Note this is one of two reviews for the same show due to a double booking error!
In normal times, there could be few things more traditional than a production of As You Like It, Shakespeare’s most pastoral of comedies. Here, it was performed under leafy tree boughs in a Gothic revivalist courtyard too.
These are, of course, not normal times and, as a result, this New Normal Festival performance in Wandsworth’s Royal Victoria Patriotic Building felt braver and more radical than it perhaps ought to. I am, however, delighted to report the show’s wonderful cast cocked a snook at all that, and coronavirus and our government’s lamentable support for the arts while they were at it.
This As You Like It, performed on two separate evenings (this review is for the first show evening, 24 August) with slightly different casts, formed the London School of Music BA acting courses’ showcase. It was postponed from earlier this summer but, gosh, proved to be well worth the wait. Whether it was a full-bloodied Audrey (a superb Louise Conway who also acted as musical director) gnawing a carrot suggestively or her unrequited lover William (a brightly comic Olivier Van de Braak) getting his rustic heart broken, every moment of every performance was highly enjoyable. Inexperienced? Nervous? Not this lot.
Rosalind is, of course, the star turn. She is by all accounts Shakespeare’s biggest and best female role. Rosie Malone rose to the challenge and gave a compelling witty performance bursting with skill and confidence. She was matched by her cousin Celia, a spirited and equally impressive performance from Kimberly Morina. As love interest Orlando, Dominic Hyam brought a bit of swagger to the role. Part poet, part Indie rocker.
Music was, in fact, one of the keys to the show’s success. Actors seamlessly became musicians and sang beautifully when the mood took them. The costumes, all Converse and tight jeans, put us in Glastonbury, Bestival or even back at Woodstock. This was a show by, and for, the cool kids.
Continuing the theme, our fool Touchstone’s 400-year-old schtick felt like the patter of a contemporary comic thanks to Craig King’s warmth and comfort with the text. The quarrelling between Phoebe (Norleen Tabana Ndlovu) and Silvius (Reece J Morant) felt fresh and both actors fizzed with energy. Benjamin Gold gave a more sedate, but no less engaging performance as Orlando’s elderly man-servant Adam. Miles Griffin, as Jaques, also deserves recognition. He delivered the well-worn ‘seven ages of man’ speech anew and his arch, knowing characterisation was one of the night’s best choices.
If, on the slight downside, the play takes a little time to get going plot-wise and the politics of Court drag somewhat in comparison with the shenanigans in the Forest of Arden, the fault lies with nobody but the long-dead author. Director Rachel Heyburn, assisted by associate director Thomas Chrichton, is clearly a talent. Her staging was not overly complex. The big old tree conveniently centre stage dictated much of the action. Why fight it though? Only at the very last, when everyone was busy getting married, did things feel constrained and sightlines become an issue. By that point though, we were so charmed, it mattered little.
The New Normal Festival team deserve a huge amount of credit for providing an August programme of socially distanced events. It is thanks to them this young As You Like It cast was able to give audiences the most precious of gifts in the current climate – hope for theatre’s future. Everyone involved deserves huge success.
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Rachel Heyburn
Produced by: The New Normal Festival
Booking Until: Event now complete