As You Like It is Shakespeare’s cross-dressing pastoral comedy of gender reversal, mistaken identity and love. Rosalind (disguised as a young man, Ganymede) and her cousin Celia (disguised as shepherd girl Aliena) find sanctuary from Rosalind’s usurped uncle’s court in the Forest of Arden. Young gentleman of the kingdom, Orlando, in love with Rosalind, travels around Arden carving love poems for her into the trees. He encounters ‘Ganymede’ who agrees to coach him on how to act out his affair with Rosalind. Meanwhile, shepherdess Phebe has fallen in love with Ganymede, shepherd Silvius has fallen in love with Phebe, and all the youthful hormones quickly bubble to the inevitable revelations and confrontations.
Lazarus theatre company iscurrently performing As You Like It and King Lear in rep at The Space Arts Centre on the Isle of Dogs. The company explores classic plays through text, movement and music, and presented As You Like It as a re-imagined version under the caption “An escape from a Corporate City”.
I don’t quite see how the text has been re-imagined. Aside from not performing it in period costume, it was not approached or interpreted in any new or radical way that I could see. Love was still the central theme, and the sense of escape from the corporate city to a natural haven did not really come across. The opening movement/dance number featured the entire cast very smartly dressed in business outfits and several scenes were interspersed with marching, watch-checking workers. Other than these the City did not really have a presence in the play, and if there was any significance intended behind these besuited bodies and the colourful, 80s-inspired forest inhabitants it didn’t really come off, particularly since the runaways move back to the corporate court at the end.
The hexagonal stage surrounded by chairs appeared small but was used so well as to give a sense of a much larger space once the action began, and the use of a camouflage net suspended from pulleys with lights shining through it created a nice leafy, foresty effect.
There were several fine performances, particularly Alex Rivers’s loud, growling Phebe who brought tremendous energy whenever she bounded onto the stage, and Rosamund Hine had great comic timing and a large onstage presence as Rosalind/Ganymede. Although there were a few noticeably weaker members, the cast presented a strong, warm collective, and kept up a smart pace throughout, remaining on their feet for the duration.
The play closed with a finale song and dance, which was so boisterous and rousing I wished they’d done more of them; replacing the marching between scenes with a summarising song and dance might have been a nice touch. It ended the play on a high, energetic and happy note, which was a great way to end, but made it feel it hadn’t been quite at that level the whole way through.
I would have been interested in seeing a new take on As You Like It, but there didn’t seem to be one which was a shame. Lazarus have put together an OK production with some humourous moments and some solid performances, but with a just little bit more they could have made an OK production into a very good one.
As You Like It is playing at The Space until 2 June. For more information and tickets, see The Space website.