As You Like It – Tobacco Factory and on tour

As You Like It by William ShakespeareSHAKESPEARE at the Tobacco Factory, the company set up by Andrew Hilton 15 years ago on the cigar packing floor of the former Wills factory in Bedminster, Bristol, celebrates its anniversary with the pairing of Shakespeare’s As You Like It and Bristol-trained playwright Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia.

The first, which is running until 2nd May at the Bristol venue, continues on a six-venue tour of the UK until 21st June.

And audiences at the home theatre, as well as at Scarborough, Cheltenham, Truro, Winchester, Exeter and Salisbury, are in for a treat.

Set in 1920s France, the production cleverly doubles some of the characters, notably the brother Dukes, the one a despot who undergoes an extraordinary conversion and the other a popular dreamer. Chris Bianchi accomplishes the schizophrenic changes with nothing more than a greatcoat and a change of gait and volume.

The “melancholy Jacques” is a bit wordy for some tastes, and Touchstone is probably the most difficult of Shakespeare’s clowns to bring convincingly to a modern audience, but in this production Paul Currier, (given the prop of alcohol), accomplishes the “big speeches” like the Seven Ages of Man with great poignancy, and Touchstone’s seven types of lie are seriously funny in Vic Llewellyn’s delivery.

At the centre of this story are Orlando (Jack Wharrier), driven into exile by the vicious jealousy of his elder brother Oliver (Matthew Thomas), and Rosalind, exiled by her furious, paranoid uncle, the “new” Duke. Frightened to venture from the town into the country as helpless women, Rosalind and her cousin Celia decide to take Touchstone along with them, and Rosalind disguises herself as a boy.

As You Like It by William ShakespearePerhaps Dorothea Myer-Bennett is not the obvious physical type for such an enterprise, but she and Daisy May have such fun in the subterfuge that they make for a delightful and convincing rustic “brother and sister.” The interplay between the two and Rosalind/ Ganymede and the lovelorn Orlando is totally believable.

Even the usually slightly ridiculous finale works well here, with the musical Lord Amiens taking the lead as Hymen to marry the four couples – Oliver/Celia and Orlando/Rosalind destined for long happiness, Silvius/Phoebe on course for rustic bliss and Touchstone/Audrey unlikely to last much beyond the next full moon.

Andrew Hilton is renowned for the clarity of his productions. Many headline-chasing directors go for trendy interpretations, gimmicky design and irritating directorial flourishes, but Hilton trusts Shakespeare. He trusts the text and he lets his expert ensemble – many of whom are veterans of the 15 year SATTF history – bring out the truth and wisdom of the words and the characters.

There is much in this As You Like It which speaks to a 2014 audience as it did to the groundlings and the lordlings in the Globe more than 400 years ago.

We like it – a lot! GP-W


Photographs Mark Douet


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