Brighton Festival 2022
Director Peter Stickney’s production begins its tour at Brighton. With Alex Beetschen’s musical arrangements, Morgan Brind’s set and costumes, Darren Royston’s choreography, and costume design and supervision by Polly Laurence. Voice Coach Jacquie Crago, Fight Director John Sandeman, Costumer Makers Liz Coleman and Dawn Evans, Production Manager Aaron Barker.
Tour dates tba.
‘Ay, now I am in Arden, the more fool I’ announces Will Benyon’s Touchstone as we lope into this As You Like It. ‘When I was at home I was in a better place; but travellers must be content.’ Outdoors, as trees arch over a naturalistic cave-mouth and distinctly superior-painted rocks and moss, you’d think Morgan Brind’s superb set had always been here, cornered in a retired graveyard. I actually did a second take.
No danger travellers to The Lord Chamberlain’s Men productions won’t be content either. They’ve become a Brighton Festival feature since 2017, taking over the old Globe Touring slot (now in July), first at BOAT (Brighton Open Air Theatre), and again back at the Globe’s earlier space, St Nicholas Rest, for just five performances.
Director Peter Stickney’s take on As You Like It with a seven-strong troupe is refreshing, often very funny and faithful. It’s a pretty full text with a few nips but not too many tucks. I’m happy that third son vanishes into Oliver, and Jacques can’t retire as Lawrence Haynes is flinching faux de mieux content as Phebe.
Open air means losing some subtlety, engaging in badinage (that would be bandage with Rude Mechanicals malapropisms) and high japes. What it sometimes also means is losing vocal dexterity, clarity and audibility; even in famous venues. Yet again that’s emphatically not the case here. Jacquie Crago’s voice coaching calls for special mention.
Alex Beetschen’s arrangements from ‘It was a lover and his lass’ and ‘Under the greenwood tree’ are delightful a cappella renditions, led beautifully by Benyon’s tenor Touchstone and Amiens. Most resonant though is late on, with a rendition of a song over paternal regret delivered like a madrigal of Orlando Gibbons or Thomas Weelkes.
What’s so good about TLCM is their mix of faithfulness and clarity with a fun vibe that never indulges, meaning that two hours with interval leads to cuts. We get the maypole at the end, visual japes, but it’s all tight, lacking eddies.
Andrew Buzzeo’s Orlando is more eloquent than Orlando’s sometimes allowed to be – nothing beefcake here. Bar a brief Gentleman to Frederick role too he doesn’t double or triple either, so often interacting with everyone else. Vocally he’s more a match for Ben Lynn’s fleet-witted Rosalind, you believe more in their attraction.
He’s first seen with Laurie Scott’s swift-fading Adam, then his Duke Frederick (nice contrast in age, anxious to adamantine in a beat). Scott’s also the lamenting shepherd Silvius, particularly affecting as he mopes after Haynes’ towering Phebe – who haunts Lynn’s Rosalind like Jaws with the diminutive cellist in Moonraker. We see him again fleetingly as Sir Oliver Martext.
Lynn’s quicksilver Rosalind is onstage almost as much – briefly moonlighting as First Lord to Duke Senior. What Lynn brings is a fizz and dispatch you associate with people out-darting a world of people like trees: Scott’s Frederick, Haynes’ Phoebe, Benyon’s Touchstone, even Buzzeo’s Orlando. Lynn brings just the right giddiness to: ‘for now I am in a holiday humour,/and like enough to consent.’
If there’s a few losses, including a marvellous monologue, much of the truth remains; you believe this Rosalind can naturally assume male attire not because of gender but through shape-shifting energy. And Lynn’s speeches are fiery-pointed and light, though there’s less time for tenderness.
Haynes manages fleet sympathy as the decent courtier Le Beau, before embarking on his incisive Jacques – brilliantly taking his cue from Lewis Roberts’ warm Duke Senior, making more sense of the transition than most, dispatching it uniquely with speed without pause and much gesture in the time it takes for Orlando to return. His Jacques makes an original impression, and shifts his scope.
Many things click like that in this production. You can see in sudden moments of enlightenment – Robert’s Duke, Lynn’s first-sight-love (Marlowe’s lines parodied by Haynes’ Phebe) – just why Orlando has to be mewed up. It’s extraordinary no-one’s met him before, and Shakespeare supplies a plot-point.
Towering Roberts is first wrestler Charles – there’s much fight direction here from John Sandeman in his tussle with Buzzeo’s Orlando. Sandeman might also supervise the fireman’s lift as Roberts’ Audrey (here determined to have a man her way) hoists the not diminutive Benyon’s Touchstone; perhaps to an unsanctioned bed. Vocally he’s strong too, varying between strongman and aristocrat in his core role as Duke Senior.
Jonny Warr’s towering Twiglet Celia emerges too as a near-equal to Lynn’s Rosalind. Warr brings railery and chiding warmth in sparkling duets with Lynn and Benyon’s Touchstone, as well as side-glances to Buzzeo and sheer melt to Benyon’s Oliver. Greater equality of roles is brought out more in TLCM than in most productions. Orlando and Celia play less seconds to Rosalind. Warr is second in just one thing – Second Lord, as Lynn is First.
Benyon leads singing memorably; and revels in Touchstone’s wit after he churls away as Oliver – radiantly transformed after the lion-rescue, as if his characterisation has had a cloud lifted. His Touchstone though in nice ochre motley touches neatly and at point over his exchange with Roberts’ sure-footed Corin, who bests him. And with Celia and Rosalind he suggests as little deference as he can get away with.
Darren Royston’s choreography is essential here, working next to Sandeman in the ballet of fight scenes melting to rapid movement: it’s remarkable how fleet this production is, despite it not being an overly-cut performance. All elements are in play. Polly Laurence’s team Liz Coleman and Dawn Evans are notable too. Rosalind’s air-blue original gown is dazzling, and certainly the belle of the wedding. Celia’s is more burnt orange and brown, more rustic as it happens. But as Aliena Celia enjoys a rustic red-and-white dress, and it’s Rosalind who goes buff as it were.
This is a sparkling, delightful, vernally authentic As You Like It. Whilst it can’t plumb all the luxuries of a rapturous Rosalind or melancholic Jacques, this production helmed as ever by Stickney gives them an unusual energy, a believable force in nature that races over moments that might sag and reveal the episodic – if marvellous – refusal of plot. And there’s equality too, an even-handedness hard to beat. Pure holiday humour. For all outdoor markets, I’d buy this.