The Stratford Festival is less than a two-hour drive west of Toronto and offers first-class productions of Shakespeare and international playwrights. I was recently invited to see Macbeth and As You Like It at the Stratford Festival in order to review these plays for Torontonicity.
Shakespeare’s comedy, As You Like It, is the tale of gender disguises and confused love. Orlando is deprived of the proceeds of his father’s will by his brother, Oliver. Duchess Senior (in a gender role reversal) has been banished from her court by her brother, Duke Frederick, and escapes to the Forest of Ardenne. Rosalind (Senior’s daughter) and Celia (Frederick’s daughter) are like sisters, but Rosalind is also banished by Duke Frederick, but not before falling in love with Orlando. Strange things happen in the forest where passion rules and rationality is overturned. People fall in love with those who are not as they appear.
Director Jillian Keiley has set the production of Shakespeare’s comedy in 1980s Newfoundland, complete with acid-washed jeans and leg warmers. Keiley, a native of “The Rock,” writes in the director’s notes that she wants the play to feel like an East Coast “kitchen-party” wherein the play is to be experienced versus simply observed. The interaction in Keiley’s kitchen party, which is endearing at first, goes a bit overboard with different audience sections asked to hold up various props throughout the play to enhance the activity on stage. In fact, Robin Hutton as “emcee” Hymen (who has a wonderful voice), breaks into East Coast tunes between scenes. While the attempt to create a more interactive, fun experience with Shakespeare’s text is laudable, at times, the interruptions distract from the flow of the plot and relationship between the characters.
As You Like It at the Stratford Festival is full of strong performances, however. The delightful Trish Lindström as Celia exudes charm and possesses outstanding comedic and dancing ability, particularly during her excited mishmash of dance moves, which include a Michael Jackson moonwalk. Petrina Bromley gives us a strong Rosalind, who isn’t afraid to show her vulnerability regarding her affections for Orlando. Cyrus Lane is an energetic and passionately determined Orlando. In another gender role reversal, veteran Stratford Festival actor Seana McKenna plays Jaques. McKenna adds needed wisdom and authority to her role, particularly when delivering one of the play’s most memorable monologues.
Sanjay Talwar as Touchstone steals many of his scenes, displaying a boisterous sense of comedy.
Cory O’Brien as the wrestler, Charles, performs some truly impressively athletic moves in his fight with Orlando in a dynamic scene choreographed by Fight Director John Stead.
Franklin Brasz directs the onstage musicians, who perform invigorating downhome music featuring a fiddle, button accordion, guitar and percussion.
The Stratford Festival’s 2016 production of As You Like It strays far from traditional interpretations of the text, but it is a fun romp with warm East Coast humour, which is hard to resist.
As You Like It at the Stratford Festival is being performed from May 16, 2016 to October 22, 2016. Tickets for As You Like It can be purchased online.