Rafy Hay reviews UCL Drama Society’s As You Like It
The goddess Hymen hypnotically leads the cast around the stage, before they get into costume and assume their roles. A gross, Jodorowsky-esque feast, backlit in shadowed blue. A roving band plays gypsy jazz across the stage.
UCL Drama Society’s production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It made some artistic decisions which surprised me at first, but by the end they seemed to follow completely naturally from the text. Not only was the acting committed to character enough to stifle any initial doubts, but on closer inspection all the directorial decisions have their basis in a completely valid interpretation of the comedy.
The biggest success of the production was to draw a stark distinction between the suited claustrophobia of the town scenes at the start, and the freedom and fresh air of the idyllic Forest of Arden, where most of the action of the play takes place. Director Polly Creed deserves praise for bringing this to light, as the space given to the darker themes of the play – and there are several quite heavy sections – allows the comedy to shine through even more brightly.
The set and costume design here was a very good mirror for this contrast, as the grey, stifling suits worn by the (mostly) men in Act One gives way to Scandi-chic tans and greens in the more egalitarian forest community where the rest of the play is set. The city has its lords plotting at tables and chairs, while the poets and musicians camp around wooden pallets and wander between the trees. Gypsy jazz itself is an artistic expression of a continually expelled people, and its use works well as a metaphor for the outcasts of “civilisation” who find their humanity in nature.
Of course, none of this would be worth mentioning if it wasn’t for such a strong cast. This may be a result of how competitive the auditions were, with around 130 people trying out for only 19 parts. The talent displayed was enough to carry the production, and special mention must go to Amy Reade as Rosalind. Shakespeare definitely intended As You Like It to be Rosalind’s play, she makes almost all the major decisions and has more than double as many lines as anyone else, so it’s testament to the actor’s ability that the other characters don’t feel crowded out.
It takes real skill to play a person playing another person on stage, and still make it feel like you’re seeing the character underneath the artifice; on this note Poppy Crumpton as Celia also deserves praise. The wit of her character really showed through, and the repartee between the two female leads was one of the best parts of the performance.
Orlando, poor sod, is a bit of a hapless guy when compared to smart Rosalind, but Freddie House played the part of the gullible lover very well, giving the play naturalism and heart. It would be wrong not to mention Róisín Tapponi as Jaques too, the room was electric during her “All the world’s a stage” monologue.
The rest of the cast were brilliant, committed to their parts enough that the meaning (and deeper meaning) of Shakespeare’s words was as clear as plain English. They brought comedy and emotional depth to the action, and no production can do without a great supporting cast, even if they did drag me up on stage to dance…
In all a really great night and an example of how to perform Shakespeare well, the Globe could learn a few things about tonal range from this cast and crew. I look forward to their next production.
Featured image credit: Pietro Sambuy and Nick Mastrini (https://www.facebook.com/uclasyoulikeit/videos/511281772585751/)