As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s funniest plays, and arguably one of the easiest to understand. It works well as an amusing and entertaining outdoor production, and deckchair theatre’s version directed by Angela Chaplin is no exception.
This is surprisingly my first Shakespeare in the Park in Perth and I was delighted with the location and the setup. As you stroll down the grassy hill, the seating area is delineated by ropes and rubbish bins (!), an aisle marked out with fluorescent tape. Seating is unreserved, with blankets at the front, seats at the back (both for hire).
A huge tree overhangs the stage, and whilst the set blocks the view in front, you are surrounded by trees and the beauty of Kings Park. As dusk turns into night, the actors compete with the sound of riotous kookaburras. Food and drinks are available, but I’d go for the BYO option. My only complaint about the setup is the distance back up the hill to the toilets (which also need work – some soap would help).
As You Like It is a comedy about love. As with many of Shakespeare’s comedies, there is cross dressing - the lead Rosalind disguises herself as a boy; the joker (Touchstone); mistaken love (Phebe falls for Rosalind in disguise); and a suitably happy ending.
Chaplin has set this version in the swinging sixties, with all its clichés and colourful outfits. It works well (I’ve seen it done before), and the time lends itself to the jokes and patter that occurs. As garish and stereotypical as the outfits were, I appreciated Isaac Lummis’s costume design, especially the use of colour schemes to tie characters together.
Shakespeare’s songs have been replaced here by well known 60s and 70s pieces, ably sung by the cast (in particular Adam McGurk playing Amiens and Richard Mellick as Sir Oliver Martext).
Rosalind is the largest female character Shakespeare created (with 25% of the lines) and is a challenge for any actress. Unfortunately Tamara Cook’s performance as Rosalind got on my nerves. She appeared too old for the role, overly tense, and didn’t gel with Orlando (Brendan Hanson, with his expressive eyebrows used to great effect). Compared to Emily Brennan as Celia, who was bubbly and passionate, Cook was unanimated. I hope it was merely opening night nerves and that Cook relaxes during the run.
There were moments that appeared over the top, with some outrageously ‘bad’ acting, and although that sounds horrible, it was actually part of the fun. Of all Shakespeare’s plays, As You Like It lends itself to parody and pantomime acting.
The play does have some profound moments, the most famous being “All the world’s a stage”. Luke Hewitt as Jaques excelled with this monologue and had me enthralled throughout.
Other standout performances came from George Shevtsov as the malicious Frederick and the regal Duke, and Sam Longley as Touchstone.
From where I was sitting, the vocal projection was remarkable, although by the end I could hear the strain in voices. Overall the deliverance of lines and depth of understanding from the actors was superb. It was the smaller characters (Audrey, Phebe, and Silvius) that struggled, and many of the scenes in the second half dragged because of it.
As most of As You Like It takes place in a forest, I was looking forward to seeing a set that incorporated the natural elements of Kings Park. I was a little disappointed then in Andrew Portwine’s psychedelic forest of flats and platforms that looked like a school production set. It looked fake - as I think it was meant to - but also looked incongruous next to a stunning (real) tree which would have made a brilliant set piece. In a theatre, I would probably say this show was over the top and ‘fake’, but in Kings Park relaxing with a drink, food, and great company I was more willing to let the overall ‘cheese’ slide over me.
Despite my misgivings, I did enjoy the night. I laughed, clapped, and sighed with happiness at the soppy, romantic ending. Get down early with your rug and picnic to enjoy a glorious summer evening with lots of laughs.
deckchair theatre presents
As You like It
by William Shakespeare
Venue: Botanic Garden, Kings Park, WA
Season: 14 January – 9 February (Mon – Sat, 8pm). Excluding 26, 28 Jan, 1 Feb RAC Night.
Bookings: BOCS 9484 1133 or online at www.bocsticketing.com.au