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.