“Ay sir, I have a pretty wit”
There’s a huge amount to enjoy in Derek Bond’s cheerful interpretation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, not least the multifarious showers of confetti from the sky, Audrey as you’ve never seen her before and a beautiful score by Jude Obermüller that is performed live onstage by the cast. Set loosely in the early part of the twentieth century and somewhere in the English countryside, this is a production to put a smile on the face of audiences of all ages at the Southwark Playhouse.
It takes a little while to get there though. The opening of the play grinds through the set-up of the key personnel – Duke Frederick has kicked out his brother Duke Senior and then latterly his niece Rosalind, Oliver has kicked out his brother Orlando who has the serious hots for Rosalind who is now disguised as a man, and everyone is roaming around the Forest of Arden. There’s something a little perfunctory about the way this first act plays out – the pieces are all there but they don’t quite click in the way they should yet.
And then after the interval, something magical happens to elevate the whole production. The subtlety of Harry Livingstone and Sally Scott’s Orlando and Rosalind’s putative relationship flourishes in the sweetest of manners (Livingstone’s tongue-tiedness on their first meeting is brilliant); Kaisa Hammarlund’s bright-eyed Celia is a constant pleasure onstage, her reactive acting is almost distracting in its quality; and Simon Lipkin is an uproarious Touchstone who will wear you down and make you laugh no matter how cynically you might view him at first.
His audience interaction moments are inspired and Audrey, well you have to see it to believe it but I will just say it plays on a skillset Mr Lipkin has used in more than one previous job. Joanna Hickman leads the music skilfully as a cello-playing Phebe and the only criticism there is that perhaps more music could be usefully threaded through the first act. The fast-changing ensemble style suits the production well, most people double up, but it does mean that some moments get a little hurried – Dominic Gerrard’s Oliver is strong but his Jacques never quite settles enough with too manic a disposition for his essentially melancholy nature.
In a world where the future of Propeller has been called into question due to funding cuts, it is a genuine pleasure to see other companies picking up the mantle both of infusing a huge amount of sheer joy into their Shakespearean work to attract and engage new and unfamiliar audiences, but also in finding new moments in these plays to surprise even the most jaded of eyes. For me, here, it was the moment Orlando worked out who Ganymede truly is that created that magical feeling for me and left me wanting to dive in at the end to make a confetti angel. You’ll see what I mean…