Review: As you like it

Suzanna certainly likes “As you like it”

Under the shade of the melancholic boughs of the Barron, Bailey invited us once more to lose and neglect the sweeping hours of time with his newest Shakespearean venture, As You Like It. For those unacquainted with the work, it is a piece replete with familiar Shakespearean comedic tropes: gender confusion, mistaken identity, a stock fool, crossed lovers, and a denouement of match-up marriages and reinstalled divine right of Dukes. Read as, The Winter’s Tale, Twelfth Night and The Tempest slow-cooking in a stew.

Bailey served us this theatrical treat in a truly barren theatre; behind monochromatic costume and absent set, there was no place to hide. This allowed for a focus on the light and dark of the piece; drawing out the philosophical truths and playing on the subtleties of the players. Avoiding the Shakespearean plague of presentational over dramatisation, Bailey has created a series of authentic, honest and nuanced performances.

Refreshingly, we had a leading female protagonist at the helm. “My way is to conjure you”, Rosalind tells and indeed true to character, Emily Hoyle turned in a truly captivating performance. In an authentic yet richly textured performance, Hoyle commandeered both action and stage. Hoyle possesses something in her style of that classical and steely Shakespearean thoroughbred and carries echoes of Emma Thompson and Imogen Stubbs; the English Rose syndrome one might call it. Still, the males rose to match her. Ebe Bambyboye took up the mantle of this brief immaculately in turning his famed brooding physicality to the character of Oliver and taking up an empty stage with an impounding and ominous presence. Nishant Raj, entrusted with the weight of infamous informing of “all the world’s a stage”, expounded it with touching, honest and unpretentious aplomb. It’s dismissive absorption of it into the chitter chatter of his comrades was a beautifully delicate directorial touch which added further gravitas to the poignancy of his reflections.

Unfortunately, the plot fell prey to an emphasis on naturalism in the early scenes which meant to the As-You-Like-It-uninformed, the storyline got lost. Unfortunately, no amount of style is as crucial as substance, and a lot of the impact of the production became forfeited as a result of some audience members simply not knowing what was going on. By resting the production on a better bedrock of theatrical stagecraft and delving deeper into the technicalities of prose, pacing and breath, so much could have been salvaged. Luckily, the merry band of Hoyle, Mariotti, Smith, Spencer and Giammaressi gave their first act precursors a masterclass in how to marry the two and returned the play to its deserved level of gravitas in the second act. Coming into his own and striding on ahead, Mariotti gifted us with a faultless performance that danced with comedy and pure playful genius. Cherry-picking potential for frothy comical whimsy at every point whilst avoiding a stock stereotyped portrayal and playing-it-for-laughs. A truly unique performance with characterisation and comedy as harlequin as his clothing.

The avoidance of presentational acting was mirrored by the choice to avoid traditional frontal staging in preference of the placing of the play on the diagonal. This applaudable decision made the audience a flaneur; gifting us a sense we were drifting past on a spectacle, whilst involving us fully in the action thanks to the multiplicity of surrounding entrances and exists made use of. Such a structuring, and an absence of scene marking, created a space ideal for the fast-moving flux of the play.

Bailey’s revolutionising was in his subtleties; in that not saying very much at all, he said a lot. Indeed, in a genre so populous with the mundanity of the revolutionary, it can be more refreshing to have a quieter voice. Bailey could have done with a bit more meat on his stripped-back play; at points it became overly skeletal. I left with a yearning that something more creative had been explored with gender roles and cross-dressing and that Bailey had turned his innovative eye to exploring that potential. Rosalind’s gender-bending monologues leave such space for playful innovation but at points like these the play retreated timidly to tradition. Furthermore, whether intended as ironic or not, I was anything but romanced by the twee merry ending of dancing round the maypole and rose petals; rather, it wounded the modernist gravitas that had been established. But as for that, and as it was, I liked it.