As You Like It | Black Swan State Theatre CompanyPhoto – Gary Marsh Photography

Director Roger Hodgman takes us from the Heath Ledger Theatre into the Forest of Arden for Black Swan's production of Shakespeare's As You Like It. It's a pleasant pastoral foray, filled with laughs, quirky characters created by some of Perth's most favourite mainstays and up-and-comers, and lovely production values. This clear and consistent modern rendition will have a wide appeal and just might give you the warm fuzzies on an autumn evening.

In a recent interview about the show in the West Australian, Hodgman remarks "I once said I would never use a mobile phone in Shakespeare but I must admit there is one in this production." I admit that I too am from this school of thought that the use of gadgetry on stage can be irksome if it's relied upon too heavily, but Hodgman has used it mostly tastefully and unobtrusively. Only once did Caitlin Beresford-Ord's aimless tapping on an iPad distract me in the court scenes; thankfully, once we migrated to the forest, ostensibly out of 4G range, the gadgets were abandoned in favour of old-fashioned notes posted on trees. Is that hipster enough for you?

Hodgman has cast a really great spectrum of Perth talent, and it’s wonderful to see them all on stage together for this production. Granted, some of them have only spent a short sojourn here as WAAPA students, but it’s quite nice to be able to say that this is an all-WA cast for BSSTC. Steve Turner’s cynical Jaques, Caitlin Beresford-Ord’s uncouth, scene-stealing Audrey, Luke Hewitt’s raunchy Touchstone, Greg McNeill’s salt-of-the-earth Corin and Igor Sas’s sweet, old Adam are all wonderfully rendered and endearing characters.

From the younger set, we have outstanding performances from James Sweeny playing the heartthrob Orlando with not a touch of vanity, and Grace Smibert giving us a loyal and steadfast Celia. Smibert in particular seems to handle Shakespeare very well, having also given an outstanding performance as Polonius in Barking Gecko’s Hamlet of 2013. Jovana Miletic as Rosalind is convincingly androgynous, although I would have liked to see more peaks and troughs in her character’s emotional journey. Cecelia Peters is a delight (and also a bit of a scene-stealer) as Phebe, as she tugs on her too-short dress and teeters about on her too-high-for-a-forest-floor wedges; she’s totally inappropriate in the most charming way.

Christina Smith’s set is on par with the quality we’ve come to expect from BSSTC, with a few gorgeous tricks up its sleeve. The court scenes are played out in a wood-panelled foreground that blends seamlessly with the proscenium arch and the auditorium. There’s even a row of seats brought on that match the house seating. As the characters flee into the forest, the set breaks away to reveal a forest of lean tree-trunks and cascading autumn leaves. It’s a transformation that reflects the story arc as well as invokes the bucolic themes embedded in the play. There’s a slight “atmospheric haze” and a gentle golden light; we immediately feel warm and cozy as the players spread out their tartan rug and gather around for an autumn picnic.

After a few jaunty songs, some naughty but jovial sight gags, an identity reveal and four couples finally pairing up, we’re left with a neat and tidy feel-good ending and a hearty, warm round of applause for some of Perth’s finest.

Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
As You like It
by William Shakespeare

Director Roger Hodgman

Venue: Heath Ledger Theatre | State Theatre Centre of WA
Dates: 17 – 1 June 2014
Tickets: $27.90 - $79.90
Bookings: | 1300 795 012

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