The Byre Theatre,

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Comedy often seems a tenuous description when reading Shakespeare’s dusty blank verse. At best I manage to muster a smirk at the Bard’s witty wordplay. But the shining cast chosen by Hannah Boland enlivened As You Like It far beyond my expectations. The animation brought to the play by the actors ensured that there was not a dull moment and that the Byre resounded with borderline aggressively loud laughter.

Shakespeare’s questioning of gender politics, social status and, of course, the use of the ever timeless innuendo, ensure that this play‘s humour effortlessly bridges the gap to the 21st century. The main focus of As You Like It is on the budding whirlwind romance between Orlando and Rosalind, which seems to advance at break-neck speed from shaking hands to writing soppy love letters. The action is catalysed by the banishment of the Duke into the Forest of Arden due to being usurped by his brother, who also casts out the Duke’s daughter, Rosalind, soon after. Rosalind promptly seeks after her father dressed as a man, creating amusing predicaments when she bumps into Orlando in the forest.

Though Orlando (Paul Obi Jr.) and Rosalind (Harriet Scopes) commanded the audience’s attention with their impressive stage presence, they were somewhat overshadowed by the more minor comic characters. The light, witty dialogue was effortlessly delivered by the sprightly Emily Ayles as Celia, whose impeccable timing ensured that the audience did not miss a single joke. But the real standouts were Le Beau (Sebastian Carrington-Howell) and Touchstone (Will Moore) who without question generated the most laughs through their ingenious characterisation.  Le Beau was made deliciously camp with an all too convincing precious pout, complete with flouncy hand gestures; whilst Touchstone’s comedic value was hugely enhanced by ludicrous facial expressions and the inspiring use of a carrot.

The set was simple, yet atmospheric, with branches and lighting used to convey the sense of being in the woods to great effect, whilst letting the lively dialogue speak for itself without distraction. A few minor hitches with the lighting moistened our appetite for the big finale of Rosalind’s sleeve dramatically catching on Orlando’s collar during an embrace, preventing his exit for the leading lady’s crucial epilogue. After being helpfully plunged into darkness, a rather flustered Rosalind remerged for a very well recovered delivery to end the play.

Even the mishaps of this wonderful production only acted to enhance comedy of this classic play, brought to life through the energy of the actors. This is a fantastic show that would convert the most wary to Shakespearean comedy.

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