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Review: As You Like It – Guildford Shakespeare Company

Published on: 24 Jul, 2021
Updated on: 26 Jul, 2021

That lovin’ feelin’: wedding celebrations in GSC’s wonderful forest camp.

By Alice Fowler

Never has an encampment in the woods looked more inviting than Guildford Shakespeare Company’s forest camp, created for its new production, As You Like It.

In the heart of Rack’s Close, this tremendous set – a wide tent decked with animal skins, tree trunks adorned with love notes – is perfectly placed to catch the breeze and while away an enchanting summer’s evening.

Rosalind, disguised as a young man, Ganymede, catches Orlando’s eye.

Director Caroline Devlin’s production is all about choice: liberty versus banishment, liberal decadence versus fascism, male versus female, with Shakespeare’s gender-fluid playfulness exploited to the full.

As You Like It contains some of Shakespeare’s greatest verses”

This is an ensemble piece, with eight actors taking on a variety of roles, and minor characters shining as brightly as the larger roles. Natasha Rickman delights as Rosalind, with Rachel Summers equally captivating as her cousin Celia: two young women trying their hardest to have fun as political forces tighten round them.

Matt Pinches, resplendent as Touchstone: as you’ve never seen him before.

GSC co-founders Sarah Gobran and Matt Pinches are in fine form: Gobran excellent as the grim Duke Frederick, striding in a red leather trenchcoat, and Pinches turning heads as Touchstone, a cabaret clown. If you have ever longed to see Pinches in fish-net stockings, high heels and a red sequin mini-skirt, this is your moment.

James Sheldon and Tom Richardson, who stole the show in GSC’s recent She Stoops to Conquer, reprise their partnership as lovelorn Orlando and his dastardly elder brother. Throw into the mix Corey Montague-Sholay and Robert Maskell, both on sparkling form, and the scene is set for an evening of GSC at its sharp-witted, bewitching best.

As You Like It contains some of Shakespeare’s greatest verses, notably ‘All the world’s a stage…’ It’s worth buying a ticket just to hear Sarah Gobran belt out the seven stages of man, from ‘infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms’ to ‘childishness and mere oblivion’.

Rosalind (Natasha Rickman) and Orlando (James Sheldon) pledge their troth.

Designer Neil Irish makes the most of the natural backdrop of Rack’s Close, with its towering trees and stark chalk cliff behind. Nature, as the exiled Duke Senior (Maskell) tells us, provides solace and healing: words that seem apposite in this former chalk quarry, now run magnificently wild. Impressive choreography by Charlotte Conquest sees actors flit about the trees, so the edges of the stage meld with the forest.

In a wonderful finale as dusk draws in, the god Hymen intervenes – her voice echoing Big Brother-style through the clearing – to ensure all four gender-shifting couples are suitably matched and wed.

As red and green lighting illuminates the stage, a sinister edge prevails – and we believe, as always in great theatre, that anything could happen.

GSC’s As you Like It runs to August 31. Click here for details

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