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Review: As You Like It at Williamstown Botanical Gardens 

Review by Mish Graham


In the midst of the serene Williamstown Botanical Gardens, Shakespeare's classic comedy "As You Like It" unfolds in a production by OzAct, weaving laughter, romance, and whimsy under the open sky. As the audience settles amidst the beauty of nature, they are greeted by the warmth of the setting sun and the gentle rustle of leaves, setting the stage for an enchanting theatrical experience.

Directed by Matt Young & Bruce Widdop of OzAct, the production captures the essence of Shakespeare's wit and charm, delivering a performance that is both captivating and immersive. With approximately 100 attendees gathered in the intimate outdoor venue, there's a sense of camaraderie as the actors invite the audience into the world of the play.

From the outset, it's evident that the cast possesses a remarkable grasp of comedic timing, effortlessly delivering Shakespeare's witty dialogue with panache. Sorcha Breen and Justin Bell, in particular, shine in their respective roles, bringing depth and charisma to their characters. Breen's portrayal of Rosalind is captivating, exuding both intelligence and vulnerability, while Bell's portrayal of the Touchstone serves wit, intelligence, and cynicism making him a memorable and complex character while providing comic relief.  

One of the production's strengths lies in its playful and interactive nature. The actors frequently engage with the audience, blurring the lines between performer and spectator. This interaction adds an element of spontaneity to the performance, creating moments of genuine laughter and connection.

However, while the beauty of the Botanical Gardens provides a picturesque backdrop for the production, there is a missed opportunity in fully integrating the space into the performance. This could possibly be a symptom of having to move the show to various locations throughout Victoria. In this instance it seemed to prevent the actors from fully embracing their surroundings.

Moreover, while the natural soundscape of the garden adds to the ambiance of the performance, I couldn't help but feel that there was a lack of integration of these elements into the production. Rather than simply ignoring the sounds of loud birds and airplanes overhead, I longed for these interruptions to be incorporated into the performance, perhaps as comedic moments or running jokes shared between the actors and the audience.

Another aspect of the production that deserves commendation is the decision to maintain a classic wardrobe style, steering clear of trendy themes in favour of authenticity. This choice allows the focus to remain squarely on the timeless themes and characters of the play, rather than on fleeting fashion trends.

In conclusion, OzAct's production of "As You Like It" offers a delightful frolic through Shakespeare's forest, filled with laughter, romance, and enchantment. Against the backdrop of the Williamstown Botanical Gardens, the cast delivers a performance that is both engaging and immersive, with standout performances from Sorcha Breen and Justin Bell. While there are missed opportunities in fully integrating the space and soundscape into the production, the overall experience is a testament to the enduring appeal of Shakespeare's comedy and those who work hard to passionately bring it to life. 

Image Supplied


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