons or daughters, and happy endings with lots of songs and weddings to finish things off.

The Bard's plays suffer from poor jumps of logic with overt exposition to explain how or why his characters end up being wherever it is they need to be, but As You Like It does have some of his more famous time wasters such as the 'All the world's a stage' speech so it has a sense of odd familiarity despite it's complete lack of connection to here and now in Australia. It being a comedy also gives us permission to overlook his rather random dramaturgy and inherently sexist and racist world view.

Having said all that, many of the actors in this production bring a wealth of skills and talents to bring depth and life to Shakespeare's worn out work. McMillan (Rosalind) and Harris (Adam/Touchstone) in particular, are really spectacular. Lulham (Charles/Jacques) and Cocks (Celia) also bring great energy to the stage and keep the story alive and worth watching.

Chadwick and O'Donnell (Musicians), along with McKenzie (Isabel) are a wonderful comic trio as well as imbuing the production with life through fun and, at times, haunting tunes and harmonies. My favourite buffoon in the piece is Bertram as Corin. Too funny by far!

On the down side, I was surprisingly disappointed with Gare (Frederick/Senior). He is a great actor as we saw in Romeo and Juliet last year, but in this production I felt as if he didn't know what he was supposed to be doing or why he was there.

This leads me to the direction. Deyell has been smart and what she lacks in vision and skill she makes up for in allowing the cast to work to their talents. She moves the cast around the stage cleanly and often that is half the battle.

Unfortunately there is too much playing of the text and not enough playing of the subtext, especially for the smaller roles. When people aren't speaking they are just standing out of the way and watching and (thankfully) listening. It made things a bit visually tedious but kept the story accessible for people who struggle with ye olde English. (I wonder why...?).

Deyell evidently has a strong eye for design though and her revolving triangular panels were highly evocative and made location shifts easy for both the cast and audience. Sleek, shiny grey panels gave way to rusted corrugated iron sheeting as we moved to the forests of Arden. Given the hippy costumes and machine guns I assume the idea was Duke Senior had created some sort of hill billy moonshine operation in the forest. A cute idea and it gave the musical trio a lot of room to play.

Sitting on the yellowed grass, seeing the sparse silver-green trees in the distance and listening to the kookaburras I did find myself wishing I was watching something Australian to go with the environment and the audience. Something riotous like Dimboola perhaps...

Having said that, As You Like It is a fun family event. The cast hand out maraccas and bells to the children at interval for a sing along, there is a playground next to the play space, and an icecream truck for the kids and a coffee truck for the adults. With face painting, a clothing stall, and some real knock your socks off performances, going to As You Like It ticks all the boxes for an end of summer treat.

3.5 Stars

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