As You Like It

Written on June 7th, 2010

As You Like It

AYLI Jacques

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Des McAnuff
Performed by Brent Carver, Ben Carlson, Cara Ricketts, Paul Nolan, Andrea Runge.
Stratford Festival
April 30 to October 31, 2010
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

A Very Likeable As You Like It

If you like Shakespearean comedies, then you’ll love As You Like It. The Stratford Festival 2010 season opener is Shakespearean comedy at its best.

As You Like It is typical of Shakespeare’s comedies. The humour comes from people in costume pretending to be other people, and the characters not knowing their real identities. Shakespeare loved to have female characters pretend to be male and learn the true feelings of their romantic counterpart.

This production of As You Like It has an interesting setting. Rather than have it take place in Elizabethan times, director Des McAnuff sets it in the 1920s, in France between the two World Wars. The bad guys are Nazis in training. The rest of the characters are dressed in 1920s styles, and we’re treated to jazz music and flapper dancing. Of course, they are speaking Elizabethan English, but doing the Charleston.

The story starts with the evil Duke Frederick taking away the title and the throne from his older brother, Duke Senior, who is banished to the Forest of Arden. Duke Senior’s daughter Rosalind stays at court with her cousin, Frederick’s daughter Celia. When an underdog, Orlando, wins a wrestling match against a professional wrestler, he catches Rosalind’s eye. Soon, Frederick bans Rosalind from the court, so her loyal cousin Celia goes with her to Arden, along with a jester named Touchstone. Rosalind goes into hiding dressed as a boy. Of course, Orlando is banished to Arden as well. That’s a lot of people wandering in the forest, bound to bump into each other.

As a boy, Rosalind is able to find out if Orlando is interested in her, and of course, he is pining away for Rosalind. So after some mistaken identities, finally all the couples get matched up properly, a group wedding is held and all’s well that ends well.

Paul Nolan is excellent as Orlando. He is familiar to Stratford audiences for his remarkable portrayal of Tony in last year’s West Side Story. The fight scene at the beginning of Act I between Orlando and Charles (Dan Chameroy) is the most realistic I’ve ever seen staged. Audience members gasped at the hits and slams to the floor.

Tom Rooney plays two roles, good and evil, amazing in their contrast. He is the very nasty Duke Frederick and the kind Duke Senior.

Brent Carver gives a very notable performance as Jacques, the melancholy man in a bowler hat who tries to spread his pessimism around. The Tony award winning Carver is a Stratford favourite. In one hilarious scene he literally pops up; the audience sees only his head through the trap door at centre stage.

Ben Carlson plays an excellent Touchstone. Instead of using the physical comedy typical of fools, he relies on Shakespeare’s clever word play to create the humour. Lucy Peacock is a comical Audrey, the country bumpkin who eventually gets hooked up with Touchstone.

At one point, Touchstone meets up with a shepherd, played well by Randy Hughson, who offers philosophy. The sound of sheep bleating is heard here and there throughout the theatre’s sound system. Laughter bubbles up in various spots as people look to see if there’s a sheep in the seat behind them.

The stage is interesting – a beautiful array of butterfly wings and colours. The audience “ooohs” when it is revealed.

However, when actors played the role of flower pots, I found it distracting. Why not just flowers? I was uncomfortable for the people who had to stand there trying to see through petals.

Just one word of warning: this is one of Shakespeare’s long shows. It runs close to three hours and 15 minutes, with two intermissions.  But it is three hours and 15 minutes of superior theatre.

As You Like It continues at the Festival Theatre, Stratford until October 31. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check

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