Consistently one of Shakespeare’s most frequently performed comedies, this 30th anniversary Northern Broadsides production of As You Like It, by its’ own admission, attempts to provide the audience with an opportunity to consider ‘the transformative power of love and the natural world’ and the ‘crazy power of love to change the world’.
Presented Arena style, square rather than in the round, and using a collection of hat stands and what looked like my Nana’s washing line to create the magical Forest of Arden, designer E M Parry has success in creating their ‘Narnia- like’ giant dressing up box in which the cast of 12 Northern actors were able to play. From naff shell suits to gorgeously coloured gypsy skirts, rigid bone corsets to shiny superhero capes and anything in between that glittered, shone, twinkled or jarred, the team of actors embraced every outfit with gusto. Whether Parry and director Laurie Sansom collectively succeed in creating ‘a place where time, gender, sexuality, love, class, and all the hierarchies and binaries of identity and power can be questioned and turned upside down’ – I was less convinced.
The strength of this piece lay in the strong ensemble of the cast. This is a play about love and the love amongst and within this group of talented performers was easy to observe. Shining out from them was Joe Morrow’s excellent Touchstone which brought vibrancy, quick wit, colour and hilarity throughout, including the interval. Non-binary actor EM Williams as Rosalind delivered a controlled, detailed and intelligent performance which was especially strong in the second half. The connection between Williams and the engaging Isobel Coward as Celia was for me, the strongest and most loving relationship in the piece, full of tenderness, intimacy and ‘sisterly’ honesty.
My guest and I agreed the strongest scene of this production was with the cast assembled in the woods, pondering the meaning of life via the guidance of the philosophical ‘Seven Ages of Man’. The stillness and poignancy within a bizarre forest of Gentleman’s Club style hat stands and under the foliage of laundry that would give Dot Cotton a run for her money, contrasted cleverly with the beautifully melodic voice of Jo Patmore’s Amiens and touched us both. The atmosphere created under the directorship of Laurie Simon was moving in its’ simple expression of human connection.
For me, this production worked more as a traditional piece than a Queer Riot. In the highly entertaining wrestling scene, the actors strutted and hammed as one would expect a la WWF resulting in a potentially ‘in your face’, ‘let’s turn this upside down’ homoerotic opportunity being lost to conventional male heterosexual behaviour. With the exception of Rosalind and Orlando, the multiple final pairings of one male and one female actor whilst strong and well performed did not quite live up to gender crashing expectations I had been encouraged to look forward to
I wanted less convention. I wanted to be disrupted, challenged, disgusted, delighted and maybe just a little bit turned on, which I wasn’t… but I WAS entertained, and I reckon most audiences will be too.
Playing until the 12th March, https://thelowry.com/whats-on/as-you-like-it/
Reviewer: Lou Kershaw
Reviewed: 9th March 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★