Watermill Theatre - As You Like It
24th June 2021 to 24th July 2021
Review from Newbury Theatre.
The Watermill Ensemble directed by Paul Hart are back for another Shakespeare production and the programme puts a lot of emphasis on the Watermill’s commendable commitment “to integrating sustainability and environmental awareness into everything we do”. The multipurpose set is made of recycled wood and oil drums; a double bass and a bicycle are at the side waiting to be repaired.
The stage faces the Watermill’s mature trees, adding to the forest impression and the cast weave in and out of the audience, bringing them into the story.
In Duke Frederick’s court scruffy Orlando faces up to his smartly dressed elder brother Oliver, who in revenge gets the court wrestler to take him on. Orlando wins against the odds and mightily impresses Rosalind. The family relationships are complicated, but Frederick is easily offended and Orlando is forced to leave, followed in short order by Rosalind (who then dresses as a man and calls herself Ganymede) and her best friend and cousin Celia. Off they all go to the Forest of Arden and join up with exiled Duke Senior, who seems much more fun than Frederick.
Then it starts to get complicated… but hey, this is Shakespeare. Go with the flow. And the flow is helped along with a generous smattering of songs, modern(ish) from the Beach Boys and Ronan Keating to Mumford & Sons and Taylor Swift. These sort of fit in with the text and are beautifully played and sung by the cast using a variety of wooden stringed instruments (plus a trombone and percussion). We also get a selection of songs from Orlando to set us up for the second half which he encourages us to join in with, including Sweet Caroline morphing into Sweet Rosaline.
Ned Rudkins-Stow as Orlando and Katherine Jack as Rosaline/Ganymede work well together; he perfectly combines the macho wrestler and the lover, frustrated by her teasing. Emma Manton is a surprisingly cheerful Jacques. Emma Barclay’s Touchstone bounced with energy; she tells the story of Audrey and William with dolls and a fair bit of violence. Enchanting.
Ami Okumura Jones plays three very different parts. First as Duke Frederick’s intimidated PA, then as Amiens with a lovely singing voice, and as Phebe being nasty to Silvius and falling for Ganymede. I very much liked this performance. The play ended with a rousing version of Set My Soul on Fire.
The epilogue from Rosalind was replaced with a 2021 version with an environmental message: if we don’t want a world without birds and flowers we have to be better at making changes for a brighter tomorrow.
The Watermill Ensemble always give us an interesting new look at Shakespeare plays with an enthusiastic young cast and added music, which here fits in easily with the text.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Oh yes! this is just as we like it
Watermill gardens transform into the Forest of Arden for Ensemble's summer Shakespeare
Watermill Ensemble: As You Like It. At The Watermill, Bagnor until July 24
It was delightful to return to The Watermill for their summer outdoor season in the beautiful gardens, and what better production than the pastoral Shakespeare’s play As You Like It, adapted by Yolanda Mercy?
Katie Lias’s industrial set littered with oil drums, rustic door frames and windows, wooden ladders and general detritus – constructed from recyclable sustainable materials – reflected the turmoil existing in the court of the Duke Frederick, played by Omar Baroud. He has usurped his brother Duke Senior (Jamie Satterthwaite) who has fled to the Forest of Arden to live in exile.
Trouble abounds between Orlando (Ned Rudkins-Stow), who has been deprived of his rightful fortune by Oliver (Yazdan Qafouri), his older brother.
Katherine Jack is impressive as Rosalind, the heroine of the piece, who flees from the Duke’s mistrust of her to the forest with Orlando. She has fallen in love him, much to the bewilderment of her cousin Celia (Chanelle Modi) who accompanies her.
Tom Sowinski plays Orlando’s loyal servant Adam and the old shepherd Corin with conviction.
Rosalind has disguised herself as a boy so things get very complicated on the romantic front. Accompanying her is Touchstone, a spirited performance by Emma Barclay who provides much of the comedy fun. Her many multi-coloured costumes were true panto.
The actor/musician style, which has become a trademark of Watermill’s productions continues with some modern folksy music featuring a song list that included Mumford and Sons and The Beach Boys among many others. There is a lovely touch when the audience join in singing Sweet Rosalind to the tune of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline.
Emma Manton as Jaques delivers one of the most famous of Shakespearean speeches, “All the world’s a stage” and is a powerful observer of the unfolding actions. There is strong support from Ami Okumura Jones who enthusiastically plays numerous parts as well as a ‘mean’ ukulele. The confusion and tumult is resolved in a happy ending, with multiple weddings. But the party strongly brings home a 2021 message, with the cast displaying placards supporting social issues such a climate changes, LGBTQA+ rights, racial and gender equality.
Jack persuasively delivers the epilogue and to the sound of The War and Treaty’s Set My Soul On Fire the versatile cast explode on stage in a joyful celebration.
Paul Hart directs with a freshness and playful confidence, making full use of The Watermill’s garden, in this highly enjoyable production that embraces the urgency to protect our planet.
Review from The Guardian.
eco-Shakespeare makes case for rewilding
With Paul Hart’s production blending into the theatre grounds, the pastoral comedy here becomes an effective vehicle to reflect on our relationship with nature
It is not often you hear Taylor Swift and the Beach Boys in Shakespeare. But pop music works up the romantic atmosphere in Yolanda Mercy’s adaptation of the pastoral comedy, directed by Paul Hart. Staged in the Watermill’s verdant grounds (weeping willows, ducks, gushing water), the actors sing and play a blend of folksy guitar, ukulele, bass, harp and flute.
Its bigger message is on environmental change and Katie Lias’s set design carries that symbolism: the court, filled with empty oil drums, is part construction site and part derelict greenhouse where characters wear hard-hats and hi-vis vests. The lush forest of Arden blends into the theatre’s grounds so that we are not only told that “all the world’s a stage” but understand that this stage is our own world, too, and needs rewilding. Actors walk among us to blur the boundaries further.
When the banished Duke Senior (Jamie Satterthwaite) speaks of learning lessons from nature in Arden (“tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones and good in everything”), there are echoes of our own state of exile during the pandemic that, for some, revealed birdsong and the proximities of nature.
The cast exudes an easy chemistry in this story of tyrant siblings, crisscrossing passions and disguise, the actors becoming increasingly sure in their parts. Omar Baroud, who plays both Duke Frederick and the more hapless Silvius, performs a fantastic double act with Ami Okumura Jones as Phebe, the subject of Silvius’s unrequited passion. There are other sparkling turns, from Emma Barclay’s Touchstone, who plays the harp and gives us a charming puppet drama, to Katherine Jack’s steely Rosalind.
The only off-note comes with Mercy’s epilogue on climate and sustainability. Actors bring on placards and it feels like a jarring lecture, but is soon swallowed up by a rousing last song – a rendition of Set My Soul on Fire.
A fine example of how to modernise Shakespeare, all the more spellbinding for the greater stage of the natural world around us.
There are reviews from What's On Stage ("marvel at how Hart and his company have found the extraordinary, even urgent, contemporary resonance of Shakespeare – without losing the play's magic and humour in this haunting production" - ★★★★), Wokingham Today ("an almost mystical sparkle that often made my skin tingle with pleasure... this is undoubtedly a triumph"), The Stage ("the pace and invention of this production bring new vigour to an old favourite" - ★★★), Musical Theatre Review ("a folk-inspired immersive soundscape" - ★★★).