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BWW Review: AS YOU LIKE IT, Rose and Crown, Ealing


Open Bar Theatre Company invite us into the garden for a drink and a rip-roaring version of Shakespeare's comedy of lovers' games in cosplay.

BWW Review: AS YOU LIKE IT, Rose and Crown, Ealing

BWW Review: AS YOU LIKE IT, Rose and Crown, Ealing The programme says, "Fuller's Shakespeare in the Garden, Open Bar presents As You Like It." And it's all true. There's an open bar that serves Fullers, there's a large garden and there's Shakespeare in it. Given a glowing balmy summer's evening, it's all, dare I say, as we like it.

You can throw away those textbooks that contrived to reduce England's greatest entertainer into a set of dusty academic problems and embrace your inner Elizabethan (I not II) and join in with our six hardworking actors, as Shakey's riotous tale of cross-dressing exiled lovers is presented (more thrown at us to be honest). You feel a bit for the cast, as we sip our drinks and eat pizzas and burgers - but they get their time, don't worry.

If the atmosphere leans towards panto, Open Bar Theatre Company stay true to their aim and give us the words Shakespeare wrote (or had his prompt man write down in the Folios). Sure they add a few songs to unravel and recap the more complicated plot points and throw in a few contemporary ad libs too, but this is not a bowdlerised Bard for the Love Island generation - it's the real thing. It almost all works, although I'm not sure that breaking the rhythm of the Jaques' All The World's A Stage speech to find exemplars in the audience did it any favours. Nevertheless, we're soon up and away to the lovers' games.

Tianna Arnold gives us a 21st century Rosalind, the wit and agency in full flow. Laura Smithers gets plenty of laughs as Celia and in a range of other roles, while Emily Carding takes every opportunity to cast a wan eye on proceedings as Jaques. Thomas Judd gets the poetry right as Orlando and picks his moments for the ad libs, while Darrel Bailey contorts himself into hilarious quick changes and fourth wall-breaking looks that lure us into this creative conspiracy. Vicky Gaskin's Touchstone is quick of wit and orchestrates the chaos with a firm hand and knows how to grab an audience, indeed a member thereof.

It all flies by as quickly as the planes descending into Heathrow in the night sky and, if you do sometimes regret that we don't have more visual clues from the set or from a larger cast to work out exactly where we are and who's who, that's where the songs come in (and a sneak peek at Wikipedia in the interval). To be fair, few productions of this play ever strike the balance between pace and plot exactly right - because the text itself is so hard to follow - and director, Nicky Diss, has done as good a job as any.

What's best of all, after the 18 months we've endured, it is go out, sit in the open air, see real people in real time and laugh along together. It's probably a buzz that actors have always known and it's assisted them to navigate the million ways in which a career can veer off course, but, as civilians, we probably took that ancient pleasure for granted for too long. Not any more.

As You Like It is at a variety of Fullers pubs until mid-September

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