Review – As You Like It

August 16, 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩  Involving, energetic fun

As you Like It: Vanashree Thapliyal Photo © Rob Shields

As you Like It: Vanashree Thapliyal Photo © Rob Shields

The Royal Scots Club (Venue 241)
Mon 12 – Sat 17 August 2013
Review by Hugh Simpson

There are no tricks or real surprises in Arkle Theatre Company’s As You Like It at The Royal Scots Club, but this accessible, pacy production would be an ideal introduction for Shakespeare novices.

The usual cross-dressing and confusion of Shakespearean comedy abound here. Rosalind, daughter of an exiled Duke, has been allowed to remain at the court of her usurper uncle in order to provide company for her cousin Celia.

Now banished, Rosalind (disguised, naturally, as a man) journeys to the forest in search of her father, accompanied by Celia and the fool Touchstone. Her beloved Orlando, meanwhile, also banished, also ends up in the forest, where he meets Rosalind. Who now, of course, is a man….

This play goes against the usual conventions in Shakespeare by having the ‘courtly’ characters speak mainly in prose rather than blank verse. This could make it easier for modern actors; however, the distancing effect of verse can lead to a greater effort on the part of the performer to make herself understood. There are many occasions here, particularly early on, where intonation seems decidedly awkward and pauses appear in peculiar places.

The more artificial the situation seems, the more effective it is. Early expository scenes between Rosalind and Celia are difficult to follow, but once they reach the Forest of Arden, there is a huge improvement. The extra layer of artifice provided by Rosalind’s disguise as Ganymede transforms Bronagh Finlay’s performance and she really shines in the second half. Catriona Ruth Paterson also settles down as Celia, and her range of sulky facial expressions threatens to steal more than one scene.

The play flies along

Jamie Lynch (Orlando) and Alex Staniforth (his evil brother Oliver) both overcome early nerves to turn in likeably eager performances. Lynch also participates in a hugely enjoyable, superbly choreographed WWE-tinged wrestling bout with Bill Addison, who demonstrates versatility as the snarling fighter Charles and the gormless shepherd Silvius. Ian Menzies and Bev Wright also show adaptability in doubling up contrasting roles.

Ian Aldred, who plays both Dukes, is perhaps the most impressive vocally, making Shakespeare’s language sound simultaneously poetic and natural. Similarly impressive is Graham Bell (the melancholy Jaques) whose rendering of the ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech is a delight. Vanashree Thapliyal, who plays Phebe, the shepherdess who unfortunately sets her sights on Ganymede, shows good comic timing.

Judicious cuts mean that the play flies along, but remove much of the involvement of Touchstone, leaving Gillian Taylor with less to do in the role. She makes a worthy stab at the perennially difficult task of mining 400-year-old humour for laughs, making an unusually thoughtful, almost cynical Fool.

Director Danielle Farrow could perhaps have tightened up on some of those uncertain speeches, but makes imaginative use of the acting space, and most importantly ensures the pace never flags. Great credit must also go to fight choreographer Christopher McPhillips for that wrestling scene, whose sparky, involving energy epitomises an enjoyable production.

Running time 1 hour 35 minutes
Run ends Sat 17 August 2013
Daily at 6.15 pm
Venue 241, The Royal Scots Club, 29-31 Abercromby Place, EH3 6QE
Tickets from www.edfringe.com
Arkle Theatre website: www.arkletheatre.co.uk

ENDS

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