Creation Theatre Company - As You Like It
28th July to 12th September 2015.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Resistance is fertile
Creation Theatre: As You Like It, at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, until September 12
Tom Littler's immersive, partly-promenade production for Creation Theatre Company of William Shakespeare's As You Like It is set in France in 1943, in Paris and the Ardennes. Shakespeare suggests that there is an innocent, rustic beauty found in Arden, his mother's family name as well as a region in northern France and Belgium. Because Littler knows his history, his Ardennes are now somewhere in southern France as the real Ardennes were not a major location for French resistance in 1943. Lady Margaret Hall's gardens now provide a setting (designer, Ryan Dawson-Laight) to match the Bard's imagination.
Jonathan Oliver doubles as the powerful Duke Frederick, a slick-haired, sieg-heiling Quisling based in Paris, and as the ousted Duke Senior, leader of the Resistance hiding in the forest. The Duke's daughter Celia (Julia Goulding) flees Paris with her friend, Duke Senior's daughter Rosalind (Rhiannon Sommers), because Rosalind's blood-line is tainted.
The Resistance conceit works well as a framing device. Along with popular ’Allo ’Allo references, cryptic radio messages such as 'it's time to pick tomatoes' are broadcast throughout the forest. Fighters react nervously to jokes about Nazis by the clown Touchstone (Morgan Philpott). Jacques (Timothy Allsop) is melancholy because he is a Jewish writer in exile, solitary, family-less and finding some solace in his philosophy.
The handsome Orlando (Joe Eyre) follows Rosalind into the Ardennes. It was his defeat of the wrestler Charles (Allsop, doubling) in a contest echoing Jesse Owens winning the 100m at the Berlin Olympics in front of Hitler, that leads to Rosalind's hasty exile. Orlando's poetic wooing of Rosalind, disguised as the boy Ganymede, normally the heart of the play, is less prominent here. This is because Jonathan Oliver steals the show playing rustics Corin, and Audrey. In one scene Oliver rows across the Cherwell speaking French, saying, in a witty meta-theatrical joke, 'nous sommes les paysans français - c'est le concept'. In the background, a puntfull of bemused tourists float by as unexpected audience members whilst a huge, bright, almost Blue Moon rises overhead. It's a magical and unrepeatable theatrical moment that typifies this imaginative production.