The cast of eight tackle the play with zest. As You Like It is a play full of improbable situations, but it never feels implausible: the actors’ warmth and energy brings everything to life and draws the audience in to the action. Jo Herbert is a vivacious and likeable Rosalind, and she is well paired with both Beth Park’s charming Celia, and Gunnar Cauthery as an engagingly boyish Orlando. The villains of the piece (William Oxborrow as Oliver and Fergal McElherron as Duke Frederick) are suitably menacing without slipping into pantomime.
A female Jacques is an unusual choice, but in fact it works very well, and Emma Pallant’s delivery is polished and witty. She also gives a touching performance as the shepherdess Phebe, ably matched by Ben Lamb as the smitten Silvius.
There are plenty of laughs, and it’s refreshing to find that the vast majority of them come from simply taking Shakespeare’s words and characters and performing them well, rather than (as too often happens) resorting to slapstick or gimmicky interpolations. (There are one or two moments where Gregory Gudgeon’s interpretation of Touchstone degenerates into coarse humour, but these are very much the exception rather than the rule.)
At 2 hours 45 minutes, it’s a longish show, but it doesn’t drag: the audience is kept hooked to the end.
Credit must go to James Dacre (the director) for having created a wonderful addition to the range of Shakespeare productions available to Oxford audiences this summer.
- Meriel Patrick