Life in London is busy. Relaxing could easily be a foreign word to Londoners; taking a break from the city is like asking a photographer to take pictures with a shoe. Yet somehow Iris Theatre has managed to stage its latest production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It in the heart of Covent Garden piazza and make the audience believe they’ve retired to the peace of the Shire.
The Duke is banished to the Forest of Arden by his brother. When Rosalind, his daughter, is banished as well, she disguises herself as a boy, Ganymede, and leaves for the forest. Disguised, she falls in love with Orlando who she convinces to woo her as Rosalind. Things get out of hand as Orlando falls for the young Ganymede who is actually Rosalind who attracts the shepherdess Phoebe who is courted by young Silvius.
As You Like It represents Shakespeare’s saucy humour at its best, as Rosalind takes love into her own hands as a witty puppeteer who controls all the players in this hearty play. Orlando (Joe Forte), the love interest with a six pack that’ll get the girls giggling, is overpowered by her charm and character. Rosalind is known as one of Shakespeare’s greatest female characters, and Emily Tucker plays her with a sweetness and warmth that makes it impossible not to love her. Tucker creates a perfect balance between the loving Rosalind and the cheeky Ganymede which makes it clear why Orlando would be attracted to both.
The casting is spot on. Heather Johnson creates a ditsy character of Phoebe, transforming her famous speech into something original as she rants away like a young Essex girl after her first encounter with Ganymede. The young Christopher Rowland (Amiens) is like pink icing on a perfect birthday cake with his bubbly smile and smooth voice, but the bright spotlight is without a doubt on Diana Kashlan and her very physical Touchstone. Like a hyena on acid she ignites the stage and proves that anything can happen in a Shakespearian comedy; men can be women and vice versa, and paired with Matthew Mellalieu’s Audrey, I wished all characters could be played by the wrong sex.
Today many Shakespeare productions are pretentious and revel in being ‘Shakespeare’ and are cleaned of the bawdiness, the feeling of rubbing shoulders with your neighbour and laughing at the sauciness that is hidden behind the blank verse. Iris Theatre’s As You Like It is anything but posh. The Actors’ Church in Covent Garden buzzes with down-to-earth atmosphere with its use of the church’s beautiful garden. The amazing set designer Tessa Battisti has transformed the grounds into a Shakespearean Shire and, while there are no hobbits, the design creates a magical atmosphere like a sweet blend of Lord of the Rings and Robin Hood. If Shakespeare had had the choice I reckon he would have taken his tent and camped in the Actors’ Church’s Forest of Arden. The production is true to his writing and the staging forces the audience to become a part of the show, like festival campers waiting to see their favourite band.
Iris Theatre’s As You Like It is a Celtic party with your best mates. It’s an escape from the busy London life on the other side of the church doors, and it throws you into a life in the country where romance and sexuality blossoms. So grab a friend, a beer and a bag of crisps, and indulge in the sweet cheekiness of As You Like It. You don’t want to be left out.
As You Like It is playing at the Actors Church in Covent Garden until 4 August. For more information and tickets, see the Irish Theatre website.