Pros: Excellent promenade theatre, wonderful settings and some top-notch performances.
Cons: Not my favourite Shakespeare, and slightly long.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way nice and early: As You Like It is one of my least favourite Shakespeare plays. My problem with it is that I don’t feel that it has a particularly strong identity – it’s a sort of blend of all his other work, and compared to plays like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night or Much Ado About Nothing I don’t find it particularly funny or interesting. Of course I am specifically talking about the Shakespearian text here, not this particular production from the Iris Theatre company. My opinion on their interpretation of this rather plain Shakespeare is a very different story.
I won’t bore you with the full plot; if you don’t already know it then Wikipedia is the place to go (as it is for so many other things!). It involves banished Dukes, women dressed up as men and other women and young lovers getting confused. Naturally, it ends happily with everyone getting married. What I will say is that despite my misgivings, Iris provided me with a fresh, innovative and thoroughly engaging version of Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy.
It has been a while since I saw a really excellent promenade production, but set in the grounds of St Paul’s Church in the heart of Covent Garden, this version of As You Like It was rather spectacular example of this underused theatrical style. The settings created by director Dan Winder and designer Tess Battisti only got better as the evening went on, and the extraordinary variety added a real vibrancy to the production. Whether under a large tree or on the grass surrounding a wrestling ring, each location had been magnificently thought-out and delivered. As the evening went on and the natural light faded, I was also subject to some truly superb lighting design from Benjamin Polya, and in particular the final scene of the play was a splendid achievement from this this talented creative trio. This stylish staging was largely responsible for keeping me engaged throughout, which given my feelings towards the play itself is an achievement in itself!
The production also plays host to some excellent performances, in particular from the female cast members. Diana Kashian’s wild-eyed and utterly mad Touchstone was a particular favourite of mine, but Emily Tucker and Fiona Geddes, playing Rosalind and Celia respectively, were also extremely good. The cast is a rather talented bunch all-round though, with the production also including some singing and instrument playing which melded together with the settings to create a magical atmosphere on certain occasions.
So despite it being a production of my least favourite work from the Bard, despite the rather long running time of 2 hours 45 minutes, and despite the best efforts of the ridiculous July weather that we seem to be experiencing, I must say that was extremely impressed by the whole occasion. It is outdoor promenade theatre at its most enchanting, and if the weather had been slightly kinder to us then it would have been even better. However, sadly not even the presence in the audience of the Archbishop of Canterbury (a patron of Iris) could prevent the heavens from raining on our parade slightly on this occasion!
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Dan Winder
Booking Link: http://www.seetickets.com/Tour/IRIS-THEATRE/Calendar
Booking Until: 4th August 2012