AS YOU LIKE IT at Oxford Playhouse

There’s something about going to see one of Shakespeare’s comedies that is just so satisfying. You always know exactly what you’re going to get: there’s definitely going to be mistaken identity and confusion; there probably will be some cross-dressing; there’ll be drama and a lot of laughs. And most importantly, you know that no matter what happens, everything is going to turn out OK in the end.

As You Like It tells the story of brother pitted against brother, of a young woman thrust from the court, of shepherds and exiled courtiers finding love among the trees of the magical Forest of Arden. This is one of Shakespeare’s most playful comedies – there are no real explorations into the motivations behind the cruel deeds of Duke Frederick or Oliver de Boys, or indeed to their miraculous conversions later in the play. Instead, Shakespeare enjoys toying with language; his characters engaging in verbal swordplay as they frolic in the natural world.

This production of As You Like It, from A Shared Experience and Theatre by the Lake, takes a modern setting for the play, placing the action of the court in a modern boardroom. This draws an even sharper contrast with the scenes set in the Forest of Arden, which seems far removed both in time and place – providing an additional layer of otherworldliness. The set is sparse in both the court and the forest, relying on the players to convey their setting, with Arden represented simply by a large tree in centre stage.

As You Like It relies almost entirely on the dialogue. A great deal of the action of the play happens off-stage and is reported back by various characters, and so the play greatly benefits from a strong cast with confidence in their communications. This production has a great cast, with the central roles of Rosalind, Celia, and Orlando played respectively by Jessica Hayles, Layo-Christina Akinlude, and Nathan Hamilton. Akinlude is particularly strong – a twitch of her eyebrow or casual hand gesture has the audience in stitches! Most of the other actors play a few characters, skilfully weaving Shakespeare’s tale of romance and trickery in front of us.

All in all, this is a perfect play for a bit of escapism, so if you have a free evening this week, come in out of the cold Oxford night, and lose yourself in the magical Forest of Arden – it’ll do you good.       @BookingAround    15th November 2017