IT’S 50 years since the first BOAT production of Shakespeare’s sylvan romance As You Like It, which transforms a cruel court into the Forest of Arden, and dukes to duchesses in this gender-blind version directed by Brian Woolton.
The island in Poole Harbour is the perfect setting for the story of love at first sight, cross-dressing, mistaken identity and philosophising in the forest. Happily for the company, celebrating its 54th anniversary this year, the heavy rains came and went before the audience set off from Poole Quay on the opening night, on the 20-minute crossing to the National Trust-owned island in the world’s second largest natural harbour.
Mr Woolton is not only a fine and familiar actor on the Brownsea sward but an accomplished designer, as he proved with this beautiful and versatile set, which utilises the trees at the back of the stage and effective lighting enhancing the atmosphere. The audience experience was further enriched as the foresters in the company dashed through the picnickers before the Shakespearan action started.
Jack Edwards is a fine Orlando, quickly establishing a charismatic personality adding to the usual romantic wronged younger brother characterisation.
Marie Bushell returns to the island as a sparky Rosalind, enthusiastically matched by Naomi McQuin’s cousin Celia.
Stuart Glossop puts in another memorable performance as the clown Touchstone, and Harry Susser actually makes sense of the melancholy Jacques. He takes gleeful joy at the musings of others … the more peculiar the better. So it’s no surprise when he heads off to find out what has altered the attitudes of the pantomimicly villainous Duchess Fredericka (Dawn Hollington). The juxtapositioning of the Seven Ages of Man speech with Old Adam’s arrival in the forest underlines the impact, and is beautifully done.
Perhaps not so successful is the very emphatic and high-energy portrayal of Orlando’s bad brother Oliver by Paul Naidu. The casting of women as the Duke/Duchessess does have some strange impacts on a few speeches, but perhaps you have to know them much better than the average audience to realise the dichotomy. The director has also made some judicious, and some inexplicable, cuts.
But in general this is a splendid looking As You Like It, enjoyably performed by a fine cast, from the leading characters to Chaz Davenport’s hilariously monosyllabic William, Denise King’s promising Audrey and Racheael de Courcy Beamish’s lustily wily Madame La Belle.
A few tickets remain and the show continues until Friday 11th August (on alternate nights). For more information, visit the website, www.brownsea-theatre.co.uk