BWW Review: AS YOU LIKE IT, Queen's Theatre Hornchurch
After the success of an en masse production of Pericles last year, The National Theatre has collaborated with the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch to bring together a colourful and joyous large-scale musical version of Shakespeare's As You Like It as part of their Public Acts scheme.
The comedic tale of love and deception, primarily set in the Forest of Arden, was adapted by Shaina Taub and Laura Woolery for the New York Public Theatre's Public Works scheme. It now makes its European premiere at the Queen's Theatre.
The cast comprises of a handful of professional actors and over a hundred individuals from several East London community groups from the likes of Hornchurch, Dagenham and Bow amongst others. A glorious fusion of ethnicities, religions, abilities and generations pack the auditorium stage.
Beth Hinton-Lever is superb as the stubborn and cheeky Jaques, who opens the show with Shakespeare's famous musing "All the world's a stage...". She is suitably worked up about the treatment of animals and the ways of society - portrayed in a manner reminiscent of climate activists that causes a chuckle to roll around the audience. Shakespeare certainly was ahead of his time.
Rohan Reckord exudes warmth as the ostracised Duke Senior who has found a new home in the forest. Local performer Curtis Young is villainous as his brother, Duke Frederick, always accompanied by his royal minions with a suitably menacing catchy theme tune.
Linford Johnson is endearingly lovelorn as Orlando, and Ebony Jonelle gives a wonderful performance as Rosalind, his lover in disguise. Her cousin, Celie (Marjorie Agwang) and their travelling companion Touchstone (Vedi Roy) give the standout comedy performances of the evening.
There are many other notable parts played the volunteer cast that would turn this review into quite the lengthy piece. Everyone brought their all to the roles they played, whether they were speaking or moving on the stage.
Direction from Douglas Rintoul ensures everyone is involved as does the movement by Sundeep Saini. Lighting design by Paul Anderson transports the audience from the greenest forest to the centre of a high-intensity wrestling match.
Set and costume design by Hayley Grindle is an explosion of colour and culture on stage. Hanging ribbons give suitable impressions for the dense trees of the forests, and the use of the same ribbons in the handfasting ceremonies at the end of the show is a nice touch.
Taub's music is suitably accessible for the massed choir of singers from all walks of life, if occasionally predictable on the lyrical side. Parody sequences of boy band-esque ballads have the audience in stitches. It's nice to see the band on stage briefly, and I can only imagine the mammoth effort involved in the musical direction of this project, by Yshani Perinpanayagam.
The inclusion of the local dhol academy drummers in the cast's penultimate scene creates an infectious party atmosphere. As You Like It shows just how well inclusive theatre can be done. It is a testament to the hard work of those working to bring communities together both on-stage and off.
Photo credit: Camilla Greenwell