“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.
“As much as round RoundPeg tries to revitalise this unsettling play, it feels heavy handed and melodramatic”
Art or porn? That is the question. Anthony Neilson’s controversial play The Censor, makes a London comeback to explore all things taboo. Female-driven RoundPeg Theatre, responsible for its return, try taking a feminist stance on the work’s gender power play. Yet it’s difficult to tell if the fault lies with the writing, the performances or direction in not fully achieving the desired affect, making this production quite unbearable at times to watch (and that’s not the extremely close-up explicit content).
A female film director finds herself in the office of a censor, a man whose decision determines whether her work will be given the green light for release. Due to the film’s highly pornographic nature, the censor point blank writes it off as a no go, but can Miss Fontaine convince him to see beyond the images and at its artistic dissection of humanity instead? As she tries to educate him past the black and white and into the grey areas, more unravels about the censor’s personal life and the repressed feelings he’s held back.
The two female roles, Miss Fontaine and the censor’s wife, in particular, feel very one dimensional. As mentioned previously, it’s difficult to tell whether it’s the writing or the performances that don’t quite work. I feel it’s a little of both. Chandrika Chevli as The Wife is far too underused and whose brief moments on stage with Jonathan McGarrity seem fruitless. It would be more interesting to see their relationship developed further. Suzy Whitefield’s turn as the allusive Miss Fontaine can often come across forced whilst McGarrity as the censor lacks a sense of authority to initially clash and then be overruled by Miss Fontaine’s dominance.
The twenty-two year old play does feel aged in certain ways. Due to the growth of explicit images surrounding us and being easily accessible, the ‘scenes of a sexual nature’ in The Censor seem to have lost their potency. Undeniably there is still a certain frisson in having such acts simulated live, particularly the infamous defecation scene, but overall our desensitisation to the like, has made it far less shocking than back in 1997 when first staged.
The projection screens to the corners of the space, showing the erotic, semi-graphic scenes from ‘the film’ could have been used with far more powerful intention. It does help to set the dark, ambiguous atmosphere but ends up feeling monotonous and ineffectual as generally the same brief clip repeats for denoting transitions or sexual acts on stage.
As much as round RoundPeg tries to revitalise this unsettling play, it feels heavy handed and melodramatic. Although there are certainly problems with the writing itself, such as questionable character actions or improbable situations that occur, the more interesting questions that Neilson does raise feels undeveloped and not presented clearly enough by the company.