As You Like It
Melbourne’s next generation of acting talent shine in Shakespeare’s romantic comedy set in the transformative Forest of Arden.
I was a little confused at first when I was sent along on a sunny Sunday afternoon to the Athenaeum Theatre to see some youth Shakespeare in the middle of Comedy Festival time. So confused, in fact that I had to triple check I was headed for the right theatre. I know that multiple comedy shows can take place in a venue but was puzzled as to how Braveheart’s As You Like It would be able to move in just for the weekend & not disrupt the existing shows.
When I arrived to find a lobby full of eager audience members comprised primarily (I assumed) of mostly supportive young friends & family I knew I was in the right place. Upon reading in the program how the show was to be presented as a “studio performance” with “minimal stagecraft” I understood what I was about to witness, not a full scale Shakespeare production but a performance which focused on the skill of the actors rather than the skills of the creative production team. That being said, minimal stagecraft still involved notable set changes, with painted forest flats revealed part way through Act I, much to the surprise of the audience members who had for the most part adjusted to the very theatrical red velvet curtain at the back of the stage.
As You Like It has classic elements of Shakespeare; lovers, evil relatives, banishment, a wide eyed hero, and of course a heroine disguised as a boy. The effect of Rosalind’s decision to dress as a boy doesn’t have as much impact as with a female heavy cast many of the young female actresses found themselves donning fake beards or drawing on sideburns to play male roles. It makes you think though that back in Elizabethan times it must have gotten confusing for the audience to see a male playing a female disguised as a male!
This being said, Georgina Barley did a splendid job as Rosalind, particularly when disguised as “Ganymede”. Her sense of comic timing & the modern style delivery she bought to the old language made for a lively & enjoyable performance to watch. On the other end of the scale Elisha Dedman as Jaques was so delightfully deadpan and melancholy, that even though she came across as the Shakespearean equivalent of Eeyore, she still managed to captivate the audience each time she appeared on stage. I also found her to be the strongest, most believable female performer who had undertaken a male role & was very impressed with her skills, even in the slightly out of left field even more depressing than usual rendition of Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know.
Yes, you can’t even escape that song in the middle of a Shakespeare play these days. There were three modern song & dance numbers (one with a reprise) which popped up unexpectedly in the play, obviously as a way to showcase another style of performance which the cast had been working on with Choreographer Sue Ellen and Musical Director Kevin Hopkins. The pre-recorded music which accompanied the scene changes for much of the first act was rather jarring & seems ill fitting on most occasions, as one audience member was heard to remark “its like we’re in a nightclub or something, its not quite right”, however the live music provided by Kevin Hopkins which accompanied the scene changes later in the show were wonderful and helped set the right mood. Another seemingly random addition to the show, which I assume was once more another way to allow the cast to explore different acting techniques, was the human flock of sheep whose facial expressions were definite scene stealers. Another easily labelled as a scene stealer was Oliver Christie as shepherd Silvius who had such frenetic energy & portrayed unrequited love so optimistically, he was tough to ignore.
Jacques says in his Act II monologue “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances,” and in this particular performance the players utilised their exits & entrances well as they appeared on balconies, from doors side of stage, and through the audience, constantly surprising the audience.
Overall the cast worked well as an ensemble and tried to let every cast member have a moment in the spotlight, although for those who shone a little brighter than others it will be interesting to see how their talents continue to develop.