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As You Like It – New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Douglas Rintoul

Reviewer: Michael Gray




ASYOULIKEIT TRANSPORTThis is my fourth As You Like It this season; by far the most inventive, and in some ways the most magical.

For this anarchic adaptation, director Douglas Rintoul draws inspiration from his time at Calais’s No Borders camp for migrants hoping to enter the UK. We hardly need reminding of the desperate lengths such fugitives will go to as they escape fighting, or famine, or seek their fortune.

One such is Fisayo Akinade’s refugee, who tells us, prologue-like, of life in the camp, and of his love for Shakespeare, and this play especially. He is perfecting his English by memorising All The World’s A Stage. He is reluctant to see As You Like It performed – it could never be as he imagined it – but agrees to continue if all nine migrants will take part …

Is it a measure of Shakespeare’s genius, or Rintoul’s, that so much of the play fits the circumstances so well ? Fleeing dictatorship, exile in Arden, Aliena’s very name, liberty (not banishment). These rough sleepers are brothers in exile; Orlando is welcome to their table, though he had thought all things savage there.

The style of the piece (designed by Hayley Grindle) heavily reinforces this unusual setting. A drab room, crammed with thin mattresses, peeling paper on the walls, an unseen helicopter circling overhead, shadowy figures lurking along corridors.

The music – the songs are very effectively lip-synched, Colin Michael Carmichael an eager Touchstone – and the gloomy lighting gives an enchanting filmic quality to many of the scenes.

The actors reflect the disparate nature of the concept – this production opened in Luxembourg before crossing the channel – and the delivery of the lines is not always ideal. That’s nothing to do with the linguistic origins of the actor: the Celia of Anna Elijasz [from Poland] is one of the most successful, and she makes a lovely slut Audrey, too, getting what few laughs are going here. Michael Fox’s Orlando lacks charisma, though, and Mark Jax, as Jaques, struggles to make his melancholy stand out from the sombre mood of the rest. Elisabet Johannesdottir (Iceland) makes a convincing Ganymede; her cross-dressed seduction is nicely done. And Akinade, as well as his introduction and a halting epilogue, gives us William and a lovely Warwickshire Silvius.

The grim setting leaches almost all the pastoral gaiety from this dark, deliberately-paced production (the “no woman” quartet a lively exception) which might have benefited from a leaner text. And I wonder what the (impeccably behaved) schoolchildren in the front row made of it all. Old hands will have Michael Bryant’s apple-crunching Jaques to look back on, or this year’s Rosalind on the lake. But I’m not sure I would like this haunting, thoughtful vision to be my first walk in the Forest of Arden…

Runs until October 12, then tours until November 22


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