TIM WALKER reviews Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s production of ‘As You Like It’.
Seldom, if ever, can the fates have conspired against a first night in quite the way they did for As You Like It at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre last week. No one could have known when they scheduled it months ago that England would be making what turned out to be its last curtain call in the World Cup that night. And Donald Trump would be about to descend upon Winfield House, the American ambassador’s neighbouring residence, with all of the security rigmarole that would entail.
In the circumstances, the turnout was impressive, even if there were more glints of light than usual from scores of mobile phones, as the punters cheekily kept up with the score.
Every time an aircraft passed overhead, everyone looked skyward, expecting it to be none other than Hair Farce One touching down early. For the members of the cast, it wasn’t so much As You Like It as Like It Or Lump It, but, to their great credit, they got on with their jobs and put on an exuberant and imaginative version of Shakespeare’s classic.
The surreal atmosphere probably helped to bring alive what is undoubtedly the playwright’s most surreal play, and, for the first time ever watching this work performed, I really did believe, with the wind rustling through the trees, that I had made it into the magical Forest of Arden. The play focuses on the love that Orlando (Edward Hogg) feels for Rosalind (Olivia Vinall) conquering against all the odds and the two players invest the roles with spirit and youthful charm. Max Webster’s production starts off on what looks like the lobby of a minimalist modern hotel – the designer Naomi Dawson has clearly had a lot of fun on this one – which makes the switch to her brilliantly-realised forest feel all the more striking. There is an interesting environmental theme to this production – the decadence of the society that the youngsters can no longer tolerate is symbolised by the way old coffee cups and crisp packets are casually discarded into the river that runs by the front of the stage – whereas life in the forest is all about recycling and clean living.
It might sound like a mish-mash of ideas, but it all seems to work, almost despite itself, thanks not least to a fine supporting cast that includes Keziah Joseph making a particularly charming Celia, and Jacade Simpson elevating Silivius, a young, love-struck shepherd, into a formidable purveyor of laughs. The wrestling match in the first act between Orlando and Charles (Kristian Phillips) is also performed with particular panache.
Best of all, perhaps, is the beautiful and I would say very timely rendering – given who was moving in next door – of the Seven Ages of Man speech by the splendid Maureen Beattie. I need hardly add which of these ages Mr Trump appears sadly never to have advanced beyond.