It's no surprise that for many actors "As You Like It" is a favourite Shakespearean play. Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren to name a few have revelled in the part of Rosalind. And what a part! Courageous, witty, smart and beautiful Rosalind is the heart around this delicious play revolves.
The play is set in a duchy in France. Frederick has usurped the duchy and exiled his older brother, Duke Senior. Duke Senior's daughter, Rosalind, has been permitted to remain at court because she is the closest friend and cousin of Frederick's only child, Celia.
Orlando, a young gentleman of the kingdom who at first sight has fallen in love with Rosalind, is forced to flee his home after being persecuted by his older brother, Oliver. Frederick becomes angry and banishes Rosalind from court. Celia and Rosalind decide to flee together accompanied by the court fool, Touchstone, with Rosalind disguised as a young man and Celia disguised as a poor lady.
Rosalind, now disguised as Ganymede and Celia, now disguised as Aliena , arrive in the Forest of Arden, where the exiled Duke now lives with some supporters, including "the melancholy Jaques," a malcontent figure, who is introduced weeping over the slaughter of a deer. "Ganymede" and "Aliena" do not immediately encounter the Duke and his companions.
The shepherdess, Phoebe, with whom Silvius is in love, has fallen in love with Ganymede who unsurprisingly is not interested in Phoebe. Touchstone, meanwhile, has fallen in love with the dull-witted shepherdess, Audrey, and tries to woo her, but eventually is forced to be married first. William, another shepherd, attempts to marry Audrey as well, but is stopped by Touchstone, who threatens to kill him.
Finally, Silvius, Phoebe, Ganymede, and Orlando are brought together in an argument with each other over who will get whom. Ganymede says he will solve the problem, having Orlando promise to marry Rosalind, and Phoebe promise to marry Silvius if she cannot marry Ganymede.
Orlando sees Oliver in the forest and rescues him from a lioness, causing Oliver to repent for mistreating Orlando. Oliver meets Aliena (Celia's false identity) and falls in love with her, and they agree to marry. Orlando and Rosalind, Oliver and Celia, Silvius and Phoebe, and Touchstone and Audrey all are married in the final scene, after which they discover that Frederick also has repented his faults, deciding to restore his legitimate brother to the dukedom and adopt a religious life. Jaques, ever melancholic, declines their invitation to return to the court, preferring to stay in the forest and to adopt a religious life as well. Rosalind speaks an epilogue to the audience, commending the play to both men and women in the audience.
Last night we were treated to an impressive performance by the Greek Theatre Players at the Greek amphitheatre at Walthamstow School for Girls. The setting couldn't be bettered. A clear, hot June evening, greying into dusk and ,later, lantern lit night. The theatre was packed, the audience taking every opportunity to refill their glasses or munch on a slice of deli delight while the Players enthralled us with this magical play.
I'm afraid this review cannot be impartial or objective since like Orlando I fell in love with Rosalind the moment I saw her. Ashleigh Cole, in the part, was perfection itself. She imbued the character with wit, heart and not a little beauty, Laura Jane Hickerton as Celia, Rosalind cousin, was the perfect foil and I felt she won over the audience with her clever playing off Rosalind. Touchstone (Simon Billig) the fool has licence to mess with people's minds and he does that with glee. Shakespeare puts in the mouth of melancholic Jacques one of his most famous speeches "All the world's a stage..." I thought Spike Marchant carried off the role very well - although I felt he was more malevolent than melancholic for my taste - but a fine performance none the less.
The assemble playing was convincing with many amusing touches. The singing (and singers) were particularly fine. The selection of Tudor and Elizabethan songs before the performance got us into the mood for the treat that was to unfold.
The play is a gem. The final scene bringing every tread along with every lover together is uplifting. The Greek Theatre Players did the old Bard of Stratford on Avon proud
[Note: the play's Synopsis is taken from its Wikipedia entry]