As You Like It, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Salisbury and touring

RETURNING for their annual visit to Salisbury Festival, the all-male touring theatre company The Lord Chamberlain’s Men set up their stage in Rack Close in the Cathedral Close, to perform the favourite Shakespearean comedy As You Like It to three packed audiences determinedly vying for the best place to set up their chairs and ever-more lavish and extensive picnics.

The seven-strong Lord Chamberlain’s Men, under the direction of Peter Stickney,  speedily unwrapped the story, with its examination of the nature of love, family jealousies and a bit of magic realism, spiced with philosophy. As always, music and song are a vital part of an LCM  show, and the actors are chosen for vocal versatility as well as enviable projection. They must be heard from the back of the audience, against wind and birdsong.

Most of the play is set in the Forest of Arden, making it a perfect choice for open-air performance. It starts with fisticuffs, as Orlando, the youngest son of the late Sir Rowland de Boys, takes on the usurping Duke’s wrestler, and, of course wins – not only the bout but the heart of the Duke’s niece, Rosalind, who is herself thrown out of the royal court almost instantly. Fast forward to the forest, where Rosalind (disguised as Ganymede), her beloved cousin Celia (the Duke’s daughter, disguised as Aliena), and Touchstone the clown are living in a shepherds’s cottage, in banishment.  Rosalind is deep in love with Orlando, and when he turns up in Arden, littering the trees with love poems, “Ganymede” offers to magic him out of love. Then there is the bit where Touchstone falls in lust for a buxom country girl, shepherd Silvius pines for the scornful Phebe, Phebe falls for Ganymede and then Orlando’s horrid brother has a transformation after close encounters with a lion and the serpent.

As You Like It is full of passionate love, illusion, rural rapture and many many well-known lines and references. The seven performers take on 20 roles and a bit of judicious cutting allows them all to meet for the final masque around the maypole.

Ben Lynn, making his professional debut, has the leading role of Rosalind, with Andrew Buzzeo as Orlando and the enchantingly-funny Jonny Warr as Celia. BOVTS graduate Lawrence Haynes makes much of the philosophical Jacques (he of the Seven Ages of Man speech) and the eager Phebe. Will Beynon, Lewes Roberts and Laurie Scott complete the vastly entertaining cast, delighting the often surprised audience with their multi-faceted characterisations.

Going to an open air play in the summer is a big social thing these days. Parties of ten and upwards meet up with their competitive picnic sets, and, from many conversations, the interest is more in the prosecco and the prosciutto than the play. Around me on Saturday night, several people didn’t know what they were coming to see, were gigglingly astonished at the fact that male actors were dressed in … dresses, and expressed gasping 21st century shock-horror as a (rather rectangular) carcass of a deer was brought on for the song “What shall he have that killed the deer?”

This is alfresco Shakespeare at its best. See it if you can

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Photographs by Jack Offord