As You Like It, with its narrative that begins with an escape from an urban setting into the wilderness and its playful gender politics, feels a play suitable for a modern audience. The play thankfully lacks some of the questionable elements of the Bard's other comedies (looking at you, The Taming of the Shrew) and in the skilled hands of Shared Experiences proves a lovely romp for an Autumn evening, even if is a performance that doesn't quite linger on as much as you would expect.
The escape at the centre of the play comes in the form of two groups who flee the newly formed and autocratic court of Duke Frederick for the beauty of the Forest of Arden. In each of these groups there is a lover, Orlando and Rosalind (who is disguised in the forest as a man), and the story contorts to bring them together.
Shared Experience's production is a beautiful, simple affair. It ambles along at its own pace, taking time to bring out the warmth of the text. The production is masterfully directed by Kate Saxon and has a very fine design from Libby Watson, even if I couldn't quite work out the purpose of the imposing phone box on the stage. Particular mention must go to Chris Davey's delicate but striking lighting design, and the production really does have a gorgeous look to it.
A strong ensemble embrace the doubling of the parts with aplomb, most notably in Matthew Darcy impressively taking on four parts. Each character is distinctly drawn, demonstrating the skills of the ensemble, who also throughout show a clear understanding of the Bard's text.There are performances that stand out, particularly with Matthew Mellaieu as a very funny Touchstone. I warmed to Layo-Christina Akinlude's Celia who seems to blossom within the production, and Nathan Hamilton makes an amusing
I'm not sure the production quite finds something to say about its 2017 setting. But given that the real world is so exhaustively changeable, it doesn't particularly need to. Instead it comfortably ambles along at a pleasurable pace, and makes a very fine night at the theatre. And with an exceedingly good ensemble headed by the magnificent Jessica Hayles, this is an As You Like It worth your time.