As You Like It on the Rock
This year marks the third time As You Like It has been revisited at Stratford Festival since 2005. But on each visit, the Festival has taken the audience on a different journey. In 2005, we went back in time to the 1960s, with a cast of hippies in tie-dye shirts living in a forest of step ladders. Then in 2010, we were sent even further back to the late 1920s, just as Hitler was getting attention in Germany. Hitler youth in their brown shirts were upsetting the flappers in Arden.
Fast forward to 2016, and As You Like It moves forward to 1985. We have As You Like It set in Newfoundland with some re-imagined props. Big hair, shoulder pads, muscle shirts and mullets are the order of the day. And listening to Shakespeare’s words spoken with a Newfie accent adds to the fun.
But it is the same old story. Duke Frederick (Scott Wentworth) takes over his sister’s court and sends Duchess Senior (Brigit Wilson) to the Forest of Arden. The evil Frederick allows his niece, Rosalind, (Duchess Senior’s daughter), to remain at the royal court with his daughter, her cousin, Celia. Rosalind falls in love with Orlando and he is also sent to the Forest. So Rosalind disguises herself and goes into the Forest, pretending to be a young man travelling with his sister. Eventually, she reveals herself to Orlando and they, along with two other happy couples, get married.
Robin Hutton is put into a fascinating role as Hymen, usually the god of marriage. Hutton plays it as part matchmaker (and in this case goddess of marriage), part ringmaster, and part narrator. As matchmaker, she calls out the labels: Couple number one, Couple number two, and so on. As ringmaster, she ensures that the Newfoundland kitchen parties are going on during the scene changes. She also oversees and explains all the audience participation rules. As narrator she simply keeps the audience up to speed on what’s happening.
Each patron is given a bag before they are seated. In the orchestra seats, audience members have a tree branch, a green hat and so on – so that they can be Arden Park or green grass. In the balcony, audience members are given stars that light up, blue fans for ocean waves and blue hats for sky. At one point, people sitting in the front row hold fake hot coals, so that characters can slap steaks on them for barbecuing. Hutton is the ringmaster who makes all the changes happen, while singing Newfoundland jigs and reels.
Petrina Bromley, actually from Newfoundland, is a good Rosalind cum Ganymede. Trish Lindstrӧm brings humour as her cousin Celia. She steals the show with her wood chopping scene, side ponytail bobbing. Another audience favourite is Cory O’Brien as the ill-fated blustering wrestler, Charles, Jake de Boys.
Many of the characters don’t necessarily follow the track Shakespeare created, but are just neighbours at a Newfoundland party. If you’re a purist who doesn’t want anyone messing with Shakespeare, you won’t like this version. But, as they said in the 80s, if the girls just wanna have fun, then this might be the right show.
As You Like It is obviously a favourite at the Festival and with the Stratford audiences. So it’s been interesting to see the different times and places that are used to freshen this play.
As You Like It continues in repertoire until October 22 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca
Photo: Cyrus Lane as Orlando and Petrina Bromley as Rosalind in As You Like It. Photo by David Hou.
As You Like It
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jillian Keiley
Performed by Robin Hutton, Trish Lindstrӧm, Petrina Bromley, Sanjay Talwar, Seanna McKenna, Cyrus Lane et al.
Produced by Stratford Festival
Festival Theatre, Stratford
June 3 to October 22, 2016
Reviewed by Mary Alderson