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Brighton Year-Round 2024

Low Down

Seven actors and a sheep. This isn’t the unique selling-point of the Duke’s Theatre Company as it arrives at BOAT for Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Robert Shaw Cameron. But it certainly underscores the playfulness of this ensemble, now touring the country with this production

A first-rate outdoor revival, and easily rivalling what the Globe have to offer.


Directed by Robert Shaw Cameron Designed by Piran Jeffcock, Composer Jamie Noar, Movement Director Katie Beard, Fight Director John Sandeman, Voice and text Elaine Claxton,

Producer Bobby Delaney, Associate Producer Laura Matthews, Tour Manager Ben Simon, Graphic & Website Design Daniel Satchell, Socials Manager Rosie Scares, Rehearsal/Production Photography Colin J Smith, Rehearsal ASM Ollie Mcfarlane. Wardrobe Gladrags Theatrical Hire.


Seven actors and a sheep. This isn’t the unique selling-point of the Duke’s Theatre Company as it arrives at BOAT for Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Robert Shaw Cameron. But it certainly underscores the playfulness of this ensemble, founded in 2019, and now touring the country with this production (details on their site). Dedicated, like the all-male Lord Chamberlain’s Men, to outdoor touring Shakespeare, there’s a wide brief too, encompassing A Christmas Carol.

This is a two-hours-18 traffic including interval in Elaine Claxton’s edit, so a cleverly-wrought text sings out all essentials. There’s tiny textual changes to aid a modern audience, but they’re minimal. Certain characters are removed. Not just substituted as the bleating Silvius is by that very mobile Sheep (both bleating and moving independently, very cunning).

Sorrel Jordan’s Rosalind briefly flickers as Adam though saying conveniently after handing over gold to Orlando: “I will not follow you” ridding us of a trailing plot-point. Another edit lies in removal of the whole Duke Frederick/third-brother/Jacques-retiring knot. It’s necessary and nearly all very welcome.

Piran Jeffcock’s set is a giddying apex of a shack with entrances and exits certainly, featuring racks and much else behind. It’s a thing of slats doubling as trees where parti-colour post-its wound the surface, allowing room for a gallery appearance on top too.

It says much that the ensemble don’t dismount into the main BOAT space, save Touchstone once working the audience. Dress starts from the 1920s in court, for no very good reason, but looks affecting. It’s soon sloughed for timeless motley.

Rosalind (Sorrel Jordan) has power to enchant, clarity of purpose and a wild joy I’ve not often seen in this role. Rosalind’s sheer exuberance, even in giddy energy is also how Jordan infuses all her words with the release of her careworn state: Arden’s “holiday humour” works on her natural high spirits like a hallucinogen: except Rosalind’s absolute sanity and clarity shines forth too.

Jordan points everything, as Rosalind must, especially in the resolving scene when she tells each what she’ll magic for them in the “And I for” litany, that can act like a ballet. It’s well-spaced here, and Shaw Cameron has the enormous advantage of underscoring the ensemble’s natural clarity in staging and blocking, with Katie Beard’s movement direction. This on a small space is an achievement.

There’s also some fine singing: Beatrice John, George Prové and Ben Simon (also Tour Manager) all prove vocally adept in Jamie Noar’s music – far more elaborate and through-composed than you might expect. This set of compositions pivots from a cappella through 16th century early-modern Waites and a jamming session of folk. There’s pre-recorded incidental moments too (Vaughan Williams’ Phantasy Quintet peeps out) but mostly this is a fully-musical production.

Celia (Holly Brooks) is as strong as Jordan. Their exchanges are both spirited and equal. This Celia really can take a few leads, and her sexual attraction to Simon’s Oliver is as touching and funny as the way Jordan and Claridge start at each other. Smaller-scale, but as complete, it’s for one believable.

Brooks’ Celia brings out impish warmth; but also, unusually, her equal capacity for passion, desire and fun. As well as a witty side-salad of warnings. Her exchanges with Macinnes too are shadowed with defiance and a clear sense of what she’s rejecting.

Sam Claridge’s Orlando – and briefly an affronted Sir Oliver Martext – is here so imposing that the wrestling match might look a foregone conclusion. Fight director John Sandeman carefully terraces this into a fight of skill and feints, rather than brute strength. Claridge’s Orlando though has fire and nerve, and though he can never compete with Rosalind gives a strong account of his own hesitations.

Both Claridge and Jordan enjoy the delicious shyness of their first encounter (silent beats here induce small gasps from the audience), but Claridge rings out a vocally able Orlando; one whose “gentleness” is instinctive, despite being raised in a sty. He’s believably able to trounce Simon’s Oliver, and everywhere radiates a man baffled into himself. Prevented from normal growth, he’s here visibly accelerated into self-discovery in his encounters with both the (Arden) Duke’s company and Rosalind.

Beatrice John’s stint first as Charlotte (aka Charles) the Wrestler shows off her (and Claridge’s) acrobatic skills. Alternating as Silvius-scorning-Phoebe lovesick for Ganymede, John lands some screeching double-binds in her disguised love-letter. Her reaction to “sell while you can” from Rosalind/Ganymede darkens enough for the audience to be quite shocked.

John’s Audrey delights in being “foul” and whilst there aren’t the surprises of (for instance) Audrey picking up Touchstone and bearing him off as in the 2019 Globe production, there’s a particular delight in John’s switching glum Phoebe (she marries a sheep and puts her hat on it) and delighted Audrey.

Duncan Macinnes alternates – as is customary – between Duke Frederick and Duke Senior, but garners bouquets of laughter as the odiferous Corin, the shepherd who throws out a pail of water having dipped his cloth in unmentionable places.

In each role he modulates a northern skirl, refreshingly lacking in the pomp of Frederick, but none of his hulking menace: there’s the touch of an aristo-thug here. As Senior Macinnes softens to the poetry of “sermons in stones” and this speech is one of the most melting. Corin inevitably is riveting: Macinnes revels in the audience’s flinch as he moves his cloth; the pail-chuck is a riot.

George Prové as Touchstone is exhilarating in his motely of French fop, and consciously modelled on the French too. He enjoys a gallimaufry of small roles like the harassed, decent Amiens, but his Touchstone is stung with the act of a gadfly and the movements of a ballet-master out of Moliere. He’s exquisite in his phrasing too. His jousting with Macinnes in his “In respect of” exchange vies with his badinage with Rosalind and Celia: carving out wit from the poor carved trees Orlando injures.

As Oliver, Ben Simon, the most seasoned Duke’s Company player, carries his froward elder-brother envy to the melancholy of his main role as Jacques. Simon has nearly every point imaginable covered in his Seven Ages speech, and does it with a dispatch and point from his elevation (he’s high up but moves around) that’s both visual and deeply affecting.

Because the ending’s truncated, with the conversion of Duke Frederick, the impossible third son being gratefully removed, Jacques’ brief grace-note as he leaves the company is also shorn. We miss Jacques’ reappearance but not the faint absurdity of the plotline.

And we do get the convention-breaking epilogue, shorn of its beards but unlike (again) the 2023 Globe production, we do actually get Rosalind’s blessing.

The sheep deserves a special mention. Why s/he couldn’t have bleated at the “And I” moment making it a perfect quadrant, is a mystery. Perhaps they can be persuaded later in the run with a better pasture.

Shaw Cameron and the Duke’s Company prove one of the finest ensembles of their kind. They own a special gift for condensing Shakespeare just enough to give a text and plot its fullness; but on this showing, act with truth, great clarity and a gamut of feeling that leaves no point unsatisfied, They’re original enough to carry a joke, but not make a gimmick of it. They’re sometimes miced up but it means we hear everything. A first-rate outdoor revival, and easily rivalling what the Globe have to offer.