“I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it”
The elegant surroundings of the gardens of the Guildford College of Law prove an ideal setting for the Guildford Shakespearean Company’s late-Edwardian open air production of As You Like It. Stately buildings, hints of ruins and leafy glades frame this happiest of Shakespearean tales as not even the bitterest of sibling rivalries, jealous hearts and surprisingly convincing cross-dressing can stop the business of everyone falling in love. The play wears its adaptation lightly, always a good sign, and allows for an interesting reading of some characters. Richard Delaney’s Jaques is an almost Wildean figure and the spirited independence of Rosalind and constant companion Celia makes an easy fit with the suffragette movement.
And there’s a wonderfully wry sense of humour about the whole affair, as if the outdoors setting has captured some of the liberating magic of the Forest of Arden itself. Utilising a fair amount of creative license works wonders in bringing laugh-out-loud moments aplenty – magic tricks, in-jokes, audience participation and no small amount of animal noises all contribute to an affectionately raucous take on the pastoral comedy which is hugely effective.
Chief amongst the merry-making is the delicious double-act of Matt Pinches’ Touchstone and Angie Walis’ Audrey, bouncing off each other with some sublimely ridiculous humour especially in a witty wedding scene and there’s lovely cameos from Adam Buchanan’s karate-chop-happy Charles (I’d love to know if he manages to get the chicken in the bin again!) and Simon Nock’s dippy William, easily, hilariously pleased with his rabbit.
But there’s a good deal of heart beating under the skin of this production too. Fiona Sheehan makes Celia such an impassioned and compassionate friend that she rarely fades to the background, even when the play does so itself; Richard Keightley makes Orlando a bookish fellow, something of the Romantic poet about him in the expression of his love; and Rhiannon Sommers makes a tremendous Rosalind, hugely watchable with a confident ease to deal with one of the richest female roles in the canon.
The glorious turn in the weather means there hasn’t been a better time to spend evenings outside and Guildford Shakespeare Company’s fresh and funny work enables you to catch some top-quality theatre at the same time.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 28th July
Originally written for The Public Reviews