FringeReview Scotland 2015
We see the slightly convoluted story of two Dukes and their offspring from around the stage upon which Touchstone and Jacques play the fools to the folly of the narrative. As Rosalind and Celia leave the city – one banished, the other in attendance – we see them find Rosalind’s love whilst dressed as a man, Touchstones’s marry Audrey whilst playing the fool, Oliver to Celia wed, Silvius gain his Phebe and all is restored as the banishment is lifted and all returns to that as it ought to be. All done with flair and love for the text and its meaning.
This is another example of why Shakespeare ought to be at the heart of drama courses. Difficult it may be but it does give actors the opportunity to meet their audience half way over the footlights if played well. This is one of the lesser pieces that is not often performed. The first half would suggest why – the plot is difficult at times to follow and there is a lack of great set pieces. Nonetheless it is Shakespeare and with gusto and little baggage this was a cast, very ably directed that set about the task with verve.
We enter into the Chandler Studio to find the seats have been drawn back to the wall in order to provide a theatre in the round. With odd chairs and settees, chaise longues as well as the oddest assortment of furniture I have seen since visiting maiden aunties this gives us a perfect background for this multi faceted story. The floor is covered with what looks like wood chip but is chewed up carpet. To one corner sits the musician who effects the laziness that comes from being able to play well. Above and behind us are lights. Above are naked bulbs whilst behind and all around are the fairy lights from Christmas. Again it gives us the feeling of a fantastical evening. Set designer, lighting designer, sound designer, costume designer – other worldly and in the past without a defined time period is hard to pull off but she did – all deserve equal credit. I have the luxury of words to express my appreciation of the Theatre Arts and this is yet another example of how important it is to get them in early and get them right.
Whilst the text may not be as recognisable in its entirety it more than makes up in parts. It boasts some fantastic and well known speeches that provide actors with both daunting and tremendous platforms. As an ensemble this worked well. There was real strength within the cast in terms of their understanding of the text. The piece does depend upon the performances of two of the characters being nailed; Touchstone and Jacques. Here we had a wonderful Touchstone with Nicholas Barton-Wines able to clown then stop long enough to make his point before being the buffoon once again. All of this delivered with hardly a misstep. At least his equal was our Jacques – Robert Ginty. Timing and nuanced to perfection he was able to play the melancholic fool with irony and panache in equal measure. In amongst we had Collen Cameron as a simply tremendous Rosalind. I am fortunate to be able to pick individuals out but there was hardly a weak performance though sometimes there were speeches rushed or exchanges slightly difficult to follow.
In terms of its direction this was another feat of some dexterity. It is not the easiest to flow and between a wrestling match and multiple weddings comes a love story between a girl thrown out to be dressed as a boy, chasing a man she does not know where he resides whilst harbouring her cousin, dressed as an older woman, from the uncle who threw her out. That being one of the simpler plot lines both Peter Collins and John Kazak did a fine job in keeping us on script.
The music was equally up to the mark and the communal song at the end of Act One a bright highlight. As for finishing with the snarl himself – that was sheer genius.
Whilst I may grumble about the text being a tad convoluted or the acting dipping in some parts the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – thanks to their students – simply deserve tremendous credit. They give you the opportunity to see classic text in an arena that explains why these plays are so popular. They do so with a vision that may not on the surface be the most radical but they push the students to the point where you get quality and you get challenged. It is worthy of a visit to rediscover the text or see it in a version of which the Bard would approve or you can discuss in genuine depth thereafter. This is yet another Shakespeare I can tick off having now seen it – next up with RCS – King Lear in an all female version in March… can’t wait…