Tuesday, 12 August 2003

As You Like It by Bell Shakespeare, Aug 12, 2003

As You Like It  by William Shakespeare   
Bell Shakespeare  
 Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne, August 12 to 23, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 12

As You Like It is one of Shakespeare's has the recipe for success. It is a romantic comedy that incorporates a magical forest, four pairs of lovers, two villains, one clown and a happy ending for all.

It is often played as a whimsical, playful, tricksy piece. Lindy Davies  production for Bell Shakespeare is a darker, more melancholy creature. The shorter first half is a dynamic interpretation with much light and shade.

The opening conflict between estranged brothers, Orlando  (Joe Manning) and Oliver  (Julian Garner) reveals Oliver's having snatched Orlando's inheritance after their father's death.

Meanwhile, Duke Frederick  (Robert Alexander) usurps the position of his brother Duke Senior, (Robert Alexander) and banishes Senior to the magical Forest of Arden. He then banishes Orlando, Rosalind and his own daughter, Celia. (Catherine Moore)

The heart of the story is the romance between Orlando and the clever, feisty Rosalind, daughter of the banished Duke Senior. The pair meet after Orlando's titillating, testosterone-filled wrestling with the Duke's champion, played with humour and power by David Hynes. Orlando and Rosalind play a sensual, albeit tongue-tied scene of fascinated new lovers.

What follows is a series of intrigues, disguises, chance meetings, deceptions, lovers scenes and songs.

Davies production reflects our times, the displacement of these characters having obvious parallels with asylum seekers and refugees. A strength and a tribute to both the actors and director, is the absolute clarity throughout of Shakespeare's language and meaning.

Jennie Tate's  design is a mystical landscape of fairy dells made from glittering torn fabric, mesh and rope. David Murray's startling, evocative lighting creates multiple worlds and atmospheres while Alan John's ()K) music provides yet another layer to the mood.

Joe Manning brings charm and bravado to lovelorn Orlando. As the object of his love, Alice McConnell is particularly good early but later lacks Rosalind's emotional range and taunting wit.

Robert Meldrum's  wonderfully detailed and wicked fool, Touchstone  provides wit, slapstick and a wise commentary on the foibles of humanity.

Robert Alexander  gives colour to both the villainous Frederick and his brother, Senior.

Sean O'Shea,  as the melancholic Jaques,  balances humour and darkness.

The rest of the ensemble is very good in multiple roles. David Hynes'  is impressive and his bell-like singing elevates the romantic mood.

The production loses its playfulness and dynamic range in the latter half although performances are still strong. The pace varies little and the less significant parts of the story have unnecessary weight.

As You Like It is a lyrical and often compelling piece of theatre suitable even for those who do not know Shakespeare.

By Kate Herbert

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