Friday, 13 July 2018

REVIEW: As You Like It at Regent’s Park, Open Air Theatre

We used to go on the internet to connect with the real world. Now, we turn off all our devices to be able to finally connect with it. The forest of Arden seems to be this place where everything is turned off, and we can connect to nature and the people we come across, really listen and not resort to violence but choose communication and love. In the times we are in, this Forest could not seem timelier. And what a better place than Regent’s Park Open Air theatre, with its Roman architecture and enchanting gardens and lights, to help us reconnect with our senses?

“As you like it” is the comedy by William Shakespeare that keeps restating the endless existence and importance of love. Sometimes it hurts, other times it keeps you alive. After being banished from the Court, Rosalind and her dear friend Celia flee to the Forest of Arden, Rosalind dressing as man to protect herself. Orlando, who has fallen in love with Rosalind at first sight after an earlier wrestling match, also escapes the Court in his lovesickness. The lovers’ paths will cross, but Rosalind, now Ganymede, will not reveal who she really is until she feels she can do this safely. In the forest, games of seduction, battles of wit and musical cheerfulness by its many colourful characters warm us with increasing humanity. 

This philosophical and witty play is carried by top performances by Olivia Vinall firstly as Rosalind. Her strong voice and commanding physical work when she cross dresses is enchanting and fills up the space. Keziah Joseph as Celia is also playful and a true companion to Rosalind. Seeing the two of them together, teasing and helping each other, is fun to watch. 

Danny Kirrane as Touchstone is the comic heart of this play, enchanting the audience with his confidence, especially in his seduction of Audrey. My opinion is that one does not need to ad-lib around Shakespeare. Kirrane does, and hums and sings pop songs of today, which took me away from the linguistic fantasy world that I enter whenever I see a piece from the Bard. Thankfully, this did not happen that much.

Finally, it is a joy to watch Me’sha Bryan as Amiens sing between scenes, bringing a warmth to the forest, even during cold seasons.

Speaking of cold seasons, the design by Naomi Dawson, from its snowy winter
(with what feels like real snow coming out of the set’s ceiling) to its solar panels and recycled bottles creating light around the wood, are beautifully detailed. To me, what makes this production accessible, contemporary and fresh are the costumes: we meet Oliver, Orlando and Charles the Wrestler in Act I in contemporary dress, channelling our fast-food culture and this helps immediately with strong visual identities. In addition, no word from Shakespeare’s verse is lost, thanks to director Max Webster and associate director Barbara Houseman’s precise thought process which always feels impulsive and down to earth. 

The front of the stage is surrounded by water (people in the first row, you may get splashed!) that contains disposed food wrappers and other litter. I noticed that all this litter was what one would call “recyclable”. It made me think about the journey that the recyclable waste takes from our homes, where we think we are sorting our trash conscientiously, to the outside world – and possibly our waters. 

This show definitely wants to remind us of the beauty of our planet, to give love and forgiveness to it and to people around us. At the end of the play, Duke Senior, who has been exiled in the wood, learns that he has gained his land back and is welcome back at court. Everyone celebrates, but one wonders: do we even want to go back to that court? Will the misdeeds that happened there be completely rectified? Can we trust each other not to corrupt the Court again? 

As you like it is about happiness and survival. It is a perfect treat for this summer, with a quiet outdoor location in the heart of London that cannot disappoint. It is a great way to revisit this classic comedy.

Review by Sophie Tergeist

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: D12 | Price of Ticket: £55
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