The Howard Theatre is a hidden gem, tucked away in the back of Downing College. Decked out in a gorgeous set, the intimate but ornate venue was the ideal location for the Downing Dramatic Society's adaptation of Shakespeare’s ultimate rom-com, As You Like It to life. Bottles and jars with messages and flowers hung from the branches of Charlie Clark and Alice Attlee's intricately constructed tree canopy, accompanied by autumn leaves and a backdrop of orange and pink hues, upon which the shadows of the branches softly fell.
Under this tree, a slightly nervy start was soon forgotten as the cast settled down into their visibly enjoyable roles. Particularly pleasing was the natural intonation brought to the often clunky Shakespearean iambic pentameter, particularly by Lola May-Seaton as Rosalind and Jake Morris as Orlando, whose lively portrayals made their romance appear authentic and allowed the fantastic comedy of the script to capture the audience. Laugh-out-loud scenes were rife -the slo-mo fight scene springing immediately to mind, while a stand out individual performance came in the brilliantly performed speech by Orlando trying to coax Adam (Isaac Jordan) back to life. Special mentions must also go to Hannah Machover as Touchstone and Jacques, who was excellent on all accounts and dealt with the “all the world’s a stage” monologue with flair, as well as the natural performance from Daisy Jones as Celia.
There is little to criticise in what was overall a very thoughtful production. Movement around the stage was generally good, although the many exits and entrances could perhaps have run smoother at times. The courtly costumes were confusingly modern, but the pastoral costumes seemed better put together. There was a range of accomplishment in the foreign accent department, from a fairly convincing French number to a country twang that was seemingly forgotten every other line (the product of playing a dual role, perhaps).
A lovely surprise came in the frequent musical interludes, courtesy of composer Daniel Duffy, which were nothing short of enchanting, and sung by the talented Emily Collinson. Whilst excellent in themselves, the songs and outros worked well to link scenes, without distracting from the plot.
Overall, this is a thoroughly impressive production which brought out all the humour of this timeless play.