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Jodie Jacobs (Audrey, Adam, First Lady) Jack Brett (Orlando) and Sian Martin (Jaques, Denis, William) Credit - James Millar Photography.

As You Like It, Shakespeare in the Squares

4 July 2018 Emily May

If you read our article about The Tempest in St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, you’ll know how much we love a bit of the Bard alfresco style. Shakespeare in the Squares' latest production of As You Like it is no exception, as it inserts new life into small forgotten green spaces hidden away in between traditional London terraces (and when we say hidden, we mean hidden – the locations are quite difficult to find!).

Katharine Moraz (Rosalind) Comfort Fabian (Celia) & Stanton Plummer-Cambridge (Oliver Corin Le Beau). (c) - James Millar Photography.

As you enter Arundel and Ladbroke Gardens – or indeed any of the 12 squares As You Like It is touring to this summer – you are transported into a secret garden adorned with colourful banners and bunting, evoking the spirit of a travelling gypsy theatre, or a 1970s hippy commune. The latter context is confirmed when the troupe emerge from their “backstage tent” clad in denim flairs and plaid dungaree dresses, singing Joni Mitchell’s Yellow Taxi Cab with acoustic guitars in hand.

As You Like It. Jack Brett (Orlando). Credit - James Millar Photography.

As the actors begin to tell Shakespeare’s tail of female feud, love at first sight, and escaping court for life in the woods, you really begin to appreciate the outdoor nature of the production. Being in a garden setting reinforces the plays intention of pitting the urban against the rural, and although some of the actors’ words can get lost on the wind and be overpowered by police sirens, the interjection of traffic is in fact welcome, as it contributes to the juxtaposition between the city and the pastoral.
 
As You Like it was also perfect choice for this year’s Shakespeare in the Squares tour, as its plethora of strong female characters flawlessly coincides with the centenary of female suffrage. Whilst they would have traditionally been played by male actors, and there are a few references to women being over emotional (well it was written in 1599 after all!), women play a central role in the plot of As You Like It. The two most influential characters in society are women, The Duchess Senior and Duchess Frederick, the former of which is banished from court by her sister and lives independently in the Forest of Arden.

Jodie Jacobs (Audrey, Adam, First Lady) Julia Righton (Duchess Senior, Duchess Frederick) & Emmy Stonelake (Phoebe, Amiens). Credit - James Millar Photography.

This matriarchal theme is reinforced by the genius 1970s setting, which reminds us of the decade’s bra burning feminist ideals, and in our minds transforms the Duchess’ band of out casts in the woods into a revolutionary female commune, that exists harmoniously without male interference… until they turn up and marry everyone. But even in marriage, it is the girls calling the shots, as the banished Duchess’ daughter Rosalind – in a classic display of Shakespearean gender-bending - remains disguised as a male shepherd until she chooses to reveal herself to love struck Orlando, and strong willed Phoebe puts off her besotted suitor until the end of the play, as her second choice.
 
The men, in contrast, are the main source of humour, with the clown Touchstone being particularly hilarious. Dressed in John Lennon-esque shades, he joins Rosalind and her cousin on their adventure into the Forest of Arden to find her mother, delivering all his lines with disco moves and an emphasized Jamaican accent, somehow managing to find a love interest despite his dad-like dancing. Although only a minor character, Monsieur Le Beau back at court also grants a welcome comic element, with his camp delivery and stylish roll neck.

Company of As You Like It. Credit - James Millar Photography.

The play concludes with the happy matrimonial union of the majority of the cast, and ends as it began with acoustic instruments and popular music renditions. As you clap along awkwardly with your glass of wine in hand, and subsequently leave amidst families packing up their picnics, you begin to realise that Shakespeare in the Squares is about a lot more than just Shakespeare (though that is also a big part!) Their ingenious idea has drawn audience’s attention to disused spaces in their local area, that could be utilised to socialise on a summer’s evening, and, as the Duchess does in the play, escape from the hustle and bustle of the city in favour of a restful natural environment.
 
Shakespeare in the Squares’ As You Like it is touring London squares until 12 July. For more information visit their website.
 
 
 
 
 
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