Review: ‘As You Like It’ at the Fitzwilliam Museum

Thomas Hayes 27 June 2021
Image credit: Fitzwilliam Museum

I have seen ‘As You Like It’ violated. Defiled. Desecrated. Until yesterday, the mention of this play (one of my favourite among Shakespeare’s comedies) has forever brought to mind flashbacks of what can only be described as one of the worst “professional” productions I have ever seen back in 2018. Now, thanks to the cast and crew of ‘As You Like It’, directed by Hannah Collins and co-produced with the ADC, I can thankfully say that is no longer the case.

Shakespeare’s comedy is a tale of love, disguise and pastoral escape, and this production, which continues to run until the 28th June, more than fulfilled its promise of providing some ‘modern-day respite of your own in the green world of the Forest of Arden.’ Set in the Grove Lodge Gardens next to the Fitzwilliam Museum, with Orlando’s poetry strung among the trees, the Forest was brought to the audience, and the stage jutted out from the lodge whose columns provided a striking backdrop. The stage, on the boundary between the gardens and the building, became a liminal zone between court and countryside, enhancing the thematic opposition between the two in the play. Performance space was not limited to the stage, however, as the cast, in character, would wind through garden paths at either side on their way to the raised platform, leading to very smooth scene transitions.

In a very talented cast, there were some standout performances: Iona Rogan as Touchstone the Fool was an audience favourite, who shone in her moments of physical comedy and modern reinterpretation and addition to the original script. The casting decision to double her as Jaques the melancholy fool also deserves credit. There was great chemistry between Rosalind (Bella Ridgwell) and Orlando (Theo Tompkins), and both embodied their character – Ridgwell did justice to one of Shakespeare’s great heroines, channelling her wit and intelligence, and the bountiful energy in Tompkins’ portrayal of Orlando gave the audience no choice but to love the character. Doubling as Oliver and Corin was Dominic Carrington, whose subtlety was impressive. The band were excellent, performing music composed by Jonathan Whiting and Eve Machin, with Aine McNamara standing out in her vocal solos.

An uplifting production, ‘As You Like It’ made for a great afternoon of theatre in the gardens of the Fitzwilliam – it benefited from a fully realised aesthetic vision and an extremely strong cast, and will undoubtedly continue to win over audiences as it approaches the end of its ten-day run. Tickets are still available for the ADC Theatre and Fitzwilliam Museum production of ‘As You Like It’ in Grove Lodge Gardens at https://tickets.museums.cam.ac.uk/overview/asyoulikeit, with the final performance on the 28th June.