Review - As You Like It at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Much like the mystical Forest of Arden, with twinkling fairy lights and copious amounts of plants, Regent Park’s Open Air Theatre is a delight to behold. Upon entering the auditorium, however, the audience are greeted by a sparse stage with crisp packets, plastic cups and indistinguishable rubbish piles scattered around. Uncomfortably close to the first row of audience members is a small section of water, also filled with waste. Perhaps this production of As You Like It is a commentary on the damage that we’re doing to the environment? No. Instead, a short audio clip blames flooding for the state of affairs and we move on.
It seems to be a somewhat superficial attempt at environmental awareness, a gimmick used to justify the body of water which provides the basis for so many gags. When Audrey (Amy Booth-Steel) splashes members of the front row and Silvius (Jacade Simpson) fishes out his giant teddy bear after being rejected once again by Phebe (Joanne McGuinness), the audience are in stiches. With the rubbish replaced with flowers after the interval, the potential for something that speaks to a modern audience is washed away with the floods. It is disappointing to say the least that more has not been done with Naomi Dawson’s stage design.
Max Webster’s production must, however, be highly praised for the number of strong female characters it portrays. Olivia Vinall as Rosalind is thoroughly captivating, and as convincing an upper-class woman as she is a man in the guise of Ganymede. Rosalind (Vinall) garners a huge cheer from the crowd when she picks up Orlando (Edward Hogg) to carry him over the threshold at the end of the play. Maureen Beattie as Jacques is a gift. Her chilling delivery of Shakespeare’s renowned ‘All the world’s a stage’ monologue stills the audience and is a standout moment from the production.
Danny Kirrane and Amy Booth-Steel outdo themselves in the respective roles of Touchstone and Audrey. Reminiscent of ‘Gavin and Stacey’’s Smithy and Nessa, they are a gaudy, surprisingly sensual, comedy duo that lift the production with witty exchanges, some moderate stripping and a passionate rendezvous in an orange pop up tent.
With the exuberant Rosalind (Vinall) proving to be a saving grace in the first few scenes of Webster’s production, it is only once the second half begins that the pace picks up and the subversive tale of mistaken identity really gets underway. It’s unfortunate that the start is so sluggish, as the ending really is a delight. Accompanied by former Noah and the Whale frontman Charlie Fink’s upbeat compositions, sung by the wonderful Me’sha Bryan, the production sends you out onto the streets in deliriously high-spirits.
As You Like It Tickets are available now.