first night

As You Like It

Felix Stevenson likes it in Castle's Fellows' Garden.
While love may indeed be madness, as the play’s winding narrative would have us believe, it can be assured there was nothing mad about the degree of affection I had for this production.  Sir Bernard Shaw argued Shakespeare’s As You Like It was a piece of “romantic nonsense” that was not worth reading, let alone watching. Therefore to start off this review by disagreeing with one of the country’s finest ever playwrights and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature would be illogical, if a little pretentious. So that is exactly what I am going to do. Shaw was wrong, and perhaps if he had sat in the Fellows’ Garden and watched CTC’s version of this great play he would retract his outrageous sentiment, write a glowing review, and contemplate watching it again. I, however, doubt it.
 
Ironically, given Shaw was a master in this area, character dynamics is the heartbeat to the play’s success, and this is where the show really excelled. CTC’s earlier productions of Tartuffe and Lettice and Lovage are perfect attestations to the manner in which Kingston-Jones manages to draw out the best in the relationships between characters. I was therefore somewhat excited when it was decided he would direct this play, and my goodness did he deliver.
 
The dynamic between Rosalind (Grace Cheatle) and Orlando (Mike Forde) was, quite simply, superb. Both appeared to have a particularly strong grasp of the language, which, in turn, allowed them to develop their characters into easily the most realised in the ensemble. The sexual frisson and, at times, amusing ignorance - particularly of Rosalind’s identity - was palpable throughout. The decision to cast Cheatle as Rosalind was a stroke of genius - not only did she mesmerise as the beautiful heroin, she also amused as Ganymede in equal measure. However, this wonderful portrayal of one of Shakespeare’s finest female roles would be nothing without the support, both narratively and figuratively, of her best friend and cousin Celia (Lucie Crawford). Crawford played her part in an admirably selfless manner, and it was this somewhat understated demeanour that helped form an endearing partnership between the two. Elsewhere, the chemistry between the performers drove the production forward in a compelling and determined manner. Joe Skelton’s performance of Touchstone was just on the right side of ebullient, and, like so may of the actors in the play, really started hitting his stride when interacting with his narrative partner, or in this case, bumbling mistress (Caitlin McEwan).
 
Understandably therefore, the characters that really struggled were those who had no one to play off. Hugh Train, at least initially, appeared to be the greatest victim in this respect. His portrayal of Oliver seemed at odds with those around him with his evil sneers bordering on a caricatured pantomime villain. However, as Oliver’s flawed characteristics are righted in the play’s narrative, so too was Train’s style of acting. By the end he was singing from the same naturalistically styled hymn sheet of those around him. Almost literally so, as music was used effectively throughout the production, giving the play an indie-folk feel that was so suitable to the al fresco setting. The music by and large came through the ever-dependable James Hyde. There is something very reassuring watching Hyde act, and this was no different. There is an air of maturity to Hyde’s performances and, not for the first time, he brought a certain anchoring to those around him.
 
If character dynamics were the heartbeat, Kingston-Jones ensured the cardiac pacemaker was set at a quick one. As soon as one scene finished, another immediately started, even at times overlapping. By doing so the production had a sense of urgency that immediately drew you into the play’s dialogue and forced you to keep up with the convoluted story.
 
 ‘As You Like It’, is, in more ways than one, unique. It is at the start of one the most exciting and ambitious tours Durham Student Theatre has ever undertaken, journeying through numerous British stately homes and finishing in the North Eastern US. It showcases some of Durham’s finest theatre talent and, above all, it will force you to disagree with the opinions of Sir Bernard Shaw - which warrants a ticket if nothing else. In a poor attempt at punnology a friend enquired on my return from the play, “As you liked it?”. I answered, “yes, I liked it very much, and you would too.”
 
Felix Stevenson
 
 

13 June 2013

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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