As You Like It

William Shakespeare
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Max Webster’s As You Like It, is funny, clear and accessible. There is even an initial suggestion that the play might have something to say about environmentalism, but that is soon discarded for the comedy.

Even before the play starts, a clipboard-wielding company member warns us the show might have to be paused when Trump’s helicopter lands at the nearby American Ambassador’s residence, a warning that generated a lot of boos.

Naomi Dawson's set consists of rusted metal beams and uprights with a backdrop of grey metallic strips. Surveillance cameras monitor the area. A pool of water contaminated with empty cans and plastic bags skirt the edge of the stage. To each side is a pile of rubbish. A group of characters first entering the stage chuck their empty containers into the water.

Orlando, given a strong, serious performance by Edward Hogg, has been reduced to the role of cleaner in his brother Oliver’s (Beruce Khan) corporate world.

Winning a wrestling match, he is seen by Duke Frederick (Simon Armstrong) as a potential threat and is exiled to the Forest of Arden.

Frederick soon adds to the exile list Rosalind (Olivia Vinall) who seems very comfortable chopping off most of her hair and giving an exaggerated laddish performance in the guise of the male Ganymede.

She and her friend Celia (Keziah Joseph) take with them into exile the court’s funny man Touchstone (Danny Kirrane) who in this production is transformed into the beer-drinking, Jack the Lad who, if he didn’t spend so much time trying to bed Audrey (Amy Booth-Steel), could have had a career as a stand-up comedian.

In the woods, they meet romance and the community of the exiled Duke Senior (Simon Armstrong) whose followers mostly wear cowboy hats.

The production is sensitive in its cuts and not too cavalier with its insertions, though audiences will puzzle over the cruel blinding of Oliver.

Apart from that jarring addition to Shakespeare, this is a comfortable piece of summer entertainment.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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