first night

As You Like It

Tom Harper gets a welcome dose of Summer Shakespeare with HCTC's 'As You Like It'

 

As You Like It is a classic Shakespearean comedy when it comes to the joys and follies of nature and love, and tells the story of the blossoming relationships of a spectrum of characters that find themselves torn away from courtly life towards the revelry and liberty of the Forest of Arden. In light of the challenges presented by the plot’s many twists and turns, the Hill College Theatre Company must be commended for handling them clearly and maturely, such as with the deceptive and hapless flirtations between the play’s protagonists Rosalind (Naoise Murphy) and Orlando (Alex Tansey). Murphy in particular must be congratulated on her ability to balance her character’s assertive and helpless qualities, which in spite of occasionally slipping nevertheless had the audience hanging on her every word. Shakespeare’s infamous ‘All the World’s a Stage’ monologue was also expertly delivered by Joseph Kelen, and the sass and fervour of characters such as Celia (Eleanor Stephens) and Phebe (Josie Williams) added an enjoyable vibrancy to their dynamics with other characters.

 

Where the play really shone was through its use of music and dance, which brilliantly captured its pastoral undertones whilst also offering numerous opportunities for comedy, such as with the hilariously delivered lyrical speech of Duke Amiens (Maurice Samely). This said, such resources were not exploited enough, as upon taking my seat before the play’s opening I cannot help but have felt that music would have been a useful means of immersing the audience in the atmosphere that the Company was trying to create; especially when surrounded by the imposing Trevelyan buildings which were at times distracting.

 

Nevertheless, the actors themselves vivaciously brought out the comedic subtleties of the play, and particular mention must be given here to Nick Denton, whose humorous presentation of Touchstone, the eponymous fool, had the audience smiling every moment that he was on stage (his announcement of the interval, during which he recommended that the audience retire to the ‘buttery bar’, was a stroke of genius). Such energy was matched by JJ Bute, whose ability to play the contrasting characters of Adam and Duke Frederick with such enthusiasm must be commended. A minor criticism here would be that such flamboyancy often diverted the audience’s attention away from the plot’s key developments, however this was regularly averted.

 

Having said this, the play’s main fault was its pace, which was sporadic and occasionally chaotic. Although things improved as the performance progressed, leading up to a finale that was polished and enjoyable, the first few scenes felt extremely rushed, with an ultimately disappointing fight scene between Orlando and Charles the Wrestler. The Company would do well to spend more time bringing out the meaning in Shakespeare’s words, which we at points lost to the audience. Furthermore the transitions between scenes were often too slow and brought the performance to a halt: here again the use of music could have been brought out more, which should have been used during scene changes rather than after them.

 

Nevertheless, the production team must be applauded for a sterling job on the costumes and set. Although the play’s 1960s spin seemed a tad redundant, the contrasting settings of the city and the forest were a delight for the eyes (and an error involving the changing of the set was handled subtly and professionally), whilst the bright and vibrant outfits worn by the actors kept us glued to everything that was happening on stage. Rachel Smith’s apt direction was also effectively brought out by her dynamic and varied use of staging, which kept the play interesting and prevented it from being too static. On balance, the play was humorous and professionally handled, doing justice to one of Shakespeare’s more complex pieces of theatre.

14 June 2015

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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