9th June 2016, Varsity, Online Theatre Section
If you were to name any Shakespeare play that could be performed outside, you would probably say As You Like It. After all, it is a pastoral comedy, and the outdoor setting offers to perfect the conflation of subject and setting: there are plenty of trees for Orlando to pin his poems to, a hedge for Rosalind to find and plenty of opportunities for Jacques to knowingly wink, while doing his “All the world’s a stage” monologue.
For this production, fair Rosalind and her companions are not asked to perform anywhere as terrible as the forest of Arden, and instead they take to the stage in the comparative wilds of the Peterhouse Deer Park. This is not a radical production by any means: it is played straight and very fast – the final running time is only approximately 90 minutes. As a result, the heartbreak and hilarity of the play is rather muted; the actors very seldom have the time to hit the highs of their characters, the laughs often fall flat, and the magic of the forest is absent.
This production is not the celebration of nature, life and love that Shakespeare’s text can be, but a simple and clean telling of a well-known story, and it is at its best when it sticks to this. At one point there is an immersive move when, along with the banished characters, we up sticks from court and into the forest of Arden in another staging area. In the confines of the Deer Park this does not really have much of an effect, except for a very brief respite in a production with no other interval, and appears as more of a novelty than an immersive artistic decision.
There are nevertheless pleasures to be had even in the most conventional of staging: Beatriz Santos is a very winning Celia, and the bursts of song and music from the three-person band are charming. Above all, what this production of As You Like It has on its side are the delights of sitting on a sunny day, in an idyllic green garden, trimmed with flowers, listening to some of the most beautiful of Shakespeare’s verse. With the active encouragement of indulging in punnets of fruits on a picnic blanket, it is hard not to concur with Celia that: “I like this place and would willingly waste some time here”.