sat 21/07/2018

As You Like It, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review - love among the bucolic hippies | reviews, news & interviews

As You Like It, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review - love among the bucolic hippies

As You Like It, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review - love among the bucolic hippies

Earnest environmental messages underpin celebratory, musically gleeful Shakespeare

Rosalind (Olivia Vinall) and Celia (Keziah Joseph) find a country home among recycled tyres Jane Hobson

It's been raining in Regent's Park. On a balmy summer evening during a prolonged dry spell – perfect for outdoor theatrics – it seems ironic to tempt fate by creating artificial downpours and thunderstorms. But this music-filled, modern-dress production of Shakespeare's 1599 gender-bending comedy opens with a version of the usurping Duke Frederick's court which is not only brutal but also careless about the environment. Even Rosalind and Celia casually toss bits of rubbish into the lake (already bobbing with plastic bottles) that fronts the bleak metal-framed stage. The miserable weather seems to be all-of-a-piece with the loveless environment.

In the forest, meanwhile, kindness reigns. The exiled Duke Senior and his company are not so much refugees from civilisation as a happy hippy colony choosing to live a better life in tune with nature, an idealistic, mixed, bucolic society rather than a male forest court. Snowfall does not cool their pleasure in their surroundings and each other and, before long, flowers are blooming and those horribly symbolic plastic bottles are strung up as loops of festive lanterns. Shakespeare always has something to say on any subject if you choose to find it, and here the notion of Permaculture, described in the programme as a design system based on patterns found in the natural world, is the inspiration for director Max Webster and designer Naomi Dawson.

Edward Hogg as Orlando in As You Like ItIt could all have been tediously virtuous, but – once established – the environmental lesson is allowed to inform but not overwhelm the play's inherent comic and romantic charms.

Olivia Vinall is a dainty, spirited Rosalind, overdoing the laddish swagger to begin with as she learns to role-play Ganymede, but soon settling joyfully into her love-game with Orlando, relishing the new sensation of control. Edward Hogg's Orlando (pictured right) begins as an angry young man, at odds with his family and everyone else, still finding out who he is. Unlike some Orlandos (and his reformed brother Oliver) he does not guess Rosalind's secret and seems to fall for her in character as Ganymede. The implication is that he is attracted to the person, regardless of gender. Celia (Keziah Joseph) is decidedly jealous of the pair, unwilling to play along, until she falls in love at first sight with Oliver (Beruce Khan). He, meanwhile, has been blinded – it is not clear why this particular brutal treatment is chosen – by the wicked Duke before being turned out to find his brother.

There have been famous all-male As You Like Its (at the National Theatre in 1967 and the history-making production by Cheek by Jowl, starring Adrian Lester, in the early 1990s) while this year's Globe season opened with a male Rosalind (played by Jack Laskey, who had previously been Orlando at the Globe) and a diminutive, female Orlando. This time, the only unusual casting is Maureen Beattie as a throaty-voiced, dreadlocked, female Jacques and Me'sha Bryan as a joyous, mellifluous Amiens. Beattie is terrific – a strong, sardonic presence, with a melancholy based not in personal affectation, but a deep sadness at the human condition.Joanne McGuinness, Danny Kirrane and Amy Booth-SteelRiotous comedy is in the safe hands of James Corden-lookalike Danny Kirrane as an earthy Touchstone. He has no truck with the refinements of rhetoric – there are some substantial cuts – but, whether battling with a pop-up tent, dragging on a spliff, reverting to pop tunes to finish a sentence or seducing Amy Booth-Steel's smiling goatherd Audrey, (both pictured above, with Joanne McGuinness as Phebe) he effortlessly draws chortles from the audience.

The awkward arrival of the marriage god, Hymen, into the happy hippydom isn't quite resolved. Amiens seems to do the wedding honours, Bryan singing, as usual, with sweetness and clarity. Music threads through the production from the first moment when the entire cast sings a version of "The rain it raineth every day" from Twelfth Night. A live band – drums, a fiddle, guitars – and a number of talented singers among the cast, along with some exuberant dancing, provide the production's celebratory texture.

Love is here not so much confusing as multifarious. In her Epilogue, this Rosalind acknowledges that men and women may love their own sex as well as each other.

This is a sunny production. Let's hope the real rain holds off and allows it to flourish.

@heathermneill

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