Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Thoughts on As You Like It [*]

Helen Howard and Thomas Larkin in As You Like It (Source: XS Entertainment).
I’ve volunteered for As You Like It four times now, and each time I’ve been ripping tickets I’ve gingerly slipped in the remark “I hope you . . . like it”. Chaos ensures – hollow laughter, painful groans, and monocles fall off the rich and elderly at the sheer excellence of my material. Personally I’ve really liked watching the show since it has a wonderful cast, great design elements and it’s just really entertaining. It’s also pretty tame considering it’s a La Boite Shakespeare piece.

While all the cast are cast appropriately, there are a few that have become the definitive actors for me in their respective roles. Helen Howard and Thomas Larkin head the cast as couple Rosalind and Orlando - Howard obliterates the generalization that Rosalind can only be portrayed by younger actresses, bringing this awesome, sexy cougar vibe to the show through her manipulation of Larkin’s adorably smitten younger character. Bryan Proberts rocks my world as Touchstone, cascading around the stage in a ludicrously hyperactive manner delivering hundreds of lines of dialogue without a second thought, occasionally leaving the audience in tears of laughter. Trevor Stuart as Jacques is SO GREAT! All at once he’s playful, melancholy, exasperating and delightfully endearing. 

Kate Wilson and Helen Howard in As You Like It (Source: La Boite).
What I adore about this production is its huge cast. My primary complaint with Julius Caesar was that the actors paraded around on stage and were forced to play up to three characters each. Applause must be given to Berthold for defeating this hurdle, who has brought a total of 18 actors together in this production by offering intern positions to eight actors currently studying in Queensland universities. It’s a really wonderful strategy of providing experience for emerging actors and also allowing the audience to experience Shakespeare in its full ensemble glory. I hope every company takes note of this and can use this approach to include larger casts.  

No idea why the Duke Senior was made into a woman, though. Obviously the theme of gender-bending is pretty relevant, but unlike the character of Audrey being reversed to create comedy (Hayden Spencer plays a ridiculously funny Audrey), the Duke actually gains nothing from being a man since the performance of Kate Wilson is such a ‘realistic’ portrayal. I guess there is an obscure reason behind it, but why bother?

There are heaps of great moments in this piece, such as the reveal of the Forest of Arden, Orlando throwing love letters around the space, and the sheep trotting around and grazing on audience bags. The hilariously camp finale is totally unexpected and surreal, but it's fantastical in nature so even though it's insane it's pretty fun to go along with. There’s also a lot of audience interaction, where they get to cheer, act as trees, and the actors directly bounce off and ad lib according to how the audience react to their actions. It’s a lot of fun, keeping them entertained and giving the show a personal flavor.

Berthold’s endeavor to replicate the celebratory, folkish vibe of Wooldfood Folk Festival comes across really strongly as a well thought out concept. The whole aesthetic works really well on a whole. The costumes were painfully bright, with tie-dyed patterns and psychedelic colours being donned by most of the cast. Thomas Larkin’s attire is something similar to what I wear to opening night events, except he’s way more buff than I am – I’m probably more alike to what Helen Howard walks around in. The reveal of Renee Mulder’s set is an enchanting transformation from the sterile environment to a gorgeous, irreal world. Accentuated by the gorgeous hues of David Walters, the atmosphere is electric as the audience are suspended in delight of the set and engaged for the duration of the performance. The novelty starts to wear off drawing to the end, but then even more lights pop up are then and the sparkle factor returns. I enjoyed most of the music, while most of the stuff prior to the entrance of the forest consisted of these bizarre string intervals (some of which are so low they vibrate in your stomach) to add to the tension, the folkish/rock tunes and the live songs get your toes tapping and they're pretty memorable.

It’s leaps and bounds better than Berthold’s last Shakespeare adaptation, with a more coherent and larger cast, lovely visuals, and the original script has so much wit and wonderful humour. It has a whimsical and charming allure and a joyous, infectious and celebratory cast. I took along my parents and they enjoyed it so much that they’d like to see it again. This is finally a La Boite work that I can actually go and recommend that people go out and that they will enjoy, regardless of what their tastes are like. I thoroughly liked it, and am encouraging everyone to make the effort to see it.

Tickets for La Boîte Theatre Company's 'As You Like It' range from $22-$48, and is showing until March 24th. Duration of 2 hours and 30 minutes, including inteval. Book by visiting La Boite's website or by calling (07) 3007 8600.

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