Review: As You Like It

7 May 2009

Director: <!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:”Cambria Math”; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:1; mso-generic-font-family:roman; mso-font-format:other; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:0 0 0 0 0 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:””; margin:0cm; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:none; mso-layout-grid-align:none; punctuation-wrap:simple; text-autospace:none; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”,”serif”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-font-kerning:14.0pt;} .MsoChpDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; mso-default-props:yes; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} .MsoPapDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; margin-bottom:10.0pt; line-height:115%;} @page Section1 {size:612.0pt 792.0pt; margin:72.0pt 72.0pt 72.0pt 72.0pt; mso-header-margin:36.0pt; mso-footer-margin:36.0pt; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –> Matt Bulmer

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As one of Shakespeare’s sunniest comedies, ‘As You Like It’ panders to the audience’s desire to be purely and simply entertained this Easter term. Broadly eschewing the darker undertones of the piece, Bulmer’s production has a heart of fun running through it, which means that at its best, it is thoroughly entertaining, but it comes frequently undone by relying too heavily on this unconsidered frivolity.

The stall of the production is visually apparent from the set. Behind the graffiti-strewn walls of the city is a bohemian forest set which comes complete with waterfall, children’s slide, and (fantastically peculiarly) a fireman’s pole. It is playground for the lovers and a playground for the actors, which may have been utilised even more than it was by the company. The fabulous incongruity of the set was unfortunately not matched in the costuming, which ranged from the inspired, to the lifelessly disparate. The chorus, especially, were not helped by a lack of consideration and boldness in their costuming, which meant that the visual punch of the production was not as visceral as it may have been. Having said that, Touchstone’s ensemble was quite brilliant, and Jaques moped around the stage in an outfit that gave homage to the bizarre as well as the cheerless.

It was Liam Williams as Jaques who gave the show its best moments. Brilliantly cast in the role, Williams forced the material when it required forcing, but was not afraid to let Shakespeare’s words do the talking when it suited. His delivery and Bulmer’s direction of the ‘All the world’s a stage’ speech, was emotional without being sentimental, and intense without being excessive. The tone was perfect and it created a sobering bathetic contrast to the production’s otherwise heavy reliance on comedy. Mention must also go to Adam Hollingworth as a rather gross but invigorating Touchstone, and Joe Bannister, whose Corin was comfortably endearing.

Although some moments and characters were well judged, frequently the production allowed comedy to tip over into indulgence at the expense of dramatic urgency. Some scenes and characters began as amusing before their longevity rendered them tiresome, giving the impression of a production that sought to please itself before its audience. If this tendency to indulge could be reigned in, then the performance as a whole would be greatly improved. It does not lack entertainment, but it does find itself wanting greater stricture in its direction.

What must be stressed once again, however, is that when this production is at its best, it embraces and enlivens Shakespeare’s comedy, and the performances are bold and occasionally brilliant. Whilst it becomes indulgent at points, what is always clear is that the performers have a desire to entertain both themselves and the audience, preponderantly succeeding at doing both. With a little more consideration given to the composition of the production, this could have gone from an entertaining sojourn, to a memorable evening at the theatre. As it is, I’m sure you’ll like it, but not think too much of it afterwards.

3 stars