Thursday, April 9, 2015

As You Like It by William Shakespeare

All photos by Rush

As You Like It by William Shakespeare.  Bell Shakespeare directed by Peter Evans; set design by Michael Hankin; costumes designed by Kate Aubrey-Dunn; lighting by Paul Jackson; musical director and composer, Kelly Ryall.  Canberra Theatre Centre, The Playhouse, April 8 – 18, 2015.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 8

As I liked it very much indeed.  There’s less to write about when there’s little to complain about.  Mind you, I suppose I could take a leaf out of Jaques’ ever-present notebook and do a grumpy philosophical filibuster. 

John Bell could make such speechifying enjoyable, and then made Jaques’ personality come fully to life with his sly laughs in recognition, especially in Zahra Newman’s Rosalind, of a mind to match his own.  For me this was a significant achievement of Peter Evans’ directing.  I had not seen the strength and depth of Rosalind’s character before, and the fact that she is a woman of intellect beyond all of the men except Jaques, equivalent to all those other Shakespearean women like Portia, Kate, Beatrice and even the ever-so-young Juliet.

No wonder Zahra had such a good time playing Rosalind, with wonderful team work with Kelly Paterniti as Celia.  Now it’s clear why Rosalind is so good at (and is the only one capable of) getting everything properly organised for the mass weddings.  And then, what an ending!  I had not realised before that it is Rosalind who speaks the epilogue.  I wondered, did Peter have Zahra do it to make a modern point about the role of women?  But no – there it is in Shakespeare’s script:

Ros.  It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue....

Once again Shakespeare takes me by surprise and shakes common sense into me.  And thanks indeed to a company who have understood how to make Shakespeare’s play still do this after more than 400 years. 

Taking the play far away from ‘naturalism’ into a kind of nether world was a brilliant way to do it.  The set design was both beautiful in an idiosyncratic way and weirdly fantastic.  I kept being reminded of The Tempest on its magical island: here was the younger Shakespeare’s absurdist comedy in the forest, isolated from conventions, where Rosalind plays on the heart and intellectual strings – a precursor to Prospero.

I’ve said enough, I think.  It’s time for me to quietly depart the scene, like Jaques, not a grumpy critic any more but with a satisfying little smile to myself.  A nice way to exit, for me, for Jaques, and for John Bell.

Zahra Newman as Rosalind is banished on pain of death by
the usurper to the dukedom, Frederick

Abi Tucker as courtier Amiens in song

John Bell as courtier Le Beau, Gareth Davies as clown Touchstone
Kelly Paterniti as Frederick's daughter Celia, Zahra Newman as Rosalind,
daughter of the banished Duke Senior, just before Duke Frederick banishes her.

Charlie Garber as Orlando, Zahra Newman as Rosalind pretending to be Ganymede

Kelly Paterniti as Celia pretending to be Aliena

Tony Taylor as the shepherd Corin, Gareth Davies as Touchstone, Zarah Newman as Rosalind as Ganymede

Zahra Newman as Rosalind as Ganymede

Rosalind has fixed all the marriages.  John Bell as Jaques is about to exit, satisfied.
L to R: George Banders as Silvius, Abi Tucker as Audrey, Emily Eskell as Phebe, Gareth Davies as Touchstone,
John Bell as Jaques, Alan Dukes as Duke Senior,
Zahra Newman as Rosalind, Charlie Garber as Orlando,
Dorje Swallow as the reformed Oliver