BWW Reviews: AS YOU LIKE IT, The Actor's Church, July 2012
St Paul's Church on the west side of Covent Garden piazza is known as 'The Actor's Church', apt as it sits nestled in buzzing theatreland. Iris Theatre's bold and inventive production of one of the Bard's best comedies is based in the gardens of the church... as well as the courtyard, the back steps, the church interior and even under a particularly fairytale tree. This involved frequent movement for the audience, as you're invited to 'come hither' and 'follow us' in both song and speech - this could prove a problem for older theatregoers or those less mobile, but the scenery was changed just enough to keep the action fresh and interesting. This was very welcome on a drizzly English summer evening, where the energy and exuberance of the cast kept spirits up (and cups of tea from the refreshment tent kept hands warm).
Plastic ponchos on and hopes high, the audience gathered in the courtyard for the first burst of action. Don't be discouraged by a lack of seating for this section - the audience is moved on to comfier ground very quickly. The cast pleasingly act on through umbrellas going up, audiences dawdling (and on this occasion, a gaggle of schoolchildren irritatingly filming on their smartphones) so you feel you are eavesdropping on every scene. At other moments the action feels more inclusive, with the Forest of Arden exiles handing out bread to the encircled audience as a ballad is strummed. All of the songs in the play are put to folky music by Candida Caldicot and beautifully sung by the cast, and though there could be one too many minstrel ditty, this could have been amplified by an eagerness to get out of the rain.
A fantastic cast included Joe Forte as a gym-buff Orlando - a very intense performance for such a light piece but he has an undeniably magnetic presence - John Harwood accompanying him as a touching and faithful Adam and a spirited duo of Fiona Geddes and Emily Tucker as Celia and Rosalind. Tucker in particular makes a gorgeous heroine and an impish boy when disguised. Diana Kashlan is a highlight as twitchy and crude jester Touchstone, but every member of this cast is completely committed to the enchanting production put together by Dan Winder. Sophie Anastasiou's design has hints of Tim Burton and a general Wonderland feel, but it is the staging that stands out about this production.
If the play is already a favourite, the constantly-moving action will bring the story to life afresh, and the physical action (the wrestling scene was brilliantly done, as was all the stage combat) will appeal to restless teens and children. Fingers crossed for a balmy midsummer evening for your visit, but even in the rain this production warmed the heart.
Photo credit: Hannah Barton