Brighton Fringe 2010
As You Like It
Festival Shakespeare Company
Venue: St Ann’s Well Gardens, Hove
Festival: Brighton Fringe
The Festival Shakespeare Company once again entertains us this year with a vibrant take on As You Like It. Expect fun, mistaken identities, danger and philosophical musings on life in general.
Despite the cold weather and the constant threat of rain, a small amount of dedicated theatre goers came out to enjoy the recent outing from the Festival Shakespeare Company of the classic comedy As You Like It in the beautiful surroundings of St Ann’s Well Gardens.
As we entered the space, it was observed that it was set out as an ‘in the round’ production (audience sits in a circle around the action as it develops) with dedicated corners, entrances and exits. This gave the impression of space, but as we discovered, it was that restriction which gave this show an interesting edge to it, as it enabled the actors to interact with the audience, use hidden spaces of the Scented Garden to surprise and tantalise as well as be creative and experimental with all they did.
A strong start was had by the entire company singing a song to get the energy going and to set the tone of the play. However, the choice of the song ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ despite it filling the criteria, seemed a bit odd as it was Shakespeare we had come to see, not Noel Coward. As it turned out, it was also to set the era the play was set in – the end of World War Two. This essentially was a good choice as it not only set up the pace and comedy, but also captured the essence of fun and drama that crosses over into Noel Coward’s era. However, if you prefer your Shakespeare as it was originally performed in period costume, then this show will not sit well in general.
As the plot developed, the cast in general was very strong and worked well together as a whole. It was obvious that all of them were having fun playing the assigned roles and enjoyed performing it. However, the tricky thing with outside performances is that if the voice is not projected or controlled in projection, then words are lost or the wrong meaning is conveyed. In this case it was a mixture of both as half of the actors didn’t project their voices so that the entire audience could hear it, except for the section they were facing at the time. Also, one or two of the stronger performers projected too much in relation to the overall balance of sound.
On another technical scale, occasionally the iambic pentameter of the verses was lost due to either lines being rushed or putting pauses in where they shouldn’t have done so. Despite this, the attack and vibrancy each actor had with the lines was well executed and made the play easy to follow as the journey into the forest of Arden took place with banished friends, monarchy and love struck lovers separated.
Whilst as aforementioned the cast was strong, there were individual performances that really stood out in general.
Oliver Harrison played the villain of the piece Oliver De Boys as well as the priest Oliver Martext. His execution of each line and ability to play two different characters was a very high standard and was extremely interesting to watch. This was because he played at first a character who wanted a much higher status than he had and would stoop to anything in order to get it – even kill his own brother Orlando. The journey he made from villain to reformed character as he rescued his brother in the forest from a wild animal was startling, but very endearing as he pleaded his case to ‘Ganymede’ about the change in him. As for Oliver Martext, this was conducted with such flare as he became an eccentric old man wanting a wedding to take place as he’d been requested to do so by clown Touchstone. The frustration at it not taking place really heightened the comedy. This is an actor who has potential to succeed in the future.
Jaques (played by Ian Shaw) was the one character that really woke the audience up as he made his entrance. This character may be a pessimistic and rather blunt talking man as traditionally portrayed, but here we saw that pessimism come to life in a more arrogant and flamboyant way that reminded me somewhat of Noel Coward! Ian was also the most technically perfect out of all of them as he made sure his words of wisdom were heard by all no matter where they were sitting. As for the famous ‘All the world’s a stage’ speech, I’ve heard many interpretations of it, but here I have to say it was the best version. It was hard hitting, but extremely light hearted and fun to listen and watch.
And finally, Scarlett Sherriff’s charming interpretation of Rosalind/Ganymede was particularly observed. This young actress showed the flush of youth well and her love for Orlando as it developed from the wrestling match to their eventual reunion at the end was well handled. But it was the witty banter between Celia (Kitty Newbury) and herself that was particularly strong as she bemoaned her loss of Orlando, then changed to the strong courageous woman disguising herself as a man to escape her uncle’s plot to kill her. It was good to see a young actress experiment with what she could do and not have any reservations as to what she did. Again, this is another potentially successful actress to watch out for.
As a whole, As You Like It has all the right ingredients as aforementioned and is definitely recommended viewing. But with a bit more focus on the text and general tidying up, it could grow into something special