BWW Review: AS YOU LIKE IT, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Reunited following successful runs of The Lorax, the director-composer team of Max Webster and Charlie Fink bring a new version of the Shakespeare classic to the picturesque (and rather appropriate) setting of Regent's Park Open Air Theatre.
This well-loved comedy is in demand right now, with it being this year's Shakespeare in the Squares play of choice, and a production also making up part of Michelle Terry's inaugural season at Shakespeare's Globe - coincidentally, the last Shakespeare play performed at this theatre saw Terry starring in Henry V. This particular piece is ideal seasonal fare, however, with love, laughter and hijinks overflowing in the Forest of Arden.
There is unease in the land, as Duke Senior has been usurped by his brother Frederick and has resorted to living in the Forest of Arden. His daughter Rosalind has been allowed to stay at court due to her close relationship with Celia, Frederick's only child - however, all this is about to change.
When Rosalind is also banished from court, Celia decides to run away with her; they decide it would be wise to go in disguise, so Celia becomes Aliena and Rosalind poses as her brother Ganymede. Orlando de Boys has been driven into Arden as well, escaping torment from his older brother Oliver, though before this he and Rosalind fell in love at first sight.
We begin in a world that seems all too familiar: grey and drab, singularly horrible weather, and litter everywhere you look. Even the waterways are overrun with plastic waste!
This choice from Naomi Dawson means the change to the Forest of Arden is all the more meaningful and welcoming - rubbish gets reused instead of thrown away (there are some gorgeous lights made out of old bottles of various colours), and as the characters spend more time there, the more homey this utopia becomes. The environmental point isn't laboured, instead it's a nice way to contextualise this modern-day production.
This particular play is ripe for the actor-musician treatment, as it has many songs in the original text. However, the accompanying music is up for grabs, and is in perfect hands with Charlie Fink on composing duties; most of the songs have a folksy feel, or even a bit of a country tinge, though it does begin with a rock rendition of "The Wind and the Rain" (stolen from Twelfth Night, to tie in with the context). In sound, as well as sight, is this production well conceptualised.
Danny Kirrane and Amy Booth-Steel come close to stealing the show with their bawdy coupling as Touchstone and Audrey - Kirrane particularly knows how to work the crowd, living up to his role as the clown of the piece. Maureen Beattie is excellent as a dour, Scottish Jaques; her delivery of the "Seven Ages of Man" speech is understated yet dramatic, casting new light on the melancholy character.
Edward Hogg stars as a different Shakespearean lover this year, taking on the central male role of Orlando. Hogg imbues him with wit and boyish charm, with some fun little asides for the audience that highlight his instinct for comedy.
Opposite him is Olivia Vinall as Rosalind (or is it Rosaland?), whose masquerade as Ganymede sees her exaggerating laddish traits that presumably Rosalind has picked up during her time at court. It's unexpectedly goofy, and shows Vinall isn't taking herself too seriously in this slightly bizarre section of the play.
Despite the initial inclement weather onstage, this is the perfect summer show that will tickle your funny bone and have you humming the tunes all the way home. Bringing the Forest of Arden to one of London's most beautiful green spaces is a stroke of genius that results in a wonderful experience for all.
Picture credit: Jane Hobson