Friday, 24 April 2015

As You Like It, 24 April 2015 ***1/2

By William Shakespeare, Bell Shakespeare 
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until 10 May 2015
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2
Full review below. Review also published in Herald Sun in print on Monday 27 April and online. KH

This charming production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, As You Like It, playfully emphasises the silliness of love and lovers and the oddly predictable changeability of human nature.

Peter Evans directs the play imaginatively with a nod to the ridiculousness of its story, the absurdity of its characters and the mischievousness of Shakespeare’s witty and bawdy dialogue.

After being banished from her jealous uncle’s court, as was her father, Duke Senior (Alan Dukes), before her, Rosalind (Zahra Newman) disguises herself as a youth and escapes with her loyal cousin, Celia (Kelly Paterniti), and the lascivious jester, Touchstone (Gareth Davies).

In the Forest of Arden, they encounter Silvius (George Banders), a lovelorn shepherd, his beloved Phebe (Emily Eskell), and, eventually, they find Rosalind’s father and his band of lords.

Meanwhile, Orlando (Charlie Garber), dispossessed by his greedy brother, Oliver (Dorje Swallow), and overwhelmed by his idiotic love, pursues Rosalind to the Forest where he pens appallingly bad, romantic verses about her and pins them to trees.

Orlando meets Rosalind in her guise as the boy, Ganymede, and she impishly proposes to teach him the ways of love, its pitfalls and the foibles of fickle women.

Newman brings passion, wit and muscularity to the role of Rosalind, the most fully developed character in the play.

Rosalind is intelligent, independent of thought, loving and chaste, but her composure is disrupted when she falls in love with young Orlando.

The willowy Garber gives Orlando a boyish callowness offset by his intemperate rage and self-indulgent romanticism, but the requisite sexual chemistry is lacking between Rosalind and Orlando until the final scenes.

Outgoing Artistic Director of Bell Shakespeare, John Bell, is exceptional as Jaques, the melancholy lord, and he delivers with elegant simplicity and a distinctive lack of flourish one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches: The Seven Ages of Man.

It begins with the renowned lines, “All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players,’ then, in sparse and compelling verse, elucidates the life cycle of humanity from cradle to grave.

Evans elevates the clownish elements in Shakespeare’s play with both physical comic business and verbal jokes.

Tony Taylor brings his impeccable timing and comic sensibilities to old Adam, Orlando’s devoted servant, employing stillness, mute obedience and restrained physical comedy to make Adam a comic highlight of the production.

As Touchstone, Davies relishes the vulgar innuendo and gracelessness of the character but overplays the role with unbridled shouting and hysterical gestures.

Paterniti is deliciously mischievous and perky as Celia, bringing the character to life with her lively interpretation of the dialogue.

As You Like it includes several songs and Abi Tucker provides some vivacious singing while the finale features a spirited and entertaining nine-part harmony of Under The Greenwood Tree.

Michael Hankin’s sparse design begins as an empty theatre space with only a basket-ware skip and an abandoned ladder, but it blooms into the Forest of Arden with festoons of flowers dangling from an overhead rig.

Despite the Elizabethan language, Shakespeare’s verse and banter about love and courtship have a contemporary interpretation in Evan’s production, and the bold, colourful costumes give the characters a 1960s style.

Evans’ production is vibrant, cheeky and funny but it is the sonorous tones and philosophical musings of John Bell as Jaques that remain with one after the finale.

 By Kate Herbert

Rosalind Zahra Newman
Orlando Charlie Garber
Oliver Dorje Swallow
Celia Kelly Paterniti
Touchstone Gareth Davies
Audrey/Amiens Abi Tucker
Phebe/Lord/Forest Lord Emily Eskell
Silvius/Charles/Lord/Forest Lord
George Banders
Jaques/Le Beau John Bell
Adam/Corin Tony Taylor
Duke Senior/Duke Frederick Alan Dukes

Creative Team:
Director Peter Evans
Set Designer Michael Hankin
Costume Designer Kate Aubrey-Dunn
Lighting Designer Paul Jackson
Lighting Realiser (Melbourne)
Tom Warneke
Musical Director & Composer Kelly Ryall
Associate Sound Designer
Nate Edmondson
Movement Director Scott Witt
Directing Secondment Joanna Pidcock

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