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As You Like It - Sewell Barn Theatre (30.05.2024)

"All the world's a stage..." utters nobleman Jaques in Act II, but this talented company are not "merely players" as the famous monologue continues. For such was their ease and comfort with what can be daunting text, one could be fooled into believing that this troupe of actors have been speaking Shakespearean English their whole lives.

Now, of Shakespeare's plays, As You Like It is one that I'm not especially familiar with. Sure, I broadly know the plot: feuding brothers, gender swapping romance/deception, and everyone gets married. But beyond a handful of quotes, I've had little exposure to the play. So I was very keen to see this production from the reliably excellent company at Sewell Barn, and they delivered in style.

Hannah Wood and Lewis Garvey as romantic leads Rosalind and Orlando were an irresistible pairing, all pent-up, energetic physicality and just so much charisma between them. Garvey's charming and funny portrayal instantly gets us on his side, and then in swoops Wood to up the ante further with a dazzling display of comedic brilliance as she disguises herself as 'Ganymede'. They were complemented by the delightful Florrie Davey as Celia, who judged her performance perfectly, bouncing off Rosalind and encouraging her, but also remaining more reserved than her dreamer cousin.

Elsewhere, Robert Little caught the eye in a very funny performance as the rather put-upon jester, Touchstone, who was at his best while courting his love, Audrey (a hilarious cameo from Melanie Peter). Gill Tichborne also gave us a wonderfully effervescent Duke Amiens, whose singing alongside Ros Swetman (in the entirely made-up role of 'Edith Amiens') was so richly joyful that you couldn't fail to be swept along with them.

From top to bottom, this was an accomplished and most vibrant production. Director Carole Lovett has drilled her team well, eking the best out of everyone as they showed clear intentions throughout, and not a tentative performance in sight. Speaking of which, there was no holding back either from Julian Newton and Lewis Garvey, as they wrestled in the second scene. A special mention therefore must go to Sabrina Poole, whose precise choreography was evident, as they pulled off a throughly convincing fight between them.

Though the Director has chosen to set the performance in wartime Europe, with the aim of emphasising the darkness of the plot, it's a device that bears little impact on the production. In part this is down to much of the action taking place in the Forest of Arden, which doesn't feel very war-stricken or oppressive, but also, such is the brilliance of the comedic talents among her cast, it's the laughter that very much shines through in the performance - and that's no bad thing in a comedy. What the 1940s setting does give rise to is some lovely musical interludes and great costumes, and that certainly added a more interesting dynamic.

This superb production of As You Like It continues at Sewell Barn Theatre on the 31st May and 1st June, and then again the following week between 5-8 June (with a Saturday matinee).


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