A classic in the Bard’s canon, As You Like It has all the elements of a good Shakespearean romance – young lovers, women dressing as men, misunderstandings, love triangles galore, a fool, a forest, and, of course, a celebratory ending with the marriage of multiple couples. Against the leafy backdrop of Regents Park, Max Webster’s production feels modern and fresh, yet still true to the touching heart of the story that has made it an audience favourite.
Naomi Dawson’s design really shines in the way that she transports the audience and utilises the natural scenery of one of London’s most loved parks. The weather effects standout in particular and are thematically highlighted by Charlie Fink’s songs, including the rocky opening number that brought Rhianna’s ‘Umbrella’ music video to mind. The use of chainmail curtains and actual sprinklers to create rain work exceedingly well and you almost forget the balmy weather you are sitting in. The bleak atmosphere this creates, as well as the mountains of rubbish which surround the stage set the tone for the empty, corporate, capitalist-driven life in Duke Frederick’s court. On the other hand, Dawson’s Forest of Arden, which nestles into the greenery which frames the stage, highlights the simple joys that forest life has to offer to its residents and the characters who enter it throughout the play.
The music by Fink, best known as the Noah and the Whale frontman and songwriter, adds to the idea of a simple, yet joyful and contented life in the forest by injecting the scenes with carefree fun and whimsy, complete with country dancing and all. Fink’s rock/folk music, performed by actor/musicians onstage and accompanied by a band, fits in with the flow of the show without ever distracting from the story.
In this performance, it is the women who stand out. Olivia Vinall as Rosalind gives a stellar and standout performance. A commanding energy follows her throughout her assured, yet thoughtful portrayal. Her delivery of the epilogue was especially touching and genuine, yet still full of the whimsy and mischief Vinall brings throughout the show. Maureen Beatie as the melancholy Jacques, delivering the oft-quoted “All the world’s a stage” speech, is strong in the role. However, whilst the women shine, the men are not without their share of gems, namely Danny Kirrane as Touchstone the fool, the wisecracking audience favourite, throwing out more references than Robin Williams’ Genie.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre has become one of the best-loved features of summer in London, and Webster’s production does not disappoint. My advice – arrive early, grab a drink or some food and soak up the atmosphere as well as that sweet, sweet Shakespearean love.
As You Like It is playing at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 28 July
Photo: Tristram Kenton