As You Like It feels like a compilation of Shakespeare’s greatest comedic tropes: there’s a forest, a pair of brothers, and a bit of gender-bending. Essentially, girl falls in love with boy, girl is banished and has to leave disguised as a boy, girl dressed as boy woos boy, girl falls in love with girl dressed as boy and, in that wonderfully simply way at the end of Shakespearean comedies, everything gets resolved, and finishes with a jig. The play in lesser hands could have been confusing but St Andrews’ resident Shakespeare director Benji Bailey (The Merchant of Venice; Othello) brought a simplicity not only to the production’s aesthetic but the acting – and by extension a clarity to the plot – itself.
Bailey has a great eye for detail and it was this that elevated the production. Whether it was the tiny gestures of the clowns (a fantastic duo of Mattia Mariotti and Tiffany Black), the lovely scene changes, or the excellent stage fight in the opening moments of the play, it was clear that Bailey was in control not only of the verse itself but of the physicality and aesthetic of the production. However, details can only get a production so far and the play was carried by the leads. Rosalind (Emily Hoyle), Celia (Shonagh Smith), and Orlando (Andrew Chalmers) were all excellent both in their command of the language itself, but also bridging the gap between the comedy and more touching moments of the piece. It was in the second half that Hoyle and Chalmers shone, the awkward flirting-not-flirting and sneaky side glances between the two a pleasure to watch. Similarly, the moment in which Phoebe (Caterina Giammarresi) falls in love with Rosalind – disguised as a man at this point – was not only funny but utterly believable.
There was undoubtedly a great deal to admire about the production. However, the opening scenes of the production did not have the energy the play needed. The first act of the play is essential in setting up the plot and a combination of an unenergetic start and poor diction from some of the ensemble cast meant the opening was not as strong as it should have been. The significant size of the cast meant there was some disparity in skill between the cast members and it was in the ensemble scenes that the energy of the play dropped. Similarly, some of the music, whilst generally well-performed, did not fit the tone of the production, and felt somewhat shoe-horned into the piece.
Whether you saw As You Like It because you’re enrolled on EN2004 and didn’t want to actually read the play or because you wanted to support RAG week and didn’t fancy playing Assassins, Bailey’s production not only was actually funny (surely an achievement for student Shakespeare) but also a production that felt as if it understood the source material perfectly.