Beset by bother, traumatic tour plans and Covid and now with a player down, Northern Broadsides take to the stage at Wilton’s Music Hall a bit battered by fate. However, they are quickly into their stride for this fabulous production of As You Like It, buzzing with flamboyant energy and offering a superlative delivery.
Director Laurie Sansom takes Shakespeare’s story of city folks banished to a pastoral life in the woods and brings it bang up to date. Ideas of identity and appearance are suggested by the clothing hanging over the stage. Dresses and suits – some zipped into covers, others just out there – represent themes of diversity prominent in our contemporary conversation. The original tale, with its gender swaps and convoluted love stories, is then given a colourful non-binary twist, making it beautifully relevant and vivaciously comic!
As Rosalind, EM Williams achieves a truly stunning performance that is deliciously textured. Full of energy and focus, they stride through emotions from comedy to pathos. It’s a physically challenging part in many senses, not only swapping between both male and female characters, but climbing poles, singing and dancing: they delightfully embody the joy of the quirky gender crossover to the full.
However, it’s a very close call for them not to be upstaged by the outstanding Joe Morrow playing Touchstone, who brings a whole extra level of excitement to the production. Absolutely smashing the fourth wall in a performance that verges on cabaret, he has the audience in stitches. With his drag queen styling and cheeky chat, he creates a transitional, interactional space between the actors and audience that beautifully complements the play. Yet he is also commendably capable of slipping cleanly into the background when required.
One role that was a little too much in the background was Adam Kashmiry’s lovely Jaques. As an opposite extreme to such an extraordinary Touchstone, this melancholic moaner – a key character – would benefit from being a touch more panto to match, and embracing the spotlight when addressing the audience, to allow us to fully enjoy his words. The role ended up getting somewhat lost, such that the ‘All the world’s a stage’ speech, which encapsulates the play’s theme of people performing identities, lost impact.
EM Parry’s design work is simply amazing! Continuing the clothes theme, hatstands become the wood, which allows enormous flexibility in use of the space. Indeed, the dynamic cast are all over the venue, with a character at one point running right round the audience. There’s a lovely rainbow maypole dance that symbolically interweaves all the diverse characters and also nods back to Old England. And the costumes are utterly fabulous; really inventive and quirky. I loved Phoebe’s (Gemma Dobson) pac-a-mac bustle, and the goats – including sheepskin slipper hooves – were just hilarious.
There’s some amazing music, specifically from Jo Patmore whose singing and guitar playing is spellbinding and gave me goosebumps. The additional incidental music is also quirky and fun, and I would have liked to have heard a bit more of that, particularly toward the end when the marriages occur.
This is a totally fun, vibrant production that really speaks lovingly to contemporary conversations about identity, gender fluidity and care for one another. It’s a hilarious, crafted show, performed by an enthusiastic cast that are clearly passionate about the production. It’s a reet good night out!
Directed by: Laurie Sansom
Design by: EM Parry
Composed by: Robert Bentall
Sound Design by: James Earls-Davis
Lighting Design by: Kieron Johnson
Produced by: Northern Broadsides
As You Like It plays at WIlton’s Music Hall until 14 May. then continues on a national tour throughout June. For full dates and further information see the company’s website here.