This is the third version of As You Like It I have seen in Edinburgh this year, and the second one I have reviewed. To be honest, I thought by now I’d be tired. But with an all-male cast, a stage littered in drag costume, and a contemporary setting complete with mobiles and iPods, this production by Cambridge University Amateur Dramatics was more different than I could have ever have hoped for.
The play opens in Paris, where the concern for surface over substance is amusingly close to the bone. Thanks partly, I assume, to it being an all-male cast there was far more focus on the male characters than in other abridged productions I’ve seen. The scene where brother Oliver and Orlando rupture is included, together with a wonderful take on the scene where Oliver instructs a wrestler to kill Orlando in an ensuing match. To have this conversation take place during the chain-clad wrestler’s work-out in a modern-day gym is a stroke of genius on the director’s part.
So what of the ‘female’ characters? Though brilliantly appropriate for a play whose comedy premised on cross-dressing and fluid identities, when ill-used drag can often descend into something offensive either to woman or real drag queens. This production, however, did neither. Celia and Rosalind acted out their relationships both with each other and with their men with authenticity. The way the transvestite Jaques gradually disrobed during the “All the world’s a stage” speech was poignantly done.
There were a few contemporary touches to add humour, but these did not draw from the script’s faithful interpretation. Indeed, if anything they added to it significantly. Reading reports beforehand of Beyonce playing and characters trying to locate themselves on their phones GPS had my hackles raised, but they soon went down upon seeing it – leaving me with no choice but to think had Shakespeare been alive in this century, these additions would probably be just as he liked it.