As You Like It
Royal Scottish Conservatoire
This student production, directed by Peter Collins, was performed in the round, with music provided by supporting musicians and by the actors themselves. In his brief programme note the director pointed to Shakespeare’s use of the ‘affectation of country life’ to offer a critique of society and to pose some questions about fortune, nature, death and loss – as well as highlighting ‘love as a living relationship’ and the ‘power of language’ to light or obscure what may be true.
All this we get, in various measure, and perhaps the main credit to this performance is – thanks to the direction, and the lively, and often shrewd delivery of the actors – that we believe it, in spite of the strange setting, the daft occasions, the cock-eyed twists of the plot. What’s more, in this entertainment the comedy sustains our hope in humankind and genuine affection, while still allowing us scepticism and common sense. And that is so even when the foundation for many of the verbal twists and rallies has almost evaporated over time, and we may have to stretch a bit for the punch line or the context.
Much of the responsibility for keeping us in touch falls on Rosalind at the centre of things. On the night, Colleen Cameron, supported beautifully by Chloe-Ann Taylor as Celia and Conor Hinds as Orlando, was both radiant and mischievous, cheery and scathing, as required. It is one of the key twists in characterisation here that the central figure – among all the swirl of menace and foolery, of disguise in dress and switches in gender – turns out to be the most heavily smitten and yet she is the voice that most clearly mocks the conventions of love and courtship. Good in the opening scenes with Celia as her spirited companion, she gathered strength and confidence in Arden, and in her final ‘disclosure’ – where the knots of relationship were all unravelled – everything was brought to a joyful conclusion.
The rest of the company pitched in to very positive effect. Nicholas Barton-Wines as Touchstone had the energy, fun and perversity that the clown should deploy: both as barbed commentator, and as suitor to the formidable Audrey, who was played to good, licentious excess by Charlotte Driessler. Stephen Redwood was a slightly aslant but persuasive le Beau, as well as a sweet-pitched Amiens. Shane Quigley-Murphy and Tim Pollack both had three role switches to manage – presumably to display their range. The first showed best as an imposing Charles the wrestler, and as the solid and genuine, if mildly deluded (in ideal, pastoral terms), Duke Frederick. The second gave more as the truly menacing Duke Senior (later wafted away in two strokes of the pen) than as Adam the loyal servant (‘Still Game’ out of Blacks) or as Silvius the shepherd (kitted out for Alaska, but accented like Georgia). Emilie Mordal Konradsen, as Phebe, could be forgiven for her snappy responses, delivered with conviction, even though she too was lined up at the end with the others in pairs and headed for the happy Ark of marriage.
I haven’t forgotten Jaques, played by Robert Ginty in a fashion that caught his mixed character, which is mostly ‘melancholy’, though sometimes ‘merry’. Formerly (by the Duke’s account) a ‘libertine’; he appears in Arden keen for song and company, then apt to seek solitude. Eventually, having ‘bequeathed’ appropriate wishes like blessings on individuals in the company, he takes his farewell, called to ‘other than dancing measures’ and following the converted bad Duke to a cave of religious contemplation. It’s not easy to catch all that in ways that persuade. But Ginty did: conveying both Jaques’ vague and odd attraction, and also suggesting his depth and complexity, even as the character slipped away from the main stage. I don’t expect to see a better student Jaques; and if I see as good a professional one, I’d be perfectly content.
In other elements, there wasn’t much to be taken with the minimal stage setting – a bare square and rubber granules covering the floor around and perfuming the air not very pleasantly. Not much direct representation in this of the pastoral attractions of Arden – illusory or otherwise. Also I have hinted some of the costume choices (though definitely excluding Touchstone and Rosalind, and maybe the sheep) gave me pause. That said, the lighting worked fine, as did the swift changes and exits and entrances.
Summing up, I would identify the necessary strength of the production (and direction) was the way the company combined to create good feeling and generate amusement and pleasure. The wrestling match; the high jinks of the inhabitants of Arden singing and dancing round the campfire; the minimal but comic vocal contribution of ‘the sheep’ to the exchange between Corin and Touchstone; the eye contact of Ganymede and Aliena in the baiting of Orlando; the audience engagement when it had point, including the charm of the epilogue – all these provide fair examples. The text, too, was delivered pretty well by everyone ‘trippingly on the tongue’. Still, you don’t get comedy that works unless the actors actually bring spirit as well as conviction to it. But there was no problem here in that respect. FOUR STARS
Four Stars Reviewer : Mr Scales