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As You Like It, Tobacco Factory, Bristol | reviews, news & interviews

As You Like It, Tobacco Factory, Bristol

As You Like It, Tobacco Factory, Bristol

Dark and unsettling version of Shakespeare comedy

Rosalind (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) and Orlando (Jack Wharrier)Mark Douet

Andrew Hilton, the creative force that drives the consistently excellent Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, might be playing safe by returning to a play he put originally put on in 2003.  But “As You Like It”, for all its light touches, is a challenging proposition: both in terms of the way the author treats complex relationships between play-acting and authenticity, true and projected love, goodness and evil, but also because the many-threaded story doesn’t unfold with quite the same e

legance as in some of the other comedies.

This is a play in which structure is a little too apparent and the development of the interconnected stories feels forced rather than natural.  The great undoing of illusions and paranoias which takes place in the second half, shot through with meditations on the nature of time and our assumed personae on the stage that is the world, lacks drama, in spite of some great set-pieces.  This is a weakness in the text, which any amount of directorial invention can’t fully eliminate.

As ever with Andrew Hilton’s vigorous and intelligent productions, there is much quality acting, an inventive use of the four–sided auditorium and a devotion to delivering the text with maximum clarity.  The contrast between urban civility and treachery on the one hand, and the presumed innocence of forest and pasture on the other, are clearly evoked – not least in Chris Bianchi’s skilled morphing from Machiavellian Duke Frederick to wise and good Duke Senior. The dichotomy is also reflected in the costumes, uptight and self-regarding for the city-dwellers and a kind of Glastonbury boho chic (complete with wellies) for the shepherds and other forest folk.

Vic Llewellyn as TouchstoneThis is very much Rosalind’s play: she holds the strings, which she twists, pulls, knots, then finally unties in the play’s inevitably contrived dénouement.  Dorothea Myer-Bennett has formidable energy and presence. She inhabits the emotional complexities and ups-and-downs with impressive skill. She is often very funny and makes a delightful double-act with her bosom-friend and foil Celia – very capably handled by Daisy May. If anything, there is a relentlessness and excess about this Rosalind, which not only risks overshadowing the other characters but comes close to being a little too predictable and exhausting as the play moves towards its happy-end conclusion.

Much of the play’s sparkle comes from the verbal deconstructions of the two paragons of world-play, the fool Touchstone and melancholy Jacques. The former is played with touching vulnerability, remarkable physical grace and bags of humour by Vic Llewellyn (pictured) . Paul Currier is a strong presence as the latter, although his camp mannerisms are a little OTT.  These two masters of spin delight in a mixture of the wise and the absurd.

What is perhaps most unsettling about “As You Like It” is the play’s fundamental melancholy: Shakespeare makes us laugh but, in a sublimely sophisticated way, also exposes the emptiness of words, the deception of appearances and the frailty of human existence.  This production is a good deal darker than Hilton’s more extrovert and ebullient version of 11 years ago. This is perhaps most tangible at the play’s close, when the celebratory dance just doesn’t deliver the unequivocal buzz that his shows usually achieve with such verve. 

The high point of emotion in this production comes early on, as Rosalind and Orlando fall in love at first sight, following the dramatic violence of the young hero’s victory over the brawny court wrestler Charles. After that thrilling moment, we gradually plunge ever deeper into the realm of abstraction never again quite touching the feeling depth achived early on.  This process creates a distance that all the playing in the world cannot quite overcome.

  • As You Like It at the Tobacco Factory until 2 May
What is perhaps most unsettling about “As You Like It” is the play’s fundamental melancholy


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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