Monday, June 13, 2016


James Karas

As You Like It by William Shakespeare
Directed by Jillian Keiley
Rosalind                  Petrina Bromley
Celia                       Trish Lindstrom       
Hymen                    Robin Hutton                                                                      
Orlando                   Cyrus Lane                            
Duchess Senior       Brigit Wilson
Jaques                    Seana McKenna
Duke Frederick        Scott Wentworth
Touchstone             Sanjay Talwar

Continues in repertory at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario
until October 22, 2016.     

** (out of five)

The Stratford Festival offers an unforgettable production of As You Like It directed by Jillian Keiley.

You have heard of a play by William Shakespeare bearing that title and this production does have some similarities with it. For the rest it is an adaptation, a deviation, a brutalization and an ego trip for the director.

Keiley sets the play in Newfoundland in 1985 and that is acceptable. As you enter the theatre, you are presented with a loot bag containing a branch, a hat, a clothes pin, a fan and … isn’t that enough? A loud and lively woman is leading the cast into square dancing and whooping it up before the lights go down for the performance.

Members of the company in As You Like It. Photography by David Hou.
The loud lady tells us she is Hymen (Robin Hutton), the god of marriage and, as it turns out, she will be with us throughout the performance as a Chorus, Master of Ceremonies, Cheerleader and General Nuisance. Shakespeare forgot to include her in his play but the omission was almost certainly accidental.

To the loot bag. As You Like It takes place mostly in the Forest of Arden. Did you say “forest”? Take the branch out of your loot bag, hold up straight and presto we have created a forest. You will be asked to take out your fan and make a wave, put your stupid hat on and join in a sing-along and …you want more?

Keiley clearly views the theatre as a communal and participatory event and she wants the audience to be part of the action and not just a bunch of spectators who rely on the quality of the play or the excellence of the performance. She is tireless and tiresome in asking us to be part of the performance.

Shakespeare’s play does sneak through all of Keiley’s self-indulgent shenanigans and some of his humour comes through. Rosalind (Petrina Bromley) and Celia (Trish Lindstrom) are excitable young girls who jump for joy and do high fives. Not exactly Shakespearean but those culture-hungry teenagers may go crazy watching them. The country bumpkins (Corin (David Collins), Phebe (Ijeoma Emesowum), Audrey (Deirdre Gillard-Rowlings), Silvius (Jamie Mac) and William (Antoine Yared)  eventually do get a few laughs based on Shakespeare’s text and despite Keiley’s direction.
Trish Lindström (left) as Celia and Petrina Bromley as Rosalind inAs You Like It. Photography by David Hou.
Keiley has changed the gender of several characters including that of the exiled Duke Senior who becomes Duchess Senior (Birgit Wilson) and the usually male Jaques is played by Seana McKenna. No issue with that except that in the case of Seana McKenna at least, it is a waste of talent. The fine actors are lost in the surrounding drivel.

Is the production aimed at the high school students who will flock to Stratford in the fall? Are they likely to find the adaptation hilarious? Do we need two productions of the play – one for adults and one for teenagers?

In fairness, I should note that most of the audience enjoyed the latter part of the performance.

Shakespeare’s play ends with a charming epilogue where Rosalind conjures us to show our appreciation. Keiley butchers that too by inserting lines from other plays and improving the play.

That may be the cherry on the cake but it is unnecessary – by that time we have witnessed something unforgettable. 

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