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“Inventive and stirring”: Review of WUDS’ As You Like It

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Rating:

WUDS has achieved an admirable feat in its staging of Shakespeare’s complex comedy. This production is situated within an inventive new devised context and fortified with strong performances, a vibrant original score and stylish choreography.

The play begins in the corrupt court, a post-apocalyptic community governed by violence and terror signified by a dilapidated, brutalist apartment block and smatterings of soiled human debris. Meanwhile, the Forest of Arden is an isolated, leafy oasis where people in knitwear and ‘gap yah’ trousers jig as if the world hadn’t just ended.

The visual aspects of this production are nigh on stunning. Doug Cairns’s apartment block is highly convincing and Ciara Shrager’s use of lighting moves us through time, space and mood in a way that is both inventive and stirring, yet unobtrusive. Tommy Oliver Plummer Harvey’s fight scenes are better than any I’ve seen on the professional stage, and Elizabeth Stowell’s choreography is a rousing combination of the balletic and the urban, contributing to a thrillingly oxymoronic chaotic symmetry.

The visual aspects of this production are nigh on stunning; lighting is inventive and stirring, while choreography contributes to a thrillingly oxymoronic chaotic symmetry.

The highlight of this production is Elizabeth Champion’s highly capable Rosalind. Champion takes on Shakespeare’s biggest female role with a clarity and charm upon which the ultimate success of the production must and does rely. She makes effective comedic choices, extracting more laughs than the more obvious ‘fool’ characters. Her Rosalind is poised and assured, yet at the same time playful and insecure, and exudes a quiet power as she single-handedly brings the entire play to its resolution.

This compelling Rosalind is strengthened by the vital chemistry that exists between her and Jessie Kolvin’s charming Celia, though the latter’s witty joie de vivre threatens to morph into an unromantic cynicism. Oscar Sadler’s Orlando is slightly melodramatic in his initial soliloquising but evolves, after the interval, into a likeable lovesick swain.

The highlight of this production is Elizabeth Champion’s highly capable Rosalind. Champion takes on Shakespeare’s biggest female role with clarity and charm.

What halts this production on its road to perfection is the lack of cohesion between setting, costume and (some) characterisation. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it’s illogical for Orlando to lament his lack of education and ‘rustic’ lifestyle. The costumes and setting indicate that this is completely the norm and hardly unjust under the circumstances. One might also question why a forest-dweller such as Phoebe might wear heels and gold leggings.

Touchstone’s lusty pursuit of a woman named Audrey appears self-contradictory as he minces affectedly across the stage. And Jaques’ deep melancholia is barely discernible; his most famous soliloquy is merely rolled out and given little emphasis. The decision to end the play on such a sombre note is also problematic. It’s an illuminating idea to portray Duke Senior’s reinstatement as more bittersweet than triumphant. But, the blind rage with which he exited the stage left me more confused than enlightened.

Despite some minor issues, this production exudes nothing but quality. The performances, direction, design and choreography all combine to produce a commendable reinvention of a wonderful play that is worth more than the price you will pay to see it.

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