As You Like It

William Shakespeare
Guildford Shakespeare Company
College of Law, Guildford

Rhiannon Sommers as Rosalind and Fiona Sheehan as Celia
Matt Pinches as Touchstone with Riannon Sommers and Fiona Sheehan
Sarah Gobran as Phoebe
Adam Buchanan as Charles and Richard Knightly as Orlando

Could this be GSC’s best production yet? They seem to surpass themselves amazingly at every show.

Their aim is to make Shakespeare accessible to everyone and above all—fun—and they exceed our expectations every time. Even my daughter, with an English Literature degree under her belt, confessed to previously having a little difficulty understanding some of the passages in this play, but this company makes the meaning perfectly clear and in this case very, very funny as well. She regarded the production as ‘brilliant’, and couldn’t wait to tell her friends.

The fun begins the moment you enter the gates and head towards the seating area. Pigs peer through a gate, a squirrel disguised as a hen (or is it the other way round?) is sitting on a nest. Walk on and sheep are looking down from the terraces and sometimes offering their contribution to the proceedings, while what appears to be a gypsy camp is nestled among the trees with a large ham suspended among the multiple items of clothing strung on a line.

The production is semi-promenade and begins facing away from the manor house and towards the pigs, and here Sir Rowland de Boys’s eldest son Oliver (Joseph Richardson) meets Charles (Adam Buchanan) the wrestler and finds (painfully) just how strong and agile this man is. The thought occurs to him that here is a way to get rid of his hated younger brother and the arrangement is made to engage the two in a wrestling match, and if brother Orlando (Richard Keightley) meets his end so much the better.

Quick switch around to face the Manor House and a raised wrestling ring where Rosalind and her cousin Celia make their suffragette sympathies known (the period is 1913) before the match begins. Choreographed by fight director Philip d’Orleans, it is superbly performed, and painfully realistic, but the strutting Charles gets a shock.

Simon Nock, happy to be back with the company, has taken on three diverse roles: the ruthless, military Duke Frederick, his affable brother Duke Senior, and the country bumpkin William, thrilled with his ‘rabbit’. Even so, with all the doubling up the cast manage, there was no Sir Oliver Martext forthcoming. At his cue they looked for him expectantly at every possible entrance (and in this open air venue they are many) but then had to press a handy audience member into taking the part, which he did brilliantly. This is one of the little original quirks that the company always manages to insert and loved by the audience.

Rhiannon Sommers performs the important role of Rosalind to perfection, and there seems real girlish affection between her and Fiona Sheehan’s lighthearted Celia. Matt Pinches is a hilarious Touchstone, played as a music hall entertainer, and Sarah Gobran is attractively rural as wine making shepherdess Phoebe. The enthusiasm of this excellent cast is infectious—I just wish their energy was too.

Designer Neil Irish has taken “All the world’s a stage” to heart and spread the play over a vast area of the beautiful college grounds. Although never using microphones, every word could be heard clearly from all areas, even when fitting in a game of cricket or playing croquet. Tom Littler keeps the action rolling happily along with surprises at every turn, and Mary McAdam’s original music rolls happily along with it.

Last year’s Dream turned into The Tempest but was enjoyable even so; this play is a blissfully joyous dream and with a satisfying happy ending. I loved it.

Only on until 28 July—don’t miss it. 

Box office 01483 304384

Reviewer: Sheila Connor