As You Like It by William Shakespeare. Directed by Tony Knight. Shakespeare by the Lakes. February 18 to March 6. Times, locations and bookings, www.lakespeare.com
It's good to see Lakespeare back, this year with As You Like It, in a variety of indoor and outdoor locations with some free shows and others not. (It's a complex season, check out at Lakespeare's website for details.)
The performance on Saturday February 19 was on the Patrick White Lawns outside the National Library and a large and well disposed crowd made the most of this local company's welcome return.
Director Tony Knight has clearly had to create a highly flexible production that will work in a range of places. At the wide space between the lake and the library, the play takes place in the round with four aisles combining into a central circle.
Costumes are stylish but basic and the only set consists of the occasional Esky and plastic chairs for the nobles who take refuge in the forest. The trees don't crowd in but they edge the whole area so the Forest of Arden is at least lurking. Elsewhere your experience of the play will be different.
Arden of course is the idyllic forest that all the characters find their way to. Some choose to be there, some look for refuge in exile, some, like the shepherds and rustics, live there.
The cast rise to the challenges. Natasha Vickery is a warm and commanding Rosalind, particularly when in exile in the forest she disguises herself as a boy. She's well countered by a strong Orlando from Jake Fryer-Hornsby.
Andrew Macmillan is forceful and funny in the tricky role of Orlando's wicked elder brother Oliver; tricky because he has to describe an offstage change of heart that reconciles the siblings and turns him into a suitable partner for Rosalind's cousin Celia (Ylaria Rogers in great good humour in the part).
The two brother dukes in the script, the genial Duke Senior in the forest and wicked Duke Frederick who seems to have managed to have exiled half the characters to Arden, are here changed to duchesses and Heidi Silberman deals expertly with both.
Shae Kelly is vigorous as the jester Touchstone, with an edge to his rather cruel treatment of a rival in love. Audrey, his love interest, is played suitably larger than life by Anneke Van der Velde.
Ryan Street is gentle as Orlando's old servant Adam and suitably bewildered as Audrey's failed rustic suitor William.
The Silvius and Phoebe relationship gets intelligent playing from Lachlan Herring and Katerina Smalley. And Max Gambale, playing Charles the wrestler, shepherd Corin and the mythological Hymen, is especially uplifting as the last because the role allows for singing as various marriages are celebrated at the end.
Annette Sharp provides choreography and makes sure the show ends with a rather splendid jig.
Jay Cameron has composed the quiet music and plays it as a genial wandering minstrel.
The standout, however, is Karen Vickery as the ever melancholy Jaques with that famous "Seven Ages of Man" speech. The character might be melancholy but Vickery finds a compassionate heart as well.
Audience involvement includes asides, invitations to laugh at the odd local reference and in a lovely touch the invitation to several young members to be the trees that the lovelorn Orlando pins his bad love poetry to.
It's a pared down production but wherever in Canberra you catch it you will find this show a necessary lifting of the spirits in what still remain hard times.
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