Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company presents William Shakespeare’s As You like It with realism and humour – just as we like it, indeed. Banished from court by the authoritarian Duke Frederick (Peter Morrison), the characters flee to a forest where they pursue love, marriage and joy. It sounds simple, but thankfully, director Michael Zwiauer ensures the play has a wide range of emotions, making this a romcom that has cynicism, suspense, and depth.
The production team does a good job with the Victorian costumes and the pastoral backdrop of green lighting. Live folklore music portrays the theme of nature, perhaps a little too subtly. Beautiful songs led by Ally Shilson on guitar contain lyrics about environmental issues. The lighting dims during monologues and moments of tension, heightening the intimacy in the small venue.
Gender politics is explored with the hard-headed female characters Rosalind (Tilly Botsford) and Celia (Lizzie Lewis). Rosalind is in control and sets up romances for other characters so that nobody else can marry her object of desire, Orlando, who is convincingly performed by Jacob Baird as a charming and relatively naive character.
Botsford dominates the stage with superb acting skills, as Rosalind disguised as a man swaggers with hands in pockets, empowered. Simultaneously, Botsford offers us a glimpse of Rosalind’s frustration at having to suppress her true identity, casting embarrassed grimaces at Celia and sometimes breaking the fourth wall. Through dramatic irony, Rosalind is entirely relatable and complex, without romantic idealism. However, some more chemistry between the couple wouldn’t go amiss.
Fast-paced and subtle word play is communicated effectively, thanks to the quality of acting and directing. The sight of the mad-hatter-like Touchstone (Will Peppercorn) frolicking around with flowers on his head, is enough to elicit giggles on its own. His affair with Audrey (Hannah Churchill) is best exemplified through their rambunctious suggestive behaviour, interrupted by the awkward priest (William Boagey), which evokes uproars of laughter from the audience. Fergus Head is equally amusing as a wilting, tedious but loveable Duke Senior. Michael Hajiantonis plays the comically self-absorbed Jaques. He combines farcical physicality and brooding expressions during “All the World’s a Stage” faultlessly.
This perfect balance between melancholy and frivolity is encapsulated in the wedding scene, the execution of which is testament to Zwiauer’s directing. The epilogue engages the audience directly, providing an insight into human relationships and gender politics.
As You Like It runs at Pleasance Theatre between 4-8 March 2020.
Featured image credit: Maddy Chisholm-Scott / Aspen Pattinson