Jonathan van Es

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” is one of Shakespeare’s most famed lines. This week “all the world” becomes the Queen’s Cloister Court, in which As You Like It, the play in which this line has its origin, will be staged this week.

The production marks the revival of the annual BATS (Queens’ Amateur Dramatic Society) performance of May Week Shakespeare, the last of which was produced close to a decade ago. Director Piper Whitehead, in her second directorial role at Cambridge, took much inspiration from an early, iconic May week production at the Cloister Court: the 1948 staging of As You Like It. Whitehead chose to set this As You Like It incarnation in a forties setting as a homage.

"As You Like It attempts to emerge and stand out amongst the rest as a classic comedy with power in its accessibility."

“We decided to celebrate the rebirth of the society by recreating elements of the atmosphere of the original show, which led us to pick a late forties setting for our production,” Whitehead said. “It’s added a lot to the play through costuming, but I think the era also pulls out a few of the themes we really wanted to highlight. Gender and class structures were being challenged during the war, and afterwards there was the question of how much society could return to order.”

This year’s version takes additional points of inspiration from the 1948 production: notably, incorporating the famed use of a live goat – in poster design. Jimmie Beatment detailed the particulars of the use of the animal in the 1948 performance in the Queens’ College Record of 1990.

“We had a real goat for the pastoral scenes,” Beatmant wrote. “There is the scene in which Rosalind discovers a poem on a bush and reads it; unfortunately, the tethered goat discovered it first, and by the time the actress – who had not learned those lines because they were written on the parchment – came on stage, half the poem was inside the goat.”

Jonathan van Es

Additionally, Beatment gives mention of esteemed figures in attendance of their performance. “For Her Majesty the Queen [The Queen Mother], as she then was, who had graciously accepted the College’s request in the Centenary Year that she become our Patroness, came and watched,” Beatment wrote. “She entered Cloister Court with the splendid remark, 'What have we here?'."

This As You Like It, for better or worse, will probably not have a real goat – “We were quite enthusiastic to revive that particular element of the show,” Whitehead said, “but I think the Queens’ gardeners would have been far less amused” – however, BATS was similarly able to attract the attention of contemporary prestigious personalities. Noted Queens’ alumni, comedian Stephen Fry and director Ian Softely, attended rehearsals to offer insight, guidance, and anecdotes from their time at Cambridge.

“It was a wonderful opportunity for us, and I think it helped the show a lot to be given professional advice,” Whitehead said. “I think we were all so excited to get to meet people in the industry who we look up to, and who were also just genuinely lovely and very encouraging. A particular highlight was Stephen Fry himself mentioning emphatically that he 'would walk on broken glass barefoot' to see the show (if he didn’t have to be in New York for the week).”


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Among the deluge of May Week Shakespeare across Cambridge this week, As You Like It attempts to emerge and stand out amongst the rest as a classic comedy with power in its accessibility. “The play is just so funny and energetic, with plenty of bawdy jokes and over the top characters, and great female leads in Rosalind and Celia,” Whitehead said. “It really has everything going on – romance, disguises, singing, dancing, and elaborate word play. I think it’s the perfect mix of Shakespeare’s beautiful language and his best jokes, so it could appeal to anyone regardless of their interest or knowledge of Shakespeare.”

Goat or not, this revival of the Queens’ College May Week production is sure to delight audiences – and hopefully will lead to many more Shakespearian May Week performances at Queens’ for years to come.

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