As You Like It
William Shakespeare, adapted by Yolanda Mercy
Watermill Theatre, Newbury
It was delightful to return to The Watermill for their summer outdoor season in the beautiful gardens and what better production than the pastoral Shakespeare’s play As You Like It adapted by Yolanda Mercy.
Katie Lias’s industrial set littered with oil drums, rustic door frames and windows, wooden ladders and general detritus constructed from recyclable sustainable materials reflects the chaos and turmoil existing in the court of the Duke Frederick played by Omar Baroud.
He has usurped his brother Duke Senior (Jamie Satterthwaite) who has fled to the Forest of Arden to live in exile. Trouble abounds between brothers, as Orlando (Ned Rudkins-Stow) has been deprived of his rightful fortune by his older brother Oliver (Yazdan Qafouri).
Katherine Jack is impressive as Rosalind, the heroine of the piece who flees from the Duke’s mistrust of her to the forest with Orlando. She has fallen in love him, much to the bewilderment of her cousin Celia (Chanelle Modi) who accompanies her. Tom Sowinski plays Orlando’s loyal servant Adam and the old shepherd Corin with conviction.
Rosalind has disguised herself as a boy, so things get very complicated on the romantic front. Accompanying her is Touchstone, a spirited performance by Emma Barclay who provides much of the comedy fun. Her many multi-coloured costumes are true panto.
The actor-musician style, which has become a trademark of Watermill’s productions, continues with some modern folksy music featuring a song list that includes Mumford and Sons and The Beach Boys amongst many others. There is a lovely touch when the audience join in singing “Sweet Rosalind” to the tune of “Sweet Caroline.”
Emma Manton as Jaques delivers one of the most famous of Shakespearean speeches, “all the world's a stage” and is a powerful observer of the unfolding actions. There is strong support from Ami Okumura Jones, who enthusiastically plays numerous parts as well as a ‘mean’ ukulele.
All the confusion and tumult is resolved in a happy ending with multiple weddings. But the party strongly brings home a 2021 message with the cast displaying placards supporting social issues such a climate changes, LGBTQA+ rights and racial and gender equality.
Katherine Jack persuasively delivers the epilogue and to the sound of The War and Treaty’s “Set My Soul On Fire” and the versatile cast explode on stage in a joyful celebration.
Paul Hart directs with a freshness and playful confidence making full use of the Watermill’s garden in this highly enjoyable production that embraces the urgency to protect our planet.
Reviewer: Robin Strapp