The acting evoked the pastoral sympathy of the Forest of ArdenJulia Leino

“Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them – but not for love.” When Shakespeare’s Rosalind speaks these lines she asserts a model for the female self beyond that of the helpless lover. Here she is autonomous and realistic in her correction of the shepherd’s illusions of love. In Erika Price’s version of the play in the Pembroke Gardens, Rhoni Cash plays Rosalind’s double-self with an impressive deftness, overcome by love in the scenes with Celia, then playing games with the men, ordering them into pairs and marriage vows. It is Rosalind who constructs the final scene of comic perfection, costumed as a man both physically as Ganymede and metaphorically as she refuses to be controlled by male passion.

The outdoor nature of the play allowed for freedom and a release of theatrical formality

These patterns of human relationships form the only kind of structure in this production, set as it is in the openness of Pembroke Gardens. The cast seemed uncertain with the space to begin with, but as the play went on they warmed to it, not allowing the outside noises to deny the powerful silence of the intimate theatre, but creating an energy between characters through their bodies which more than made up for this. The relationship between Rosalind and Celia (played by Beca Daniels) is particularly to be praised. Daniels balances a teasing lightness, a mischievousness which evokes the pastoral sympathy of the Forest of Arden setting, with a sense of comfort and advice in the face of Rosalind’s feelings of powerlessness in love. There is something quite beautiful in the natural intimacy and complete comfort in their relationship.

A special mention should also go to Tom Sparkes’ fool, Touchstone. Like the rest of the cast in the court, he is dressed in a suit, complete with buttoned-up jacket and pocket square, exhibiting a togetherness which seems incongruous with the looseness of his movement and the eyebrow-raising raunchiness of his jokes – but which also suits them perfectly. He delivers his puns with a light pleasure which combines mischief with a sense of art.

The actors had a clear connection which helped to drive this play both on comic and tragic levels

The costumes in this play are carefully managed. The shirts and smart trousers of the shepherds and shepherdesses complement the sharp suits of the court characters, emphasising thus the relationship between these two worlds, the one morphing into the other as the ladies and gentlemen from the court enter the forest. The staging satisfies this same sense of transition, positioning the audience in the centre of the garden and unfolding the court and forest action on either side. As the audience we become the boundary between these two worlds, a pivot, and in this way our role becomes an active one. We are omniscient, even omnipotent, understanding not just the reality behind Rosalind’s disguise but also the interplay of space within the play. It is we the audience who bridge the gap between the two locations, looking over our shoulders at the end of each scene to see from where the actors will enter next.


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This uncertainty is powerful up to a point, but there was a more general sense of fragility to the whole piece which was slightly more problematic. The outdoor nature of the play allowed for freedom, a release of theatrical formality which was reflected in certain moments of the performance as actors slipped out of character and into their real selves as they concentrated on the lines they had to speak. This was most detrimental only in scenes of passionate emotion, such as between Orlando and the disguised Rosalind, where his nervousness about the love letters he has written, a trembling which became almost erotic, was at times punctured by a visible effort to remember lines. Most of the time, however, the emotion was retained. The actors and thus their characters had a clear connection which helped to drive this play both on comic and tragic levels, holding in fine balance Shakespeare’s hilarious patterns of disguised gender and misplaced love and the deeper comments on the nature of love and wooing.

For a bit of fun in May Week, for a laugh which also leaves you thinking, come and see this play. If that’s not enough, come for free Pimms and strawberries!

As You Like It is on until Sunday 17th June at Pembroke College Gardens

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