“Her witty modern-day lyrics are reminiscent of the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda”
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”. Those immortal words the Bard penned in his rustic comedy, As You Like It, seem as true as ever in this recent musical adaptation of the play which makes its European debut. Produced by Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch in partnership with the National Theatre’s Public Acts, a national initiative to make inclusive, community theatre, it brings a one hundred-strong cast from all walks of life together to create this vibrant version which is unlike any other production of As You Like It you will have seen.
In a condensed telling of Shakespeare’s tale we find Duke Senior (Rohan Reckord) has been banished from the court by his brother Duke Frederick (Curtis Young), finding solace and a new home within the Forest of Arden, where many of his supporters begin to converge and take commune. In paranoid rage, Duke Frederick lashes out at anyone that threatens his authority, including his niece, Rosalind (Ebony Jonelle), who is exiled. Taking on a male disguise, she similarly flees to the Forest of Arden bringing in tow her cousin Celia (Marjorie Agwang), and the trusty clown Touchstone (Vedi Roy). However, before her banishment, Rosalind falls head over heels in love with Orlando (Linford Johnson) whom she must conceal her true emotions from when their paths cross again in the forest.
The original songs that interject this adaptation, help to flesh the characters out further, giving their actions and motives more depth. Composed by American Shaina Taub, she is certainly a name to listen out for in the future. Her witty modern-day lyrics are reminiscent of the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda and help to give a nearly 400-year old story a current relevance.
This may be a community project, but by and large the main characters are played by trained actors. Stand outs include the incredibly watchable Ebony Jonelle who offers a vivacious Rosalind, whilst Vedi Roy as Touchstone delivers the sassiest clown in town. Rohan Reckord has such a smooth voice it will undoubtedly give you goosebumps when he sings.
Nevertheless, it is the amalgamation between the trained actor and the ‘average Joe’ that really is something special, proving that a passion for theatre is what truly wins out and that anybody has a right and the capability to perform on stage. During the colossal group scenes, it is nigh impossible to not feel moved seeing a broad range of people of all ages, abilities, cultures, and backgrounds coming together. The sheer joy that beams from the stage is infectious. The carnival-like atmosphere and colourful costumes (Hayley Grindle and Daisy Blower) make it a party you never want to leave.
“Tatty Hennessy’s perception and imagination bring this production alive”
Love and music, freedom and flares! The gardens of London become the Forest of Arden in this brilliantly updated version of ‘As You Like It’. By setting the production in the late 60s, early 70s, director, Tatty Hennessy, transfers the essence of Shakespeare’s pastoral, romantic comedy to the hippie era with its optimistic ideas of free thinking, breaking rules and getting away from conformity. In addition, it underlines the strength of his women characters, complementing the positive female spirit of the play by changing the genders of Jaques and the Dukes and generating a mother-earth forest community, supportive and nurturing.
The excellent performances by the whole cast bring vibrancy and shade, several members having two or three roles to portray, creating texture and fluidity with an array of well-defined figures; Stanton Plummer-Cambridge and Lamin Touray excel in this multitasking.
Set against a background of growing feminism, the women are unapologetically feisty and demanding in their pursuit of life and love. The enamoured Rosalind, in a spirited performance by Katharine Moraz, takes control of her destiny, accompanied by Comfort Fabian’s Celia, whose genuine enthusiasm is astutely modernised in movement and speech. Phoebe (Emmy Stonelake) and Audrey ((Jodie Jacobs) are beautifully unabashed and determined in procuring their hearts’ desires, and Julia Righton steps assuredly between good and evil as both Duchesses. Sian Martin plays Jaques with a cynical sneer, perfectly counterbalancing the enjoyment and love for life which surrounds her. And up against all this feminine zeal, Orlando (Jack Brett) is the picture of bemused, love-struck youth. A special mention for Sydney K Smith’s ‘Motown’ Touchstone, who encapsulates the foolish image, moves and talk of those disco days (which some of us remember!), while wholly attuned to Shakespeare’s words.
The importance of music in ‘As You Like It’, being Shakespeare’s most musical play, naturally lends itself to the 70s ambiance of the early music festivals which blends into the parks and gardens milieu and draws the audience into a convivial atmosphere. The stylish singing which sets the scene and the diverse incidental songs and instrumental music (Richard Baker) show an added facet to these talented actors. Simple, colourful decor (Emily Stuart) immediately conveys a feeling of rustic celebration and the casting (Becky Paris) allows for a balanced variety of accents which add depth and clarity to the characters.
Tatty Hennessy’s perception and imagination bring this production alive with relevance to those years not so far gone and to today’s similar issues of inequality and oppression. The changes of era and gender have sense and purpose, showing the fortitude and quality of women and the need to escape authority, but also the timeless quest for love and happiness. ‘As You Like It’ is the perfect end to a sunny summer’s day…or any other day.