at the Rose Theatre, Bankside
After two open air productions of As You Like It this summer, it is curiously refreshing to see it again in the shadowy intimacy of the Rose Theatre on Bankside – already a thriving Shakespearean venue when this comedy was penned - with just one chicken-wire tree to stand for Arden.
There are huge advantages to this close-up and personal approach. The text can be delivered as if to a good friend, the audience can more easily feel a real affinity with the lovers and the cynic Jaques. The verse can be spoken at a breakneck pace, which would risk being unintelligible anywhere else.
Jessica Ruano's production is dressed in muted autumn hues; these young people look like stylish students from central Europe. The very cramped area is inventively used – the quartet of young people on the axis, the organic picnic under the greenwood tree, the bin-bag of verses scattered over the floor – and, as is becoming a tradition, the famous Rose lake [a thin covering of water protecting the archaeology] is pressed into service. Laughter and merriment drift across at the start, and references to other men's lands and the bay of Portugal are cheated out to catch the echo.
Tiny space, tightly trimmed text. We begin with All The World's A Stage, from Andrew Venning's likeable Jaques [though we do rewind to the warring brothers and the wrestling] and we end with the dirge for the dead deer - "Sing it: 'tis no matter how it bee in tune, so it make noyse enough …"
So no Touchstone, no comedy shepherds, almost all the subplots lost, all done and dusted in little more than an hour.
The cast of seven all speak the verse with admirable clarity [though the occasional line is mis-read, and much of the play strikes the same reflective tone] – Matthew Howell is a charming Orlando, and "Ganymede" and "Aliena" are excellently done by Suzanne Marie and Stacy Sobieski, working well together as the mischievous cousins. The girls' teasing Orlando about the outward signs of a man in love - "your sleeue vnbutton'd, your shoo vnti'de" is a lovely, lively moment, and Rosalind's suggested "cure" - "Hee was to imagine me his Loue, his Mistris" was wonderfully sustained.
There are few laughs here – partly because of the melancholy mood, partly because an audience of thirty is quieter than an audience of three hundred. But all very enjoyably done – an opportunity to dissect without distractions the romance at the heart of the pastoral comedy.this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews