Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
As You Like It’ by William Shakespeare
Guildford Shakespeare Company
Racks Close. Guildford,
19th – 31st July 2021
What a pleasure to sit in a lush clearing in Rack’s Close woods as the sun goes down, the lights go up on actors’ expressive faces, and Shakespeare’s timeless comedy of love at first sight plays out under towering trees. The Guildford Shakespeare Company has struck gold with their ‘As You Like it’ this week.
Some of Shakespeare’s most memorable speeches shine like jewels in this plot of warring brothers and a cross-dressing maiden, spiced with glorious comic business by all of the cast. The eight members of the company between them play fifteen characters, and with brilliant direction they carry all of them off con brio.
Given that the plot involves peremptory exile by the absolute authority of a ruler, the setting of this production in the authoritarian state of Germany in the 1930’s makes sense. Matt Pinches is very much at home as Touchstone, a Weimar cabaret clown for most of the play, scoring points, flouncing, teasing and occasionally sulking hilariously, in black tights, tinsel mini-skirt and red high-heels.
As Jaques, the philosopher in the forest community, Sarah Gobran’s moving delivery of the famous speech known as ‘The Seven Ages of Man’ holds us spellbound. She’s terrifying as the cruel Duke in the first act, and comically charming as Phoebe, a shepherdess who falls in love with Rosalind thinking she’s a boy. Tom Richardson, as Phoebe’s rejected swain Silvius, is lovably gullible, and Corey Montague-Sholay as the other bucolic lover, Audrey, brings out all the comic potential of his rustic overalls when he’s teased by Touchstone.
Rachel Summers and Natasha Rickman bring giggly girlishness to the roles of the two best friends, Celia the Duke’s daughter and her cousin Rosalind, who run away together to the forest after the Duke throws Rosalind out. Comparing notes about boys, they fill the woods with their enthusiastic screams, see-saw moods and lively scamperings. Natasha Rickman with Rosalind’s passionate, barely held-back longing creates a steamy connection to James Sheldon’s confused Orlando who believes she’s a boy. Her comic timing is faultless.
Robert Maskell’s accomplished performances as the banished Duke Senior and separately as Corin, the shepherd who tries his wit against Touchstone, are very engaging: he brings both joyfully to life.
Memorable moments include the scene when Rosalind, still disguised as a boy, tells all the tangled would-be lovers that they will be married tomorrow but she herself ’will marry no woman’ — the choreography of this scene is irresistibly funny.
Don’t miss this wonderful chance to enjoy live theatre in a beautiful glade — The Guildford Shakespeare Company have again filled warm summer evenings with laughter and magical art. Tickets and information about the cast are here.
This review was first published by Essential Surrey online magazine