Sunday, June 13, 2010


Reviewed by James Karas

As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s comedies of love. By the end of the play the sun is shining, all obstacles are overcome, wooing is done and four couples are on the stage about to enter the happy state of matrimony.

It is also the play chosen to open this year’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival and one of the dozen productions that make up the season. Shakespeare gets four out of the twelve, giving him a respectable one-third share. Mind you there are also four musicals and one may argue that there is a serious overload of that genre at the expense of a mildly more adventurous choice of plays but that’s another subject.

This production of As You Like It is the brainchild of Des McAnuff, the Festival’s Artistic Director. It represents directorial self-indulgence with some very good results and some excesses that may please some people and leave others fidgeting if not shuddering.

As You Like It is set in two worlds: the world of the court and the world of the forest. In the court we meet the evil Duke Frederick who has overthrown his brother Duke Senior (both played ably by Tom Rooney) and rules with an iron fist. Parallel to the usurping Duke, is Oliver (Mike Shara) the son of the noble Sir Rowland, who mistreats his young brother Orlando and throws him out of the family estate.

Duke Senior and his followers have sought refuge in the Forest of Arden, the other world of the play. They are joined by Duke Senior’s daughter Rosalind (Andrea Runge) who is thrown out by Frederick’s daughter Celia (Cara Ricketts), both in disguise. Orlando, who has fallen in love with Rosalind, soon joins them.

McAnuff and Scenic Designer Debra Henson have some dramatic ideas about the play. This is no sunny comedy of love but a dark play that takes place in the 1920’s or 1930’s under a Nazi regime. There are Storm Troopers everywhere and Duke Frederick shoots a person just to make a point.

In the Forest of Arden the shock of red colours, large banners, and paratroopers of the court are gone and are replaced by a colouful plastic floor, panes of glass and a dead tree. The Forest of Arden may be transformative, restorative and indeed redemptive in the end but it is not a pleasant oasis of rusticity and bliss. Shakespeare provided the melancholy philosopher Jaques to remind us of that, in any event.

Emphasizing the dark side of the play is a legitimate approach to it and its other qualities come out in any event without excessive attention to the comedy and the triumph of love. The rustics are very well done and very funny. McAnuff, however, cannot think of a trick or gimmick without putting it on. Storm troopers are expressive enough. Do we really need one with the head of a jackal or characters with heads covered with flowers or the horns of a stag or the face of a lion? Do they add much to the play?

There is overuse of exiting through the theatre aisles instead of the usual exits below the stage and putting Celia and Rosalind in a steam bath may not be strictly necessary.

Unstinting praise should go to the actors for speaking clearly with attention to the poetry and doing a generally superb job. Ricketts is a sassy and lively Rosalind nicely matched by a first-rate performance by Paul Nolan as Orlando.

Ben Carlson was funny as the court fool Touchstone, and Randy Hughson and Lucy Peacock was hilarious as Corin and Audrey. Dalal Badr and Dan Chameroy did fine work as Phoebe and William.

Brent Carver, dressed in a dark suit and bowler and carrying an umbrella as if he were a British barrister or banker, underplayed the role of Jaques, the cynical philosopher, to good effect.

Shakespeare’s poetry came shining through, the laughs were there and the incongruity of such a play being given a Nazi setting added interest and brought out the complexity of the play. We could have done with fewer gimmicks but the fine acting made the evening all worthwhile.


As You Like It by William Shakespeare opened on June 7 and will run until October 31, 2010 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. 1-800-567-1600

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your comments on As You Like It. I am curious as to why many people claim the court is run by Nazis. I know that is not the case but it's a fascist regime. There are characteristic markings used by the Nazis which are clearly absent from the production. This is by no means meant to blame you for the use of term, because you are not the first and I'm wont be the last, but to understand why this happening. Also perplexed by talking about paratroopers because that gives another image that seems to be absent in my mind, and I've watched the production twice now.
    It's always great to get this feedback and have a bit of a discussion about what people are seeing on our stages.
    Aaron Kropf
    Social and Online Media Coordinator
    Stratford Shakespeare Festival