Summer in Australia brings sunshine, hot weather, and a multitude of public holidays. In line with this festive atmosphere, many cities around the country have a tradition of outdoor art and performance. As You Like It is The Australian Shakespeare Company's addition to this year's festival of frivolity, performing in the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.
A circus-inspired troupe of playful actors bring this classic to life in an enjoyable romp – using their talents to cheer and excite the crowd as the sun sets in the idyllic setting.
The production made great use of the space – entering and exiting through the grassy aisle between patrons, using simple lights to denote different areas of the city and the woods, and some wonderfully unusual levels and ramps on the stage that were used effectively with clever and energetic blocking. Vibrant costumes reminiscent of a big top colour the characters – they don't do a great deal to tell us more about the characters, but are a clever nod to roles within the hierarchy, with Duke Frederick wearing a ringmaster's outfit, Orlando the wrestler's singlet, and so on.
The cast, overall, are quite strong – all committing well to their slightly caricatured roles while still bringing depth and reality in them. Louisa Fitzhardinge – especially – shines as Rosalind, and is captivating and commanding on stage. She deftly navigates the complex language and understands its nuance – while being generous with the other actors and bringing an excellent energy to every scene. The musical elements of the show are also handled well by all the cast members, and audience engagement is awkwardly fun, as always.
The production has clearly been aimed at a younger audience, with parents encouraged to bring young children along. As such, a lot of the bawdier elements of the bard's tale are left with their tamer single entendre, rather than the dirtier double entendre. I feel like a number of these still could have been subtly included, and enhanced the humorous nature of the play by giving it more levels.
As You Like It in the Botanic Gardens is a wonderful night out, a playful and family-friendly take on one of Shakespeare's most accessible plays. A clever choice for a summer evening, both by the company or by the audience member – take a blanket, go into the woods, and see how you like it.