Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch
Of all Shakespeare's plays, As You Like it is probably one of the best for outdoor performance. As part of its 60th anniversary celebrations, Hornchurch's cut to the chase... company of actor-musicians have decamped across the road to the elegant gardens of Langtons for a two-hour promenade performance of the comedy.
On a really lovely evening with sunshine dappling the grass through the trees, this Elizabethan-costumed production directed by Bob Carlton and designed by Norman Coates works extremely well. The cast engages with us throughout, picking on individuals to furnish attendant lords and countryfolk at their gambols as required. Julian Littman's arrangements of traditional songs and Michael Ranson's energetic fight direction play their own parts.
The audience moves with the actors through much of the expansive gardens. We encounter a wrestling ring, Duke Senior's woodland retreat (furnished with a pavilion as well as culinary delights including a boar's head), a forest cottage complete with two-dimensional sheep and culminating in Rosalind's waterborne arrival for the weddings which bring the play to its symmetrically balanced (if unrealistic) close.
Sarah Mahony makes Rosalind into a credibly posturing Ganymede as well as a feisty young woman who is not prepared to accept what her elders decree for her. Lauren Brown is Celia, giving her rather more strength of character than some portrayals can do. We all know Jaques' "All the world's a stage" speech as one of the play's set pieces; Simon Jessop makes it sound new-minted and deserves his round of applause.
Orlando, of course, is the hard-done-by hero. There's a nice boyish swagger to Elliot Harper's characteriation; you feel that he's so single-minded that he really can't discern Rosalind under Ganymede's exterior and is equally horrified by Ganymede's kiss as by Jaques' objecting to the poems with which he festoons any available tree. You feel that Barbara Hockaday's Phoebe should have cast her net wide than Silvius (Niall Costigan)
Shakespeare's clowns can be something of an acquired taste. Carlton has trimmed the text – not to mention dropping in bits from other sources – so that Touchstone is more than just a misplaced court jester. Matt Devitt in pastel motley complete with cap-and-bells has his Audrey firmly in hand (she's a puppet, of course). Greedy brother Oliver is Edward Bruggemeyer with Sam Pay doubling wrestler Charles and the Arden-banished Duke Senior. Callum Hughes makes Adam into a younger than usual faithful retainer.