Theatre review: Summer Shakespeare, As You Like It

By Janet McAllister

Benjamin Henson has directed many plays in Auckland. Photo / Supplied
Benjamin Henson has directed many plays in Auckland. Photo / Supplied

Of all Shakespeare's comedies, As You Like It might be the silliest.

It's got the usual love-at-first-sight and gender-bending disguise, but also wrestling, nonsensical heart swings and an off-stage lion, while the characters' decisions suggest they're on drugs.

This means it's fitting that, after a sombre if compelling start, director Benjamin Henson sets this exuberant Summer Shakespeare at an electro-pop tent-disco music festival.
Henson's emerging-auteur trademarks are here - strings of light bulbs, big musical finale - and the ensemble has a lot of fun.

But clocking in at three hours plus intermission, an hour longer than publicised, it is way too long.

The added bits of business - the sweary asides, the animals with plastic cup hooves, the lip-synced songs - are fantastic but a lot (more) of Shakespeare's speeches could be cut, delightful though they are, and the show would be better for it.

Sacrilegious, possibly, but definitely true.

The acting is uneven, as is tradition, but experienced Shakespearian actor Francesca Savige, usually based in Sydney, is excellent and lively in a rather serious interpretation of Rosalind (arguably Shakespeare's prize female role). Her scenes with a fabulously comic Jessie Lawrence as the warm-hearted, often grimacing Celia are perhaps the best of the night.

Kate McGill, as a surprisingly chirpy Jacques, milks the "All the World's A Stage" speech for all its worth, even breaking into French, and it works well. Lucas Haugh and Mirabai Pease, as suitor and scorner, lighten up Shakespeare's troublesome power-play sub-plot.

The music is too loud just once or twice and, the actors enunciate superbly; important and all-too-rare in an outside show. But most Forest of Arden action takes place far away upstage, with some loss of nuance and engagement.

Alison Reid's costumes, echoing the changing colour schemes, are both pretty and interesting, and the sparkle limbs and glitter beard meld beautifully with the design (set by Andrew Foster, lighting by Marshall Bull). A good time and a long one.

What: As You Like It
Where & when: Clocktower lawn, University of Auckland; to March 11
Reviewer: Janet McAllister

- NZ Herald

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