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Brighton Year-Round 2020

Low Down

Directed by Conor Baum again with a crisply-observed 20 minute interval. Music composed by Jude Obermuller assisted by Simon Gray. Baum leads and Pickett seconds the choruses with descanting; with Samson, Cartwright and Alissandra Henderson and Katarina Henderson performing musicians. Production Faith McNeill. Prop construction under Joanna Rosenfeld Rosanna Bini and Katie Marshall. Next performance Saturday September 5th at 16.30.


Of the four Shakespeare dramas planned as surprises from this company As You Like It was the last standing. Though still with this two-day notice aesthetic: actors in short order discover what the play is. That wasn’t in doubt here, though of course casting’s another delightful ambush.

The One Fell Swoop Project’s Zoom Shakespeare three weeks ago zoomed out on to St Anne’s Wells Sensory Garden for the first time since its lockdown zooms. In a word, Unlocked. Joanna Rosenfeld and Conor Baum alternate as directors and actors in a ‘micro-festival’, four now six outdoor productions of Shakespeare, the audience strictly distanced and with all amenities on hand.

Actors have 24 hours to con parts meet up and read through. Everything’s fluid, the spirit of OFS with its spontaneous leaps into abysms of inspiration is preserved. The Zoom traversal of all Shakespeare and apochrypha will hopefully recommence in the autumn.

Though modestly priced it’s also a charity event. There is though no gala about it. This is first-rate outdoor Shakespeare.

As You Like It is a festal play (second of three) designed for a festal weekend, this being the fourth and – till last week – last of this micro-season. There’s now though two more plays announced; this time we’ll not even know what they are till we see them, both directed by Joanna Rosenfeld.

Conor Baum’s As You Like It is a blissful collision. The court’s as imagined by sixth-formers in school ties, the forest by refugees from Glastonbury with hats to burn. And tents plotted around with the perimeter pricked out with hand windmills spinning from their sticks. There’s dream and dare here, a vibrancy and attack of verse-speaking belying the more typical languor. Not least a reinvented Jacques. But then so much else is too.

Again the actors all breathe Shakespeare. There’s been times in admirable Globe productions promoting young talent when half the cast can’t speak it, and some others barely. It’s something the OFS company really know how to get right, over months of Shakespeare and Elizabethan mini-productions

John Andrews is the convincingly stentorian Orlando, slightly rough in manner and here too the rustic burr that everyone starts adopting in the forest comes to light. Orlando has been kept in a sty not the court, and it comes out in sty-speak. He’s good with Sam Cartwright’s boorish taller Oliver, who’s convincingly nasty-prefect and later makes an appealing penitent and suitor for Celia. Andrews makes a fine baffled impression up against several, most of all his Rosalind. Andrews conveys more than most Orlandos I’ve seen both physical verve and a youth fathoms-deep over his headroom, with Rosalind who controls all fathoms of this play.

David Samson is menacingly strong-arm thug as Charles the Wrestler and the fight-scene with Andrews is excellent – suggesting only a crude move by the latter can win out. It’s memorable fight-direction, making use of space and pace: never too slow, pent with expectation. As William Samson exudes a touch of pathos. Chris Gates makes an elegant regretful Le Beau, a winningly shrewd Corin and an excitable Second Brother.

No doubling of Duke roles here as so frequently happens. Ross Gurney-Randall is predictably full of burl and circumstance as Duke Frederick, rough-hewn with surly praise and bear-like with banishment. He’s thoroughly convincing as a warlord usurping a more cultured man – pre-echoes of The Tempest here are underlined. Gurney-Randall’s brief Sir Oliver Mar-Text exudes bemused impatience, a man not impressed with being used as he heralds the interval.

Peta Taylor is affecting as loyally groaning Ada (Adam) as well as uproarious as Audrey thanking the Gods she’s foul. In her later costumery she’s almost unrecognizable and executes some natty raunches with Touchstone: it’s uproarious.

And then there’s Kirsty Geddes’ Rosalind. Geddes skits and skeers around, wild with uncontained erotic excitement but never too overtly, which makes her dance, fling herself about and most of all throw out a scouring arc of eloquence. And the plotting, mercury-quick fixing is all there. Geddes’ quick-fire warm-hearted Rosalind is the reason we all fall in love with her whatever our gender. There’s a tough edge too that can tender itself in a moment. As Ganymede hair tied under a handkerchief she romps about as a 1940s Land Army girl.

We know lucky Orlando’s not quite worthy of her. How can he be? Rosalind’s the sanest as well as happiest and cleverest of all Shakespeare heroines. And pushed he always preferred women over men. It’s to Andrews’ credit he makes Orlando hesitate and stumble so beautifully. The scene between the lovers when they first meet with interjections by the memorable Celia of Lexi Pickett is delicious.

Geddes and Pickett have a natural chemistry quickened by several productions’ work, and so it proves here in the geometry they fling to the withers of their distanced stage. There’s moments recalling Nicholas Quirke’s 2010 As You like It here at St Ann’s Wells, where in the climactic fixing speech as Geddes’ Rosalind swears to Orlando, Silvius and Phoebe she will make all content she throws out a compass of action to four points. More cramped here in a limited stage, it’s still thrilling.

Pickett has an ace – a singing voice we’ll come to. Here she’s no second fiddle but a confident warm and mischievously needling Celia: all to prod her friend to happiness. She’s the one to eye up Orlando first then graciously cede him to Rosalind as she sees where attraction lies. She’s also very funny flinging herself to the ground. Like Geddes she can seize a speech and float it as well as pluck it down.

Pickett gets Celia’s earthier tang, her pricking Rosalind’s fancies. And the way she picks out Oliver later is heart-warming, saying nothing but ensnaring to some purpose. She and Cartwright give off a fidgety chemistry, relaxing into courtship. This production’s suggestion the attraction is as genuine as it’s sudden is one of its triumphs. In fact suggesting a quartet that might be happy is its overall mood.

And this is where Touchstone enters in brilliant candy-striped motley. Under it all with a teetering hat is Joanna Rosenfeld. There’s an energy and clownishness to match the giddying girls as they revolve on a wild psychedelic-seeming spin of reverie. Touchstone seems part of the Lucy dream, though she’s the court fool gone rogue when she teams up with them. Rosenfeld who’s energetic in some clownish broadsides, brings a subtlety to some speeches too. For instance when threatening William to warn him off Audrey ‘thou diest’ is uttered with a sotte voce menace that’s also darker than the hectoring bully we can get.

Duncan Henderson’s Duke Senior is more vigorous than some in this role, less avuncular more thoughtful and given to lead by example. His delivery’s a wondering on circumstance, never taken by lost majesty.

Deborah Kearne’s  Amiens is a fantastically-hatted piece of psychedelia with a fine line in reporting forest happenings as if still at court. Amiens often gets pushed to singing and here Kearne counterpoints Baum and Pickett.

Ben Baeza’s Silvius is less pathetic here, more an enactor of pathos, someone hangdog not so incapable of redemption (he’s often guyed) and capable of blind devotion. Rosanna Bini is hilarious and less than thoroughly nasty here as Phoebe, the young woman Rosalind almost brutally tells to ‘sell while you can, you are not for all markets’. Here she’s more redemptive, not without spite or a depth of fawning on Ganymede as she thinks Rosalind. She accepts Silvius with a good grace.

There’s of course Jacques. How play him? Ben Darlington’s a strong Shakespearean and here decides on seizing Jacques out of his melancholy (Pierce Quigley in the Globe’s 2018 production was a scene-stealer in doing the laconic opposite). Like Andrews Darlington feels delivery and clarity in the open air is the way forward and on balance it’s the way to go. Darlington speaks his lines with verve and point, every line-end glinting with caesura yet wholly natural.

It’s a commanding performance. It’s not the Jacques we’re used to, and Darlington might soften the fade-outs in ‘sans everything’ but it’s a way I’ve not seen and could bear developing. As it is Darlington banishes the shadows perhaps too brightly, and he could shade-in his progress as he beatifies the four couples – so we might believe his quittance of the world. We are talking 48 hours. Like everyone here, imagine what Darlington could do in say 72. Or a week.

 Musicians are key to this production with music composed by Jude Obermuller. Baum himself leads and Pickett seconds the choruses with a memorable descanting, with Samson, Cartwright and Alissandra Henderson and Katarina Henderson performing musicians. The preparation and care of the few props is Production Manager Nathan Potter’s realm. There’s fewer more props, more costumes; and a bloody bandage.

 Baum’s direction allows reflective text some room in its two hour thirty-eight traversal though with high-energy moments Geddes, Pickett Rosenfeld Andrews Cartwright and Darlington take. It’s heartwarming, giddyingly vital yet clear with its own truth. And the gentler chimes elsewhere. Again there’s a crisply-observed 20-minute interval.

As for the future place your bests. Mine’s for Twelfth Night being one (perhaps the last), and ohhh… let’s see: The Winter’s Tale, Pericles, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (bit late, but hey) Measure for Measure and just maybe but only if next week, Julius Caesar. If the punters find this heinous, let them look up Coriolanus. Pray not! I love All’s Well That Ends Well, another problem play that really deserves more exposure.

Next week Rosenfeld directs the next two productions at 4.30 Saturday 5th and 12th as evening draws in slightly; and as this evening shows, chills. Watch that grassy space.