Photo: James Millar

As You Like It

Reviewer's Rating

Shakespeare in the Squares’ As You Like It provides a wonderfully entertaining evening. The production is touring London’s green spaces, and the leafy setting is a perfect backdrop for this pastoral play. This performance under a canopy of trees in Arundel and Ladbroke Gardens takes us into the forest of Arden to watch the delightful intertwining love stories play out as the sun sets.

Tatty Hennessy‘s vision of early 70s festival chic is well-suited to the text and her direction brilliantly unites the celebration of free love with Shakespeare’s writing, subtly foregrounding the sense of female freedom and empowerment. This comes across most notably in Rosalind’s character, who is effervescently captured by Katharine Moraz, a performance that grew in strength as the story progressed.

Accompanied by Celia and disguised as a man, having been banished from court by her Aunt (the Duchess Frederick), Rosalind comes across Orlando and falls in love. Jack Brett was excellent as the impassioned Orlando, who having been banished from court as well, finds himself in the Forest of Arden. Rosalind takes their relationship into her own hands and meticulously orchestrates their marriage, along with those of Phoebe and Silvius, and Oliver and Celia, who have all found themselves among a community of courtiers who have retreated to the forest, preferring a humbler way of life.

Photo: James Millar

Comfort Fabian as Celia beautifully complemented Rosalind, giving a bright and confident performance and together they formed a delightful pair at the heart of the play. Sian Martin meanwhile, skilfully captured the playful and at times idiosyncratic nuances of Jacques’ character. Julia Righton, multi-roling as both Duchesses, imbued Duchess Senior with expansive freedom, tapping into the 70s theme of the production but did not quite strike the crueller notes characteristic of Duchess Frederick.

The cast succeeded in highlighting the play’s comic tones with impeccable flair, often interacting with the audience to spread the ensemble’s enthusiasm with infectious vivacity. The music was a real highlight of the show, under Richard Baker’s brilliant musical direction, setting some of Shakespeare’s most beautifully rhyming lyrics to simple but effective tunes. These were executed with an energy from the ensemble which never lessened, sung particularly stunningly by Emmy Stonelake.

This was a peacefully paradisiacal escape from the hubbub of the city into the liberty of Shakespeare’s play celebrating the themes of gender equality and freedom, whilst not overplaying them, to create a gorgeous performance that is well worth the watch.