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By Revelly Robinson

Zahra Newman cements her status as one of the country’s most entertaining stage actors.

Peter Evans’ interpretation of As You Like It is a light hearted romp into the magical forest of Arden. The actors give spirited performances in this fun Shakespeare play, but nonetheless there is something lacking in the cohesiveness of the piece. The characters drift dissonantly from scene to scene with little integration of their roles with each other. This incongruity mirrors the disparate narrative which almost seems to comprise of individual skits broken up by comedic and musical interludes.

One of Shakespeare’s iconic comedies, As You Like It contains the infallibly humorous elements of assumed identities and hapless romantics that make the bard’s plays so accessible. When the filial Rosalind is banished by her uncle, Duke Frederick, she assumes the identity of a man, Ganymede, to seek out her father in the forest of Arden. Accompanied by her cousin, Celia, posing as Ganymede’s sister Aliena, the protagonist uses her newfound identity to taunt and play havoc with the characters she meets along the way. Despite falling desperately in love with Orlando before leaving the court, upon encountering the melancholy Orlando in the forest, Rosalind under the guise of Ganymede takes the opportunity to taunt him into revealing the depth of his feelings for her.

After a lacklustre first act, the entrance of the stage marvel that is the flowered forest seems to transform the play and its characters into a much more vibrant performance. Although the prop made a cumbersome debut when it awkwardly descended in one of the many pregnant moments of the performance, leaving the audience lingering when the actors cast off each of the wreaths by hand; the end result of garlands falling like rain over the stage is justified. Almost taking on a character of its own, the hanging tendrils of flowers create a colourful stage scape through which the characters duck and stumble their way.

And it is beneath the cover of the petals that Rosalind comes into her own as the sassy and conniving Ganymede. Zahra Newman shows her versatility and tenacity as an actor by totally owning the role of the rambunctious Rosalind. Keeping pace with her every step of the way is the equally spirited Kelly Paterniti, whose tiny figure swaggering around on 10 cm high heels is overcompensated for by her larger than life stage presence. Given the dominance of these two leads it is perhaps understandable that Charlie Graber as the despondent Orlando fails to match the spiritedness of his beloved; so much so that his pining almost seems like sulking when confronted with his crafty counterpart. In contrast, Dorje Swallow gives a thoroughly convincing and underrated performance as Oliver and as usual, Gareth Davies steals the show as the mischievous Touchstone. Not to be outdone, John Bell’s swansong interpretation of Jacques is a fitting tribute to an illustrious career exemplified by his matter-of-fact delivery of the play’s iconic ‘All the world’s a stage’ monologue.

Bell Shakespeare’s As You Like It takes an equivocal approach to the gender bending transition at the core of the drama. Newman’s Rosalind is comfortably precocious without being overtly controversial. However, by skirting around the main challenge in the subject matter, the production retreats from truly engrossing the audience. The sporadic melodies scattered throughout the piece, despite being handled deftly by Abi Tucker, result in fragmenting the storyline further. As the penultimate scene of the play evokes a song and dance number reminiscent of a high school musical, one has to wonder whether the trivial interpretation of the play is a deliberate sacrifice to the deity of entertainment, thereby reiterating the themes of falsity and pretension that lie at the heart of the comedy’s narrative.

Rating: 2.5 stars

As You Like It

Director: Peter Evans

Venue: Canberra Playhouse

Dates: 7 – 18 April