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A CurtainUp London Review
As You Like It

"And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress' eyebrow." — Jaques
As You Like It Edward Hogg as Orlando and Olivia Vinall as Ganymede (Photo: Jane Hobson)
Circling Regent's Park were two helicopters, one to fly the President of the USA to Blenheim Palace for a state banquet hosted by Theresa May. In support were three futuristic V22 Osprey helicopters which look more at place in Star Wars than flying over the royal park. We were warned at the start of the play that these helicopters might disrupt the performance, including the possibility of pausing it but the President had the good grace to come back after curtain down.

The director though has inserted two helicopter sound moments into the play which had us initially thinking the American helicopters were overhead until we realised it was a device. So this is a modern interpretation of Shakespeare's comedy set in the Forest of Arden, the only one of Shakespeare's comedies set in England. We see a stage of bare iron poles, a lake to the foreground and piles of fast food rubbish.

Rain and flooding precede the play with the song "The Wind and the Rain". Yes that is a song by WS but usually from Twelfth Night. Our first sight of Orlando (Edward Hogg), disinherited and cheated by his brother Oliver (Beruce Khan), sees him working in a fast food restaurant wearing uniform and a back to front baseball cap. The scene between the brothers serves to explain the grievance Orlando holds about the terms of his father's will and maybe also to criticize the unfairness of leaving all one's estate to one's eldest son.

Orlando is tricked into competing in a wrestling match with the duke's powerful wrestler, Charles (Kristian Phillips) and it is set up with a square of ropes and a red mat with cheerleaders and the razzamatazz of a WWF contest with Charles' arrival by helicopter. Rosalind (Olivia Vinall) is smitten with Orlando and Duke Frederick (Simon Armstrong) is reminded of his enmity with Orlando's father and in temper banishes Rosalind from the court.

Olivia Vinall's Rosalind is least comfortable in the early scenes of her in the usurping Duke Frederick's court but she really comes into her own as Ganymede in the forest. The lightness of her humour is delicate and affecting.

It is a change of scene too for us when the steel curtains drop to reveal a cabin among the trees and men in cowboy hats like a scene from the Wild West. Me'sha Bryan as Amiens sings "Under the Greenwood Tree." Her voice is beautiful.

Maureen Beattie with long rasta locks takes on the gender swap role of the melancholy Jaques, a brilliant piece of casting as her Scots dourness is perfect and her diction faultless. Her delivery of the "Seven Ages of Man" speech is insightful and as good as any man's. She also shows immense pity for the venison supper, obviously preferring the company of animals to people.

Ganymede teaches Orlando to flirt with Rosalind and the focus of this play is on love and romance rather than the dispossessed. Touchstone (Danny Kirrane) and Audrey (Amy Booth-Steel) are delightful getting up to all kinds of shenanigans in the instantly erected tent. I liked too Joanne McGuinness's Phebe (stet) whose wild haired attraction to Ganymede embarrasses the pretend youth but he is still quick witted enough to tell Phebe that, she "is not for all markets."

Curiously Oliver is blinded by Duke Frederick and ordered to hunt down his brother. How? It is always awkward to explain Oliver's conversion back to the virtuous path and I'm not sure that inner sight induced by blindness does it in this production, and I still feel that Celia (a nice performance from Keziah Joseph) draws the short straw when she marries Oliver. Also exactly what the significance is of the piles of rubbish except to contrast Duke Frederick's court of over processed fast food with the simpler country life in Duke Senior (also Simon Armstrong)'s court.

I did prefer the sylvan setting with wild flowers edging the stage in this lovely open air theatre with birdsong and perfect summery weather.

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As You Like It
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Max Webster
Starring: Olivia Vinall, Edward Hogg, Maureen Beattie, Keziah Joseph, Danny Kirrane
With: Simon Armstrong, Jack Beale, Amy Booth-Steel, Me'sha Bryan, Beruce Khan, Gary Lilburn, Joanne McGuinness, Kristian Phillips, Jacade Simpson, John Stahl, Silas Wyatt-Barke
Design: Naomi Dawson
Lighting Design: Lee Curran
Composer: Charlie Fink
Sound Design: Gareth Fry
Movement: Polly Bennett
Fight Director: Bret Yount
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 826 4242
Booking to 28th July 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 7th July 2018 performance at the Open Air Theatre, Inner Circle, Regent's Park London NW1 4NU (Tube: Baker Street)
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