Left – Alison Bell, Ashley Zukerman & Trevor-Jamieson. Cover – Ashley Zukerman & Yael-Stone. Photos – Heidrun Lohr
Belvoir's production of As You Like It is vivid, riotous and warm-hearted, a theatrical carnival of sound and spectacle. In his director’s note, Eamon Flack writes that As You Like It “feels as much a themed variety show as a play”, and he has certainly worked to emphasise this aspect of it, infusing what could be a confusing text with colour and vitality.
Flack’s cast do a fantastic job. Alison Bell and Ashley Zukerman are touching and charming – and, in Zukerman’s case, sometimes dripping wet – as star-crossed lovers Rosalind and Orlando. Charlie Garber is hilarious as not-a-very-good-fool Touchstone, and Hamish Michael, Gareth Davies and Casey Donovan (to name a few in the uniformly strong ensemble) all turn in wonderful performances in a myriad of roles. My personal favourite was Yael Stone, spritely and mirthful as Celia, but honestly, the real acting commendation must go to all those in the cast who at one point or another played a sheep. These sublime and wonderfully ridiculous performances were wildly entertaining, and should prove heartening to anyone who was ever forced to play an animal in their school nativity play (cough cough).
What the sheep proved – and what Flack’s whole take on this production demonstrated – is that Shakespeare really, really doesn’t have to take itself seriously. As Flack notes, Shakespeare knocked off this play pretty quickly to showcase the various talents of the actors in his troupe. Despite there being several very deep and meaningful readings of As You Like It extant in the academic world*, it is a play meant to be funny, meant to be entertaining, to make its audience laugh and ultimately, go away feeling happy (and thus, of course, be more likely to come along to Mr Shakespeare’s next play!). Shakespeare is so often associated with dusty academe and Shakespeare himself is so lauded as a super-mega-ultra genius (a concept which dates not to Shakespeare’s own time, but to the 19th century) that his works are often viewed as a chore. But As You Like It was never meant to be hard work. This is Shakespeare as pure fun, and Flack’s production does an outstanding job of showing it this way.
One of the things I loved about this show was the way that it was As You Like It and commentary on As You Like It at the same time. Old-fashioned languages and plot devices were explained deftly, funnily, and in such a way that the audience laughed along instead of feeling like they were being preached at – “it’s very clever!” Rosalind protested more than once after an old-fashioned witticism which fell flat to the modern ear. The very irreverence of the show meant that, when Eamon Flack appeared onstage at the beginning of the second act to announce that due to a technical malfunction, a small section of the first act had to be replayed (the perils of live theatre!), the audience didn’t mind at all. The obviousness and cheek with which this production engaged with the original text enabled the audience to engage with the show in the same way.
This is the kind of show that I feel like I could nitpick if someone had a gun to my head, but which I have absolutely no desire to do. I had a great evening. I came away with a smile on my face. As both an academic who deals regularly with early modern theatre and someone who just likes to laugh, I was very satisfied. I highly recommend this show to anyone who loves Shakespeare and/or who wants a merry night out. It’s an absolute riot. And come on. It has sheep.
*including my personal favourite, a theory which argues the presence of a character called William is incontrovertible proof that Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays, because... of course.
As You Like It
by William Shakespeare
Director Eamon Flack
Venue: Belvoir St Theatre | 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Dates: 19 November – 24 December, 2011
Times: Tuesday 6.30pm | Wednesday to Friday 8pm | Saturday 2pm & 8pm | Sunday 5pm
Tickets: Full $59 | Seniors (excluding Fri/Sat evenings) $49 | Concession $39
Bookings: 02 9699 3444 | www.belvoir.com.au