Theatre Reveiew: As You Like It, Regent’s Park
- Credit: © Jane Hobson
A comical modern dress production has an environmental theme that perfectly marries the play’s ideas of natural utopias with the idyllic Regent’s Park setting
AS YOU LIKE IT
REGENT’S PARK OPEN AIR THEATRE
This modern dress production of As You Like It by director Max Webster and Noah and The Whale’s front man and songwriter Charlie Fink [they produced the Old Vic’s The Lorax] has two notable strengths: an environmental concept that perfectly marries the play’s theme of natural utopias with the Regents Park setting; and a ballsy comic flair that should amuse even the most resistant to Shakespearean comedy [Malvolio’s yellow stockings anyone? No, me neither].
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Thanks to former Kneehigh designer Naomi Dawson’s inspired set, there is an earthy joyousness to proceedings. Duke Frederick’s corrupt court is bleakly evoked: cealeless rain and heaps of plastic clogging the pavements. Olivia Vinall embodies the gauche girlishness of Rosalind in court competently enough as she struggles to come to terms with her father Duke Senior’s banishment, finding comfort through her close friendship with Frederick’s daughter Celia. But it’s as Rosalind’s boyish persona that Vinall truly excels, owning the stage with a streetwise swagger as she allows Orlando - played with a perfect blend of naivety and determination by Edward Hogg - much needed wooing practice and a distraction from his conniving brother Oliver. More banishment follows with numbers piling up in the idyllic forest of Arden - wonderfully presented as a haven of sustainable hillbilly housing - where Duke Senior has established a counter-culture community of honourable shepherds.
With a roaming forest lion used as the device to reunite the warring brothers, catalyze marriages and reverse political fortunes, this was never one of Shakespeare’s strongest plots but the play contains many of his wisest lines and Webster brings out moments of philosophical insight with a deft touch. Maureen Beattie as Jaques gives the Seven Ages of Man speech a tender poignancy. The music [always up for grabs] is part rock, part hoedown but Fink also weaves in some contemporary remixes that lend a knowing bite: Beyonce’s ‘All the single Ladies,’ is sung ironically by Touchstone [a near show stealing Danny Kirrane]. Yes, this Arden [or Eden] can work gender-status miracles. When Rosalind stresses she will not plead for the audience’s praise, it’s redundant: magic has been conjured in spades.
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