It is not often that I am proved wrong. In fact, if you were to push me to an estimate, I would say that I am only proved wrong around 94% of the time, which gives me a keen 6% in my favour. With statistics like these, I am happy to accept my rare defeats and it was therefore with great pleasure that, with their new production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy As You Like It, I was proved wrong about the Queen’s Theatre.
I have previously lamented that the budget constraints that the Queen’s endures mean it is unable to experiment, forced instead to cater to its regional theatre audience with light-hearted, safe shows such as They’re Playing Our Song, which I reviewed back in March of this year. Yet its reworking of As You Like It, transforming it into a promenade piece set within the natural beauty of Langtons Gardens, is the perfect example of the kind of celebratory and unique theatre that the Queen’s can offer when it completely unleashes its creativity.
Taking inspiration from the play’s famous quote, the Langtons Gardens truly captures this sense of “All the world’s a stage.” Thematically too, the setting is a triumph, with the sense of freedom that the gardens provoke perfectly paralleling the emancipation that the characters feel through the power of love. Not only this, but the sheer delight of falling in love, another key motif within the play, is captured keenly throughout the piece, glorying in the delights that the gardens have to offer — whether it be entering a scene by leaping from a tree, or emerging in a tiny, fairylight-covered sailboat from across the lake. This moment in particular beautifully captures the sense of magic and wonder that the whole production embodies, with director Bob Carlton conjuring up something of a fairytale through his endlessly inventive use of the space.
Another key aspect of this play is its sense of comedy, something that the performances in particular explore with great success. In a stand-out turn as the jester Touchstone, Matt Devitt employs the use of puppetry and clowning to expert effect. Indeed, the ceaseless energy and animation of each performer is infectious, the pace of the piece never faltering as the audience are swept along through the joyous atmosphere that is created. The wonderful musical interludes are also crucial in helping the transition from scene to scene and yet none of this would be possible without achieving a real sense of audience interaction, something that the irresistible charm of the performers gain with ease.
Crafted with love and boundless imagination, As You Like It is perfect summer evening’s entertainment, leaving its audience with memories of a magical experience. Like our heroine Rosalind (an utterly charming turn by Sarah Mahony), the Queen’s is unable to always show its true face, yet through pieces such as this it casts off any preconceptions and reveals itself as an exciting and innovative producer of theatre, able to rival that of central London’s theatre hub.
As You Like It is playing at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch (in Langton Gardens) until 14 June. For tickets and information, please see The Queen’s Theatre website.