Axbridge Review THEATRE: Wet, wet, wet, but it’s Shakespeare just as we like it – Ember Theatre’s As You Like It in Badgworth was played with passion and commitment as the heavens opened
Rosalind is perhaps the most celebrated heroine, female protagonist and articulate of Shakespeare’s characters graced with that rare gift: the final epilogue in his pastoral comedy As You Like It.
Jemima Marshall was everything Rosalind must be. Witty, funny, intelligent and challenging the status quo but above all engaging with her sharp asides and speeches . In Jacobean England it was a revolutionary role as women weren’t even allowed on stage (Gwyneth Paltrow excepted) but here was a Rosalind who was animated, expressive and held the audience through to the finale. She was supported with perfect chemistry by Beck Steward as Celia who was her equal in this sisterly 17th play about exile, injustice and above all love.
Ember Theatre’s production of the romance set largely in the Forest of Arden and directed by Lee Housley and Sophia Wood was near to perfect as the drama can be. That is taking into account that this was an outdoor production (never mind the weather) with no scene changes, and in daylight. In fact just as most of the Bard’s plays were originally performed – albeit for the costumes.
A large cast fired on all cylinders with strong performances from actors intent on making an impression that the audience in their anoraks and brollies lapped up. Will Vero as the idealistic and resentful Orlando mixed an enjoyably over the top romantic with a raw resentment over the treatment by his brother Oliver (a be-suited Lee Housley) but was at his most vulnerable when engaged in an unequal battle of wits with his true love Rosalind.
Willem Dalby was outstanding as Touchstone combining all the attributes of a Shakespearean actor using his body, his facial expressions and above all an ability to relate to the audience – a class act. Phil Saunders as Adam and Corin with his wheel barrow and life boatman coat was perhaps the driest of the cast and was good value as he tried to inject some common sense into the dotty behaviour of the characters.
The Duke exiled Rosalind due to her family connections to the forest where in disguise she outwits all including her true love Orlando. Whilst in the forest we are introduced to the sub plots of the shepherds and their woolly ideas of courtship.
There were several set pieces that were well directed and choreographed. The final dance sequence was as it should be, and the fight between Orlando and Oliver was suitably testosterone filled but Orlando’s fight with the enjoyably lightweight Charles played by the elfin like Sophia Wood was a master stroke of theatre. Nigel Newton as Jacques made his famous seven ages of man speech with a thoughtfulness and an articulateness that deserved a less rain drenched afternoon. Nic Austen seemed to bounce off the rain as she produced a hormonally charged portrayal of Le Beau as she struggled with her emotions (and thirst for wine) in an audience pleasing performance.
With so many good actors it seems unfair to leave anyone out – but Shannon Messer was a cheeky messenger, hip swivelling Sophie Anne Bloodworth was exceptional as Phebe, Chrissie Wallenberg was an enjoyable Audrey, Lysah Hughesman was perfect as Silvia and Rob Trayhurn was outstanding as the Duke – a tough one to pull off as the grumpy aristocrat – but he did it in his business suit and grim demeanour – as the rain kept pouring down on Badgworth’s playing fields.
After more than a year of no theatre it was a delight to see Shakespeare back on stage (or rather a patch of damp grass) even if the weather Gods were not inclined to grace the Ember Theatre production with sunshine. With such a short run it is a pity this production can’t entertain a wider audience.
The production is an outdoor show and moves onto Shepton Mallet and Wells. For details visit https://www.facebook.com/embertheatre
For details for the work of the journalist Harry Mottram visit www.harrymottram.co.uk
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