Review by Yasmin Elahi
This month, Queensland Theatre has been transported back to the 1600s as they welcome Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’. This pastoral comedy by renowned wordsmith William Shakespeare tells the tale of love, hate and disguise and includes some of his most famous adages.
Director Damien Ryan successfully blended this period piece with modern elements to create a show that was both visually captivating and dynamic. Embracing the farce genre of the play, audiences had to suspend their belief as reality made way for the absurd. This enabled the play, which runs for almost three hours, to remain fresh and captivating. The set change in the first act was the standout moment of the show – truly unique and mesmorising. Ryan continued to take risks and push the creative boundaries, which is what the audience expect from a reimaging of such a well-known and performed work. The goats were another standout moment that the audience certainly were not expecting. Quirky and hilarious, that scene will be talked about for a long time.
Set Design by Emma White, who also designed costumes, was unique. The monumental hand-painted tapestry that hung as a backdrop for the beginning of the show was 12 metres tall and brought the regality to the Royal Court. The conception of the forest was verging on the absurd yet still blended harmoniously with the story and ancient prose of the play. The use of scatter trees and rocks, which were incorporated into the blocking was clever, as was the small flowers that had grown on the set during intermission to symbolise spring.
Original music was composed for the show by Alec Steedman. Performed live on stage by the cast and musicians, the songs were imbued with medieval flavour and added an eerie, almost nostalgic vibe to the show. Incorporating music was a fantastic way to break up the very wordy play and show off the multi-talented cast. The high-pitched sustained note, which became a motif throughout the show, fully immersed the audience in the soundscape and heralded and changing of events within the play. Steedman himself took to the stage and excelled both vocally and with his instruments. Easily, the most enjoyable moments of the show.
Andrew Buchanan played Jacques. His delivery of the ‘All the world’s a stage’ monologue was a standout moment of the show. Buchanan embodied each of the seven ages of man of which he spoke, both physically and with his voice. There were no bells and whistles, no fancy lighting, just an accomplished actor delivering a meaningful speech that cuts across 400 years of history and resonates with people today just as strongly as it did when it was written. Buchanan handled the monologue with respect, authority and professionalism and truly did justice to the powerful piece.
Emma Wright played Rosalind with heart. Her manner and grace throughout the show was fitting of a Shakespearean work. She delivered her lines with feeling and intention and instantly had the audience on her side.
Hannah Raven played Touchstone with wonderful comedic timing. Her rapport with the other characters, as well as the audience brought interaction and immersion to the piece. Her strip tease in act one was very funny and very brave. And yet, she could encompass the serious side of the character when required. Her past experience in immersive theatre served Raven well in this role.
The actors all, individually and as an ensemble, worked cohesively. The show was very tight and professional. Each actor had a command of their lines with no stumbles or mistakes. Given the length of the play and complexity of the prose, that is an achievement in itself. Tackling Shakespeare is hard and each actor should be proud of their performance. The only negative, and unfortunately quite an important one, was that most of the other actors spoke exceedingly fast and the prose was lost. Shakespeare’s words are like pieces of art and it is important that the audience can actually understand what is being said. The fight scenes were very well-choreographed and realistic. NJ Price as fight and intimacy director did a wonderful job at ensuring this. Choreography by Dan Venz was fitting of the era, wildly dynamic and fun.
Overall, Damien Ryan’s ‘As You Like It’ was dynamic, fresh and fun. He managed to blend both the old and the new world in a play with a message that resonates over 400 years after it was first written.
Image Credit: Brett Boardman