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As You Like It

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As You Like It, by William Shakespeare, was directed by Rebecca Dallaway and was performed at the Dulwich Picture Gallery and Dulwich Park in June and July 2013.

Review by Lesley Hedley

In common, I suspect, with many people I was put off Shakespeare at school – all that reading aloud by rote without ever really understanding what was happening or gaining any sense of feeling or emotion from the mangled words.  So I always feel I am going to one of his plays out of a sense of duty – I ought to be enjoying it.  Over the years I have indeed seen some excellent productions of the main Tragedies but the appeal of the Comedies has always eluded me – until I saw the enthusiasm with which the Dulwich Players, under the imaginative direction of Rebecca Dallaway, interpreted As You Like It.  

With such a strong cast it is difficult to mention everyone.  However my evening was made by the clowns.  James Brown as Touchstone and Paul Johnson as Silvius brought the humour to life, despite jokes whose words and allusions would have meant much more to the groundlings of yesteryear than they did to those sitting on the ground in Dulwich Park.  Alex Curran and Jenny Roberts as the arch country lasses added vivaciously to the comic element.   

Of the central roles Heather Oliver excelled as Rosalind and Stewart Terry gave us a suitably wimpish Orlando, while Kevin Smith as Jacques delivered the play’s best- known speech “All the world’s a stage....” with natural aplomb.  Picking out members of the audience to illustrate the seven stages of man was a particularly successful device that brought the famous phrases to life (though did not endear him to our white-bearded guest). Also successful was Alex Lyon as the usurping Duke - so convincingly unpleasant that I wanted to slap him.   

Shakespeare set his play in France, for reasons unclear (moreover, the names of the characters are hardly French – not many curés de campagne are called Sir Oliver Martext). The Dulwich Players decided to set the play in 1952 in well-designed costumes of that period. The outfits worn by Louise Norman and Tracy Brook as the flighty, gossipy courtiers were particularly attractive and authentic. However, in 1952 France was fighting a losing battle to hold onto its empire in Indochina, was still just managing to keep the lid on the fomenting revolt in Algeria, while domestically struggling with the process of post-war reconstruction, against the background of ongoing retribution against Vichy collaborators. Shakespeare’s play centres on the Duke’s jealous banishment of a rival noble to a land of bucolic innocence, characterised by cross-dressing, love at first sight and subsequent reconciliation. It may, at a stretch, be possible to draw parallels between these historic scenarios but they are perhaps not immediately obvious to a 21st century audience.  

Because the play is set in a forest, the American Garden in Dulwich Park was an excellent choice for an open-air production. The cast were able to use the trees and foliage to full advantage for their entrances, exits and occasional concealment.  The setting had the added advantage that there was always something happening, ensuring the fast-moving production so necessary to keeping a Shakespeare comedy alive. The decision to cut some of the less snappy scenes was also fully justified in that the production remained lively throughout and the audience enjoyed it almost as much as the cast.  

Oh, and congratulations to the stage managers for ensuring that the weather was brilliant!   

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