Left – Zahra Newman
Bell Shakespeare’s production of As You Like It is perfectly serviceable. All the elements of a good play are there. We laugh in the right places, and marvel appropriately at John Bell’s pitch perfect rendition of the iconic Seven Ages of Man speech. But, Bell aside, there’s not much in here to elevate this production above the serviceable.
This show suffers somewhat from comparison. A few years ago, Belvoir St put on a production of the same play – using some of the same actors, although in different roles – that was absolutely marvellous. I described that production in my review as “sublime and wonderfully ridiculous”, and it remains to this day one of the funniest productions I have ever seen. This version of As You Like It did not have that same magic. It’s the kind of production I cannot help but damn with faint praise – it was fine, but it wasn’t more than fine.
Perhaps the play’s lack of magic can be attributed to the fact that it’s a fairly standard interpretation. Peter Evans’ direction, while solid, is nothing remarkable – there is nothing especially imaginative about the way this show is performed. It is visually quite attractive, particularly when the ropes of flowers that signify the Forest of Arden come down, but it is not stunning. It is a play that is well cast and well performed – Charlie Garber’s almost hysterically romantic Orlando was a particular stand out, and Zahra Newman attacks the role of Rosalind with vigour and energy, turning in a wonderfully lively performance – but it lacks that magic ingredient that would make it really special. It’s funny, but it’s not hilarious. It’s sweet and romantic, but I’m not going to be thinking about it for years like I have Belvoir St’s production.
In short: while it is a solid production, and enjoyable enough, there is nothing especially new in this version of As You Like It. There’s no fresh take, nothing that is immediately exciting, and ultimately, it means that the show falls a little flat. It’s still a lovely night out at the theatre, but it’s not the night that you’re going to be talking about for years to come.
Bell Shakespeare presents
As You Like It
by William Shakespeare
Director Peter Evans
Venue: Sydney Opera House, Playhouse
Dates: 21 February – 28 March 2015
Tickets: from $35