By its title alone, As You Like It – one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated comedies – sets out to please its audience. Of course, every play to some extent endeavours to do so, but a Shakespearean comedy should guarantee a good time in the theatre. The play is witty, wild, sprightly, elegant and harmonious, but such great writing still has to be delivered and performed accordingly – it requires talent, commitment and a good space. The Lion and Unicorn Theatre, inevitably suffers from all the drawbacks of fringe theatre in that there’s limited seats, constricted stage space and imperfect acoustics, but all these issues can melt away if the performance fits the bill, and this one does.
The ingenious and efficient use of space whisks the audience away to the Forest of Arden with a set comprising a tree trunk, crisp leaves and scattered pine cones, and the actors fill the space with ease. Each one rises to the challenge with a charming delicacy – their respect and admiration for one another is apparent through the wonderfully fluid on-stage chemistry.
In fact, the entire performance boasts a number of highly cohesive relations: Rosalind (Rebecca Loudon) and Celia (Olivia Scott-Taylor) portray an endearing and delightful bond, the ticklingly haphazard plight of Phoebe (Maddy Hill) and Silvius (Richard Kiess) is a joy, and the presence of Touchstone (Lorenzo Martelli) lends itself beautifully to any of the on-stage ensembles.
Special plaudits should be given to Rebecca Loudon who tackles the role of Rosalind – Shakespeare’s most focal female roles and one of his most challenging – with ease, and her enjoyment in her own ability is palpable. She manages to capture the engaging yet churlish charm of the character whilst positioning her very much in the here and now – an added dimension that is often attempted and rarely achieved in Shakespeare.
Matthew Alexander, too, should be commended. In what was apparently his professional debut, the young actor played the role of Oliver de Boys (and one of Duke Senior’s aids) with immense facility and held his own amongst this talented group.
Cheaper than most, better spaced and located than most, and certainly better performed than most, this is a must see. It’s fun, engaging and the bar does some great beer (try the Meantime Pale Ale on cask). Great for those well versed in Shakespeare’s works, and those that aren’t.
As You Like It is playing at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 19 May. For more information and tickets, see the Lion and Unicorn Theatre website.