Pros: Energetic and very funny, excellent pacing and staging.
Cons: Sultry hot in the auditorium. Bring a fan.
The Cockpit’s ambitious summer venture involves a company of 20 actors performing a different Shakespeare play each month for one night only, with As You Like It being the penultimate in the series. The Merely Shakespeare Company is the Bard division of the Merely Players, a repertory company focused on presenting the text and nothing but the text.
Well not nothing, of course, otherwise they might as well just hand out copies of the script and go home. But there are no sets, no costumes and no props. Personally I rather feel that a decision not to costume is equivalent to presenting a show in contemporary costumes. I mean they’re not the Naked Shakespeare Company (which I have just looked up and which is totally a thing. Granted it’s a thing that’s in Connecticut and I’m pretty sure they don’t actually perform naked. If they do, I’m glad they’re on the other side of the ocean). But let’s not quibble about such trivia because this show is terrific.
Dashing young Orlando is frustrated by his elder brother Oliver’s ill treatment and he runs away to the court of Duke Frederic to prove his manly worth by wrestling a bear of a man called Charles. Duke Frederic has exiled his elder brother, Duke Senior, to the forest of Arden and doesn’t exactly take a shine to young Orlando either. Frederic is such a grumpy duke that he banishes his niece Rosalind also just for thinking Orlando is kind of cute, and his own daughter Celia and the court jester Touchstone decide to tag along. So suddenly everyone’s disguised as a shepherd in the forest of Arden, and Rosalind is pretending to be a man. I told you it was silly.
The ensemble cast keeps up a frenetic pace of rip-roaringly high energy throughout. They’re tremendous fun together. Ffion Jones’s Rosalind and Emmy Rose’s Celia are the archetype of girlish glee when discussing their love interests. Moments between Ffion Jones and Ben Chamberlain show Rosalind and Orlando endearingly, clumsily in love. They’re a joy to watch together, especially in counterpoint to Charlotte Donachie’s scornful Phoebe and her loyally unrequited Silvias (David Frias-Robles). Stephen Leask’s showboating musical interludes as Duke Senior have the audience in stitches. Lia Burge’s acerbic Jacques tempered the slapstick with some much-needed dry humour. Scott Ellis’s endearing turn as Orlando’s ageing servant Adam early in the play makes his return as an enthusiastically besotted William later on especially funny.
A real strength of this production is Sam Carrack’s direction. The staging involves the audience without overwhelming them and Carrack makes great use of the theatre-in-the-round, particularly in the wrestling scene. With snappy dialogue and quick scene changes throughout the audience is kept on its toes and there’s barely time to show appreciation for one especially funny scene or song before the next fun thing comes bowling onto the stage.
In sum, As You Like It is a true delight with a fantastic array of talent making best use of a great venue. Not to be missed.
Produced by: The Merely Players
Director: Sam Carrack
Booking Until: 10 Aug 2014
Booking Link: http://www.thecockpit.org.uk/show/merely_shakespeare_summer_season
Booking Phone: 020 7258 2925