An industrial-looking behemoth of corrugated steel dominates the Quarry Theatre. When this maroon mass rises to reveal real tree-trunks stretching up to meet a gauze canopy adorned with projections of lush greenery, we see exactly how ingrained the central juxtaposition between court and country is to Ian Brown’s production of As You Like It.
Indeed, it is the starkness of this contrast that sometimes hampers the play: a few lacklustre fight sequences and some slightly unconvincing hand-wringing from Nathan Wright's Orlando means the play is a slow-starter. But it seems that even the actors are affected by the change in atmosphere, as the company becomes more exuberant and engaging once the action has moved to the natural paradise of the Forest of Arden.
Wright is much more at home in the role of infatuated lover than frustrated, testosterone-fuelled youth. Vanessa Kirby's Rosalind is more nuanced than most; she begins halting and hesitant in her dangerous uncle’s court, but blossoms under the dual covers of the forest and her male attire. Yet, however famous the lead lovers, this As You Like It is very much a company-based production. Alice Haig delights with an exuberant, confident Celia (a role so often sidelined as a simpering wimp), while Jim Hooper shows great deftness when switching seamlessly from his wild-eyed, frantic Duke Frederick to the kinder, softer Duke Senior. Shakespearean fools are notoriously hard to pitch to a modern audience, but it is testament to Bruce Mackinnon’s admirable skill that his Touchstone’s capering and gurning is, in fact, incredibly enjoyable – especially given his support from the admirably scrofulous, but lovable, Audrey (Connie Walker).
As stellar performances are complemented by beautifully arranged songs and some rather entertaining stage business, this As You Like It leaves its audience longing to re-enter the Forest of Arden long after they've left the auditorium.