Irisa Kwok (left), Grace Beckett (centre) and Flossie Adrian (right) lead the cast of 'As You Like It'Esme Bishop with permission for Varsity

Banished from the corrupted royal court of the usurping Duke Frederick, Rosalind and her cousin Celia flee to the mysterious sanctuary of the Forest of Arden, conjured by actors in the floral serenity of Clare Scholars’ Garden on a particularly warm summer’s afternoon. Production designer, Hugh Bowers, constructed a makeshift forest of charming simplicity: two wooden pillars stood in the centre of the lawn, surrounded by aged, woody branches and bundles of sticks planted in the soil. Apart from these delicately crafted allusions, the majority of the mystical greenwood was imaginatively projected by the audience, allowing spectators to privately summon their own speculative Arden of the mind. Though situated in the centre of a bustling Cambridge, directors Esme Bishop and Hugo Gregg successfully transformed the garden into an otherworldly refuge of revelry and ardour.

“Bishop and Gregg successfully transformed the garden into an otherworldly refuge of revelry and ardour”

Shakespeare’s comedies are often underestimated by audiences to be merely bawdy and superficial, with “true” narrative complexity being typically ascribed to his well-known tragedies. As You Like It is testimony to the way in which such binaries of genre fall apart, for the Bard’s comic heroines can be just as dramatically elusive and deliciously ambivalent as his tragic heroes. Rosalind, masterfully portrayed by Flossie Adrian, completely dominates the show, displaying a playful agency that Shakespeare’s tragic heroines are deprived of. Whilst Ophelia and Desdemona find themselves marginalised by their soliloquising male counterparts, Rosalind emerges as a surrogate theatre-maker — an avatar of Shakespeare within the world of the play. In the Forest of Arden, Rosalind renders her love interest — the unwitting Orlando — her mere puppet, disguising herself and commandeering him with a confident and sometimes sadistic glee. Adrian felt perfectly cast for this dynamic and demanding role, emerging as the vital connective tissue which bound the cast and plot together into satisfying comic unity. They were undoubtedly the dramatic and emotional centre of the play, with cousin Celia (Grace Beckett) and doting Orlando (Irisa Kwok) positively basking in their orbit.

“It was sometimes painful to be on the outside of this hopeful, woodland adventure”

Grace Leaman offered an ingenious interpretation of the comic Touchstone, emerging as a dancing, wining, childish fool. Garbed in knee-high, candy-striped socks, pinstripe shorts and a Pierrot’s hat, Touchstone was a visual delight, testifying to the sartorial imagination of costume designer Sophie Campbell. Leaman was steadfastly dedicated to this exhausting role, disappearing into Touchstone’s idiosyncrasies with their exaggerated intonation, scrunched facial expressions and eccentric prancing about the lawn. Acting alongside the equally hilarious Dylan Sudworth as Adam/Silvius and Eliza Harrison as Audrey/Le Beau, Leaman’s creative performance testifies to the underestimated dimensionality of Shakespeare’s fools, whose comedy does not detract from their theatrical mystery. Leaman was vital in continually engaging the audience, blending the bounds between fiction and reality in her irreverent mischief-making across the garden. Throughout the performance, the non-verbal humour utilised by the limping, sniffling Sudworth was thoroughly amusing, and I relished witnessing him being victimised through disturbingly force-fed fairy cakes.


Mountain View

In 'The Dumb Waiter', the mundane is meaningful

To the left of the lawn, Lia Joffe presided over a five-person band which delivered lighthearted tunes between scenes. If the Forest of Arden represents the pleasurable rupturing of courtly hierarchy, the band of string and woodwind instruments animated the wayward rhythms of the forest. As the characters abandoned the regulated linearity of courtly existence for an eternal, topsy-turvy carnival, I too found myself entranced by the lullaby-esque sounds of the seductive woodland. The live music contributed to the contagious sense of revelry which swept the garden, with Beckett particularly emerging as a lively bundle of energy throughout the performance. Indeed, the heartbeat of the show was the electric chemistry between Adrian and Beckett, whose unique, captivating intimacy transformed Shakespeare’s antiquated, early modern idioms into the modern-day, giddy parlance of close friends. Delivering Renaissance dialogue like spontaneous, unscripted gossip, their naturalistic performances rendered their friendship the central product of the play. As an audience member, it was sometimes painful to be on the outside of this hopeful, woodland adventure, but I’m grateful to the cast for momentarily bringing Arden to life.

As You Like It showed at the Clare College Scholars’ Garden from Wednesday 21st to Friday 23rd June, 2:00pm.