Regent Park’s Open Air Theatre production of As You Like It is an exhilarating evening out. The play is set in the forest-like atmosphere of Regent’s Park, and the director, Max Webster, plays with ideas of a paradise. Act One opens in Duke Frederick’s court, which is littered with rubbish and is filled with the pollution of city life. The remainder of the play is set in the idyllic Forest of Arden, where its residents live off the land. The harsh, urban court, which is represented by metal and severity, contrasts wonderfully with the tranquil Forest, which gives a sense of calmness with flowers and homey decorations.
Disguised as a man, Rosalind, and her cousin Celia, flee into the Forest of Arden as they escape persecution in the court of Duke Frederick. The Forest of Arden is the utopian opposite to the polluted court of the Duke. When disguised as a man, Olivia Vinall plays Rosalind hilariously. She plays the role as only a woman pretending to be a man would, speaking in an overly deep voice and thrusting her pelvis forward to assert her masculinity. Throughout their journey, the cousins encounter affairs of the heart, as well as of politics. In classic Shakespearean fashion, the audience gleefully observes lovers in disguise, bawdy jokes, and plain confusion, all of which the cast presents superbly.
Since the production is set in modern times, it allows the actors to have fun with their characters. Danny Kirrane plays Touchstone, Celia’s trustworthy fool, to raucous laughter from the audience. He embodies the character so that he is understandable for the modern audience. Even those who do not always understand Shakespeare’s coarse humour are able to laugh along with the clown. He not only uses the jokes within the play, but includes pop culture references, such as Beyoncé and James Blunt, and is sure to make every theatre-goer giggle.
The cast and set are successful in presenting a comical show with important undertones. As Shakespeare intended his audience to think about better places, so too does Max Webster in this production. The audience is made to think about the effect we have upon the world. Our actions dictate whether we live in the Duke Frederick’s polluted court or if we live in the merry Forest of Arden.
This play was a comical and thoughtful production during which I was able to enjoy the performance and the cast, while also thinking about how these themes are still relevant today. As You Like It is a wonderful performance well worth a watch on a warm summer’s eve.