Review: As You Like It – Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

All the worlds a stage, and the current touring cast of The Globe Theatre’s As You Like It have certainly taken the Bard at his word, taking their Elizabethan booth theatre up and down the country playing in stately homes, gardens and castle grounds.

As autumn sets in, they head indoors, bringing the Forest of Arden to the Georgian interior of the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. Utilising a small cast, minimal props and basic set this is touring as Shakespeare would have known himself; a small band of wandering players creating their own theatre wherever they went. It’s a concept the Globe have been exploring over recent years and it does focus the attention on inventiveness and language.

As you Like It, is in many ways, Shakespeare’s classic romantic comedy; thwarted love, mistaken identities and enough love triangles to keep the most fervent of romantic authors in material. It’s a challenging piece with a full scale cast, but the pressures on a small cast are intense, though here the doubling works well, with clear delineation between the characters.

Director James Dacre sets the production in late Victorian dress and there’s an air of Lark Rise to Candleford to the piece; a bygone age of innocence and rustic charm. The approach, though, does rob the piece of some of its darker undertones, concentrating as it does in delivering the comedy with a boisterous air.

As the pivotal object of affections, Jo Herbert works well as Rosalind and her alter ego Ganymede, a mix of control and childish playfulness that revels in teasing those around her. Herbert’s snaring of Orlando transforms into a true homily to love.

Gunnar Cauthery’s Orlando is a man devoured by love, desolate at the thought of losing his beloved Rosalind and determined to go to any lengths to win her back. There is also fine support from Emma Pallant with a deeply moving Madame Jacques and a fierce, looks could kill at 10 paces, Phebe and Beth Park’s put upon Celia.

As befits the comedy, there are two show-stealing performances from the more obvious comedic roles, Gregory Gudgeon’s lusty fool Touchstone and a scarily authentic seduction of a bearded Audrey (John O’Mahoney) providing pure comedic delight. The sight of O’Mahoney bedecked in floral dress, ginger wig and full beard is an image that will remain in the mind, for better or worse, for a long time.

For a company that has been touring predominately outdoors, interior venues such as the Theatre Royal do take some adjusting to and there are moments when the ‘outside voice’ would benefit from being dialled back a couple of notches.

There’s nothing radical about the As You Like It, and other productions in the past have perhaps made the piece more accessible but The Globe have once again staged a production that meets Shakespeare’s original brief, to provide good quality, entertaining drama.

The focus on text and character demonstrate that one doesn’t need large casts, epic sets and a budget of millions to provide an evenings entertainment that will send audiences out with a smile on their face.

Just beware the flying cake.

Photo by Fiona Moorhead

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