"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." One of William Shakespeare's most famous lines marks the opening of the Rose Theatre's production of As You Like It.
It is a poignant sentiment in a venue that staged Shakespeare's plays around 400 years ago. The ghost of theatre past collides with present drama giving resonance to the playwright's musings on mortality.
The play, Shakespeare's tale of the redemptive power of love, begins with Rosalind and her cousin Celia who go to watch a wrestling match. Rosalind quickly becomes enamoured with the winner of the contest Orlando.
When both Orlando and Rosalind find themselves exiled in the forest of Arden she decides to disguise herself as a boy called Ganymede, and in this role tells her lover how to woo her.
Shakespeare's original play explores the adventures of the different characters in the forest, and the freedom that comes with life lived outside the repression of the city walls. However, the Rose's production, directed by Jessica Ruano, takes a series of snapshots from the text and does not attempt to cover all characters and relationships in the play.
In just over an hour it instead becomes more of an ode to theatre itself and the ghostly beauty of Shakespeare's famous Rose playhouse. This is done cleverly through use of the old theatre itself as a performance space with characters jumping between the small stage and the separate archeological site lit up in a cadaverous green.
The grungy, urban costumes are also a stark reminder of the play's distance from the world of Shakespeare in time if not in space.
This production succeeds in drawing the main themes from the original play, and the small performance space enhances the energy and power with which the cast deliver Shakespeare's immortal lines. Andrew Venning is authoritative and majestic as Jacques and Suzanne Marie subtly portrays the character of Rosalind who becomes more likeable as the play develops.
Matthew Howell as Orlando also grows in power and stature from an angry young man to a self-aware and eager to learn young lover.
If the play falls short it is in the ending which is rather abrupt, and you are left feeling as though not all of the loose ends have been tied up. But this dramatic production is powerful in the message that it perhaps always intended, that the drama has no clear and definitive ending. It is a unique theatrical experience.
- Sarah Marsh