Megan's Head

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As I Liked It

Off to a perfect evening for opening night at Maynardville I went last night for As You Like It, directed by Geoffrey Hyland. It’s a jolly good production and I had a jolly good time. This is a great way to do Shakespeare; picnic on the lawns, have a glass or two of Distell’s finest, cover yourself in mozzie repellant and take in a bit of the old bard.

As You Like It is a bit of a nothing play, but what made this production work was that it was so easy to follow and that the funny bits were really quite funny, which is actually the hardest thing to do in Shakespeare as far as I’m concerned.

I have lots and lots of good things to say about this production, and only a few complaints, and they are small in comparison, I have to say.

Firstly, I know Geoff is really good at visuals and visual design of a show but here it really goes further and his concept for the show is very strong. The heavy, restricted and rather gloomy and oppressive court is Gothic and boldly visual with blacks and reds. Then, to the forest of Arden where everyone floats about in hippy floral in the pastoral Ashram in the woods. Delicious. And very funny.

I loved the opening dance sequence, choreographed by magician Jay Pather. I was a bit sad when it ended and we had to go through the opening introduction scenes which are always a pain; lots of explaining to get the story going. And it was a bit heavy going until the crowd scenes which lifted the whole thing up. Claire Watling stole the show as Madame Le Beau, with her perfect comic timing, outrageous costume and madly restoration voice and accent. It was good that she did steal the show because, the first half is not nearly as much fun as the second, and she was the comic relief. In fact, at half-time I was not loving the play as much as I did at the end.

The second half was great and it gave my favourite performers and characters time to bloom and flourish, They were the absolutely surprising and delightful Mark Elderkin as Touchstone, who was properly funny, spoke the Shakespeare like it was his native tongue and was magnetic, charming, camp and huge, the consummately talented Guy de Lancy as Jaques the melancholy traveller, who is by far the guy who speaks Shakespeare the best, and his famous ‘all the world’s a stage’ speech was impeccable, Gys de Villiers who played the bad guy Duke Frederick in the first half and totally contrasted him with the love machine, guru leader with the voice, Duke Ferdinand in the forest. The smaller parts were also too delicious. Nicola Hanekom‘s Phoebe and Pakamisa Zwedala‘s Silvius were delightful and funny, as was enormous Adrian Galley as the no-frills shepherd Corin. I have to mention Paul Savage’s second character ‘Sir Oliver Martext, a free spirited but questionable priest’ as one of the funniest teeniest cameos I have ever seen.

The hardest parts to play are the romantic leads. It’s hard to take them seriously. They recover unbelievably quickly from the terrible things that happen to them, make decisions in the blink of an eye and fall in love at first glimpse. It’s just so hard to care about them, and they aren’t really funny either. Having said that, I thought that Lika Berning as Rosalind was terrific. She was clear, comfortable and totally present, especially in her boy disguise. Matching her, as her cousin and side kick Celia, was the delicious, clear and so beautiful Astara Mwakalumbwa. The only thing I thought that really could have helped these two a lot was a bit more cutting of their scenes which were long and repetitive. They do go on about not much for quite a bit. It was Andrew Laubscher as Orlando who suffered the most though. He had the terrible job of starting the show off and he just didn’t manage it for me. Granted, his character is the poor, love-lorn dweeb! (I know this is rude, but when I saw Scott Sparrow in the bar afterwards I thought about how good he would have been in that part.)

The ensemble worked like a dream, and even those who had little or nothing to say were fab. I smaaked the hippy folky songs and was amazed at how well everybody danced! Wow guys. The zulu wedding ending was very lekker.

I found the guy-with-the-stick a bit irritating though, even though we ‘got’ what he was doing. Also, although the set looked good and I loved the fiery crosses in the court, the funny poles in the forest were not terribly successful and the one did look like it was going to tip over.

There were two other things I loved about the production that made it for me: Dicky Longhurst‘s costume design (I can’t believe he had the girls in beautiful red ball gowns and sparkly red stilettos in the first half!) was amazing, and William Baker‘s original music was fabulous.

I can’t wait to see and hear what everyone else thought of this one. Go and see it and let me know.

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6 Comments

  1. We saw AYLI on Saturday with 4 kids in tow – 10, 7. 7 and 5 — they were absolutely mesmerised – refused to use the pillows and duvets we supplied and sat riveted for the duration of the show.

    I share Megan’s review fully. The actors were energetic, clear and precise and they made it easy for us to ‘get the point – and to the point.’ The proof – for me – happened the following day when my seven years old told her brother, who seemed too eager to tuck into his pudding “come, come, wrestle with thy affections.”

    It was an absolutely delightful production, beautifully played and sumptuously devised. Visually it was a treat (those magical beings conjuring the deity contrasting with the stark court of Duke Frederick and his sombre servants who look like dementors straight out of Azkaban – what a sight!)

    The music is awesome (that didgeridoo sequence at the beginning of the play was totally gorgeous, as were the supple, sensual beings that cavorted among the trees of the forest of Arden. Now, that was the sexiest HAKA I’d ever seen!)

    The director’s sure hand and creative drive were present throughout. I have been a fan of Geoffrey Hyland for years – his Maynardville Twelfth Night, twp years ago, was also a wonderful feast!

    I say – go see this, and take the kids.

  2. megan

    Great review Rudy. Thanks for leaving it here.

  3. Brian Astbury

    WHOAHHH there…. “As You Like It is a bit of a nothing play” ? I came VERY late to Shakespeare – the result of far to many really bad productions which mostly left me feeling ‘What have all these Kings and Queens to do with me?” My late wife once said to me: “One day you will fall in love with Shakespeare – and I’d like to be around when it happens.” Sadly she wasn’t. It was this play that introduced me to Shakespeare’s greatness. He was a manipulative, compromising s**t, but man could he write! I also thought AYLI was a ‘nothing play’ – until I had to do a production of it. Underneath that frothy surface lurks the most incredible web of love, with all its obsession and near-madness. Watching a good Rosalind push Orlando to the very brink of insanity, driven by the intense battle between the two sides of her own personality – the ‘in love’ young woman and the rampant, gleeful ‘masculine’ side of her (a classic Id/Ego confrontation), glorying in ‘the fact that ‘he’ has stolen Orlando from ‘her’ – is theatre of the highest order. But it’s very difficult theatre and requires both the director and the actors to understand and be willing to go into such madness. I’m not blaming you for not seeing this – I’ve never seen a production which even acknowledged that this battle exists. Try is for yourself one day – look at those wonderful scenes where she taunts a man who is in love with a woman and now finds that he is in love with a man (enough to drive any ‘straight’ man insane). 400 years ago Shakespeare understood (obviously without the scientific evidence that we have today) about sexual attraction and pheromones. Also much more than Freud ever did about the complexities of us human beings, and where the edge of the cliff of schizophrenia lies. It’s not a nothing play – it’s a great play. Most of us just don’t really understand it, yet.

  4. megan

    So there’s this deep, emotional, complicated stuff from the guy who writes his leading lady into banishment. There she is, bawling her eyes out and next thing, she’s hatching a plan to be a boy and dragging her cousin with her. Like I said; a bit of a nothing play. Maybe very interesting and sexy when all the parts were played by men. But here, leading ladies recover from terrible things at the speed of light, hatch plans for no solid reason other than to appear in drag and then fall in love in three seconds flat. I don’t know. Maybe you are right and I just haven’t seen the production that does your theory justice. But hey, would it be a lekker romp like this one was? With all respect though, Mr Astbury, I love that we are having this debate here. Thank you.

  5. Brian Astbury

    Difficult to explain, Megan, unless you’ve seen it working. And she doesn’t fall in love in three seconds flat (you’re talking here to someone who didn’t believe in love at first sight until he saw it happening to two friends of his…) she is already in love.

    I absolutely HATE all-male productions. Men are far too keen on getting their own back on the woman’s ability to produce the Greatest Work of Art – a child – by cornering all the ‘Art’ and saying: “Only we can create Art”.

    The play looks at much darker sides of the human personality. Properly done it can be wildly funny and deeply moving. Wat kan ek se? You hadda be there….

    As for the circumstances of the play – well, maybe you would like to run me through Waiting for Godot et al. Also, and correct me if I’m wrong here, you seem to be missing how incredibly strong and self-sufficient Rosalind is. Is there nowhere in our current world where – to avoid being killed – a woman would not have to dress up as a man? It’s a good plan with really good reasons. But if you play it as a romp then, yah, it’s a nothing play. Enjoyable, but like sugar candy – dissolved and gone the next morning (except on the hips). Good theatre does more than that. For AYLI to survive it needs the director and cast to look at what it has to say to our modern world and our modern audience. Otherwise just can the play. Shakespeare suffers more than most from people not delving deeper to find something that speaks to us now. Take Othello, for instance. It has what I call the Problem of Desdemona. She is either the wishy-washiest female character EVER written, or we’re missing something. I won’t go into this here as I am sure you don’t really have time, but every time I have introduced my theory of Des to young actors I can see their ears perk up and the character not only become viable but also deeply interesting to young women NOW. Just one question to think on: At the end she allows him to kill her. Why? Do you love someone enough just to let them take your life? If you do I would suggest a quick visit to a shrink.

    Shakespeare’s more complicated and, paradoxically, less complicated than we make him out to be. (Except for the History plays – I hate the History plays…boring…)

    Nice to debate, Megan, and my name’s Brian.

  6. Colette Stott

    Hi Megan

    I am trying to get in touch with Brian Astbury regarding a picture permission request and when I Googled his name your Blog came up. Do you by any chance have his email address for me pease? Sorry to bug you. I don’t know where else to turn!

    thanks
    Colette

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