This company lovingly sang sweet odes to Shakespeare’s witty comedy As You Like It on a balmy summer’s eve in a leafy corner of St Edwards School’s sports grounds. Oxford Theatre Guild’s production, directed by Alex Brinkman Young, suited its setting in the flowering greenery and offered a fitting and sincere interpretation of the classic. Being a personal favourite of mine, I was eager to see the cast’s presentation of some of the writer’s best-known lines, and on many accounts, they didn’t disappoint.
Staged between two simple stages dividing the court and the forest, most of the visual cues relied heavily on costumes, which, being period appropriate, was more than enough to aid the story’s setting. Music played a major part too, led by talented guitarists and mandolinists within the cast, confidently tackling the tricky time signatures and harmonies of the play’s beloved tunes.
Some very competent performances led the cast, including a self-assured Edward Smith who took on the role of the ever despondent Jaques with expressive lucidity and charisma. Charlotte Godfrey too carried the weight of the role of Rosalind with resolute ease, and Celia, played by Rachael Twyford, shone with a captivating animation which lit the two cousins’ rapport with a confident brightness. A commanding and often exasperated Orlando (Niall McDaid) fit nicely into the mix, while David Guthrie’s Duke Frederick gave off distinguished Ian McKellen vibes. A female Touchstone by Martha Gray was suitably jovial and spirited, which complemented a gruff and big-hearted Corin played by Matt Blurton. The love-forlorn Silvius and proud Phoebe too offered a satirical third to the three marriages in the tale, played by Josh Wedge and Emily Hassan, while Tim Eyres’ Duke Senior held a Churchill-like grimace and a short though notable performance from Peter Todd as the defeated Charles flew by.
Though the playful narrative grew a little lengthy in moments, we were soon lifted by a song or speech which seemed to stir the audience with knowing laughs. The whole cast’s passion for the sometimes-unfathomable text of Shakespeare was clear and no moment passed where you doubted their studying and embodiment of their character and their language, spoken and unspoken.
This heartfelt show sought to prolong the summer evening a little longer with heady and youthful musings of love, and succeeded. Running until 31st of July, this “leading theatre company for non-professional actors” offers many more chances for you to get lost in the Forest of Arden.