Shakespeare's As You Like It

Primavera's last Oxford show
Christ Church College, Tue 13th - Fri 16th June, 2006.

June 12, 2006
The walled garden of Christ Church Cathedral lends its pastoral calm to effect the magical Forest of Arden; a refuge for runaway Orlando and the banished Rosalind who is travelling incognito with cousin Celia and Touchstone the fool. Fresh from their first tryst at one of usurper Duke Frederick's brutal wrestling matches that morning, Orlando and Rosalind are ignorant of the fact that they now share the same forest. When the would-be lovers finally stumble across each other, an intelligently played Rosalind (Heather Oliver) chooses to retain the authority of the disguise of young boy Ganymede and instructs her future beau in the Art of Wooing, offering a delicious glimpse into Elizabethan gender politics.

The action of Shakespeare's sunniest comedy bounces from couple to couple as the romantic web widens. Sparks fly in balmy exchanges between fellow forest dwellers Phebe (Victoria Ross) and Silvius (Peter Clapp) in addition to the delightfully bawdy Audrey (Rose Heiney) and Touchstone (Hugh Trimble). Tom Littler shows much clarity in his direction of this vibrant young company and his talented cast does the text great justice by delivering uniformly strong performances. This modern dress performance makes new sense of familiar quotations such as "All the world's a stage" and "Can one desire too much of a good thing?" The playful Shakespearean songs are performed exquisitely by the musicians and singers against a backlit garden and as night falls the music creates a spine-tingling atmosphere. This production is simply Summer on a plate, with a complimentary interval treat of strawberries taken in Tom Quad.

The fragrant garden of what was once St Frideswide's Priory (8th century) is an apt venue for this Shakespearean lauding of Christian values. By displaying tolerance of others the characters all have their wishes granted, with four couples being brought 'to the ark' by the efforts of the indomitable Rosalind. The passing of the seasons is tied to the emergence of optimism. A wistful Amiens (Lord to the rightful & banished Duke Senior) sings, "Blow, blow, thou winter wind! Thou art not so unkind as man's ingratitude" but celebrations abound when the social injustice of Duke Frederick's tyrannical rule gives way to love and forgiveness. The audience shares the sentiments of the sparkling Celia (Claire Palmer) who says "I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it" but alas the rustic revelry comes to a close. Rosalind delivers a suitably romantic epilogue and things are As You Like It, for now at least. But like the delicate flowers in the garden and the uplifting flute and strings arrangement, (musically directed by Tim Jackson), the happy ending appears to be beautifully fragile. Which reminds this reviewer that happiness is fleeting and to "gather ye rosebuds while ye may!"
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