Tuesday, 16 April 2019

REVIEW: As You Like It - Hulme Community Garden Centre, Manchester.

You are always tempting fate planning an outdoor event at any time of the year in this country, but the first day of Cream-Faced Loons run of As You Like It at Hulme Community Garden Centre saw beautiful April weather with puffy white clouds on a blue sky and a light fresh breeze. Starting in the outdoor cafĂ© area, the audience sat causally around the troupe of actors who sang a rough and ready version of Outkast’s Hey Ya! which set a warm and friendly tone for what was to come.

The eight actors played various parts but there was no confusion to these changes as costumes and voices were quickly and cleverly used to flesh out the characters accordingly. As You Like It is a comedy based on character – and indeed gender – confusion and this too was carried out convincingly. Directed by Tyler Holland and Amy Roberts, the play saw Abey Bradbury playing the part of Rosalind superbly. Rosalind disguises herself as a man – Ganymede – and while it was clear as to when she was male or female, there was a current of bubbly innocence that gave her confidence and warmth whilst also delivering on the comedy each and every time. Likewise, her sidekick and cousin Celia (later disguised as the old maid Aliena) played by Antonia Whitehead, added an element of wisdom and guidance in a natural way.

It was fun to watch this play unfold as we meandered around various sections of the garden centre, seeing pops of nature coming to life on this early spring day and guided with song or clear direction from the cast. John Hatziemmanuel, who played Orlando, was a charming lost soul who had clear chemistry with Bradbury from the start. The Brechtian approach to the characters in this production worked very well and allowed the audience to both follow and empathise with what unfolded, indeed there were a few children in the audience who clearly enjoyed the play as much as the adults did, even though they may not have known all that was happening.

The other characters were equally as strong as the lead roles which made for a fast flowing play – John Tueart as Oliver and other parts was an almost unlikeable, sneering character while Tommy Melody as the melancholy Jacques was fantastically pathetic. Matthew Fordy, who played the jester Touchstone, was crisply cynical and slightly aloof to it all.

While there was no attempt to set this Shakespeare play in a modern setting, it was brought to life through the strong characterisation, fast pace and the living setting in the garden centre. As the play went on, the audience grew as visitors joined in, perhaps some unsuspectingly. While there was a casual atmosphere, with some ad libs and direct address to the audience, this was a really enjoyable and accessible production of this play that was mostly faithful to the original. I suspect that it would have gone down very well in Shakespeare’s own time and certainly the audience laughed from start to finish.

Reviewer - Aaron Loughrey
on - 8/4/19

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