The term ‘Student Shakespeare’ can strike fear in the most hardened of theatre-goers. Too easily can the jokes be lost, the language mangled, the script simply misunderstood. But with Hannah Boland’s As You Like It, all fears are assuaged when the play kicks off and the fun begins. This is a good show. A very good show.
As You Like It is not the most serious of Shakespeare plays. The main plotline centres on the spontaneous romance between Orlando and Rosalind, with the latter finding the urge to dress as a man and seduce her lover as a pageboy. Yeah, I know. Along the way we meet a plethora of comic characters in bizarre situations, and nobody really has a clue what is going on. I like to imagine Shakespeare put an excessive amount of comic conventions in a blender and put the setting on maximum, before I realize a) Shakespeare displays a lot more skill than this and b) Shakespeare probably didn’t own a blender. Still, this is a lazy play by the Bard’s standards, which dispenses with all realism to showcase the action, music and comedy.
Thankfully, the production revels in this insanity. Boland masters her space with wonderful set design and sumptuous costumes. It’s difficult to believe she’s a first-time director, such is the skill of innovation on display. Character-wise, all the actors are brimming with energy. Paul Obi Jr. and Harriet Scopes are a commanding presence as the lead couple, both looking and sounding beautiful. At times they are threatened in terms of stage presence by the countless other characters that appear throughout the show – a hilarious motley crew, ranging from camp courtiers to simple country folk, that keep the pace and the jokes flowing. This is definitely an ensemble piece – picture Ocean’s Eleven in Tudor clothing (without a massive con at the end, unless you count the lack of a credible conclusion). No person can be singled out due to the consistent strength of the cast. However, I can’t help but highlight the show’s ridiculous climax, thanks to the appearance of Hymen (or rather, ‘High-man’, as I will now forever know him as), with the delicious Peter von Zahnd making a stoned cameo as the great God of Marriage. I hope he rolls his joints like he rolls his ‘r’s.
It’s refreshing to see a cast not simply speak the words of Shakespeare, but understand them and play with them. Everybody in the show was enjoying themselves, and this feeling of good humour was infectious. That’s a rare gift that Boland brought out of her cast, and she should be commended for it.
I’m often sceptical about my Shakespeare, but this one was a riot. Get yourself down to the Byre, grab a drink at the bar, and prepare to have a good old laugh. As You Like It? As I LOVE it. (I was working on that one for a few hours. Thankfully, Shakespeare’s jokes are better.)